Vast works of other ages encumber

Stse is an almost-island, separated from the mainland of the great south continent by marshes and tidal bogs, where millions of wading birds gather to mate and nest.  Ruins of an enormous bridge are visible on the landward side, and another half-sunk fragment of ruin is the basis of the town’s pier and breakwater. Vast works of other ages encumber all Hain, and are no more and no less venerable or interesting to the Hainish than the rest of the landscape.

Ursula K le Guin, Four Ways to Forgiveness, Gollancz 1995.

Le Guin’s galaxy was long ago colonised by humans from Hain.  Indeed this is so buried in history’s layers that humanity’s first origins are forgotten, and people on Earth believe themselves aliens.  After that great expansion and genetic manipulations by the ancestral Hainish, peoples in each system developed in isolation for a thousand millenia.  Time dilation during near-light-speed travel and cold-sleep means that your left-behind children and grandchildren grow old and die before you make your new start on another planet.  In the last few thousand years, which might be only a few lifetimes for space-farers, the Hains have sought to bring all humanity back into a loose community called the Ekumen.

This positioned le Guin as a galactic social anthropologist.  The underlying framework for each story is that of Ekumen observers exploring and falling foul of variations of kinship, politics, religion and economics.  Her most recurring themes are variations on gender and sex, and the power relationships which spring from these.  The Left Hand of Darkness, her novel written nearly fifty years ago, to me seems fresh and challenging in its deconstruction of our assumptions about humanity, encapsulated in the sentence “The king was pregnant”.  The four novellas which comprise Four Ways to Forgiveness offer perhaps a more conventional take on sexuality, shockingly so, for it is tied into power dynamics, slavery, rape and oppression.  It took me a second reading to confirm that her gentle writing style was, in each narrative, capturing a love-story.

The throw-away description of the enormous bridge, the ancient vast ruin present but ignored, gives to me the feel of le Guin’s universe.

I drew this listening to the hypnotic rhythms of Canto Ostinato (Simeon ten Holt) weaving a tapestry of sound from four pianos.

I am not-drawing

I am not-drawing these last few months.

These are the few sketches that have slipped through.  On holiday, I had some hours walking the Devon clifftops on my own, not-drawing, looking at the size and shapes of eroded rocks, their highlights and shadows, and the kestrel plummeting down the cliff face and skimming the beach.  Eventually I stopped not-drawing in pen and conte crayon.

Some days earlier at Tintagel castle, I stopped not-drawing for a while looking down into the rocky bay.

A girl, about 7, called Charlotte, came to watch (with parents).  I suggested to her that the way to draw was just to believe you can, look and feel, and put the marks on the paper that seem right.  I gave her my pad, graphite stick and crayons and she drew.

Today my son went to a youth drama group in the Jewellery Quarter in Birmingham, giving me 90 minutes to wander the empty streets not-drawing the varied buildings in the drizzle.  I drifted to St Paul’s Church and not-drew the gnarled trees in the graveyard.  I called in at the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists and viewed their Next Wave final exhibition.  I was taken by Clare Pentlow‘s paper cut sculpture, made of waves of small projections which could carry data like an old printout from a Sangar sequence Yasmin Bowle‘s etched metal plates showing a formative images of gender stereotyped roles from the 1960s with pattern instructions for restrictive corsetry.  The intimacy of Emily Sparkes‘ painting I Sleep contrasted with her frankly disturbing pastiche of EH Shepard’s drawings, HUIINY.  I think she also painted my favourite piece Froot, which is nowhere referenced on the internet, in which pieces of fruit are painted in a picture encyclopedia format, described in corrupted text speech in terms showing increasingly bizarre anthropomorphism.

In the last fifteen minutes before returning to the theatre, I found myself not not-drawing in a small pad in ink and raindrops.

Why had people bothered to build a bridge when there were boats and flyers to ride?

The quote is from Ursula K Le Guin, ” A Man of the People”, the third of four novellas that comprise Four Ways to Forgiveness.

Having sketched this quickly, I now see her iconic bridge is different in scale, described as enormous, reaching far above a landscape of tidal pools inhabited by myriad wading birds, descended originally from those brought from Earth.

It is old, maybe a million years.   So, I guess, it was built across a long-changed landscape, and likely by machines and labour controlled by strident imperialists, alien to the contemporary pueblo-dwellers with production divided by gender, lineage and tradition.

Found songs

There is an desperate archive of diverse Jewish folk songs, originating across Hitler’s Europe and hidden in Kiev through Stalin’s rule. Here is immediacy, witness, satire and heartbreak. In trenches, soldiers lampoon their oppressors (I learn from the New Yorker article that nearly half a million Jews in the Red Army battled the Nazis, a third of whom died).

   

I had started this drawing already, riffing on the idea of a stringed instrument, using Zen Brush on the iPad.  I added in layers in another programme, Procreate, and by now I was listening to the voice and violin, dances and laments, on the album Yiddish Glory: The Lost Songs of World War II.

The hand started as the guitarist’s grip but might be seen differently as the fanatic’s grasp.

The three body problem

Three little sketches on Stillman and Birns beta paper all in conte crayon, the first with a smear of watercolour beneath, the others with graphite layered beneath and on top.  The first was done in nearby fields, the second the view from the North Norfolk coastal path across the marsh to distant woods, the third looking back inland.

The Three Body Problem is a novel by Liu Cixin translated from the Chinese.  Its origin is embedded in the vicious mindlessness of the Cultural Revolution and it allows us 450 years to plan for the inevitable end of our species.

 

The three body problem refers to the analysis of motion of three massive bodies in a gravitational relationship to one another, like the Earth, Moon and Sun.  According to the narrative, and reinforced by a quick Wikipedia search, the mathematics of universal gravitation and the laws of motion cannot provide general solution to determine the behaviour of the bodies, predicting their location at any fixed point in time given particular starting conditions.  It is a chaotic system.

For The Earth Had Circled The Sun Yet Another Year

Pen and conte crayon on brown paper, with layered crayon and brushpen.

Pencil on brown paper does not show up well without digital enhancement, even with crayon scraped across it leaving the lines visible beneath.

Posted listening to a piano selection, starting with Philip Glass “Etude no. 2”, then Poppy Ackroyd “Birdwoman” then A Winged Victory for the Sullen “We Played Some Open Chords and Rejoiced For The Earth Had Circled The Sun Yet Another Year”.