at a distance

In this linocut, based on a still from Fritz Lang’s 1927 film Metropolis, the heroine Maria is bringing children to witness the gardens of the rich. Maria is adored by the oppressed workers. The hero, in pursuit of love for Maria, descends into the hell inhabited by the workers and, though love, becomes the mediator between the propertied and the proletariat.

Fritz Lang’s film was criticised at the time for its naivety. Cutting the block, I listened to the audio version of China Mielville’s October, a fast paced narrative of the two revolutions, a decade before the film, that first forced the abdication of Tsar Nikolai Alexandrovich Romonav, the “bovine” Emperor of All Russia, and then replaced the provisional government with that of the Bolsheviks. Through this, Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, “Lenin”, having returned to Petrograd to acclaim, is now in hiding in Finland while the counter-revolutionary plot by General Kornilov is foiled by the city’s workers and soldiers. Lenin guides the revolution, demanding rule by the soviets (workers’ and soldiers’ committees), an end to economic injustice and purity of purpose. He rails that the Bolsheviks must support a bourgeoise revolution as a pre-condition to a proletarian one, but not collaborate with that bourgeoise government. He tacks and shifts his ground, fine tuning his writings in response to events, ever sensitive to the subtle twists in political mood, seeking the precise historical moment when to act decisively for a workers’ state. But in exile, he receives news late, writes always behind the times and his tardy essays are used selectively by others to justify their contrary actions. I am minded of that other spiritual guide to a revolution that eventually acquired an empire, Paul, on the road and in exile, working on hearsay and old news, writing letters to admonish his first century adherents and converts.

The City and the City

Somewhere in the Balkans the city of Besźel occupies the same topological space as Ul Qoma.  The two cities are separated by culture, religion, language, taking opposite sides in the cold war and and before that between the Allies and Axis. Citizens of one space unsee, unhear, unreact to all protuberances from the other.  You can reach one from the USA, the other has more links to Canada.  Internet and cell phones work on both sides, but to communicate between the cities, that must go long distance through international exchanges, or perhaps not at all.

The air is shared, but aromas from one side are unsmelled on the other. Objects exist strictly in one or the other place, but as they disintegrate to anonymous detritus, they blow with the wind through both cities.  They say it rains more in Besźel.

I cannot tell if this is some quirk of folded space-time that brings together these specific overlapping fragments of parallel universes separated by an historical quantum event, or instead this is an idiosyncrasy of two populations in a single conurbation reinforced by intense taboos and policed by the feared invisible omniscient Breach.

This is The City and the City by China Mieville which I have listened to as an audiobook.

While listening to this book, I came across this video “to survive, to live – 2019” through twitter.  The writer who introduced me to it now has a blog.  I thought, this is the city and the city.  People live precariously, and isolation during a pandemic leaves them without resource and invisible.  I thought, we are not asked to judge, just to not unsee.

The Ribs

The idea for this image clearly has its origins in China Mielville’s steampunk masterpiece, Perdido Street Station.

Ribs 11

In my imagining, an urban density of neon-lit blocks and dwellings, surmounted by a tall temple’s spire, has risen beneath the gigantic fossilised skeleton of an ancient beast.

So this image does not truly depict Mielville’s vast diverse metropolis, New Crobuzon. where the Ribs jut over Bonetown, a makeshift market of temporary stalls, with scanty brick buildings and abandoned lots edging dirty scrubland. Tools break and cement remains fluid.  A baleful influence from the gigantic half-exhumed bones limits development on the gravesite.

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This piece started as an A1 size memory of the fallen tree in backlit woodland, drawn in chalk pastel, washed and blotted.  Seeking to further disintegrate it, it was wetted and covered in inks and white gouache.  Weeks later, I drew the Ribs into the dried-dark image in oil pastel and painted onto this resist with diluted white acrylic.  This still exists in that form, awaiting further work. I took a digital image and explored future directions of travel on the iPad in ArtRage.