THIS is the beginning . . . Because somewhere between not knowing . . . and knowing . . . there lies imagination . . . THIS, THAT and THE OTHER . . . Book 1 . . . OUT NOW . . . THIS is the beginning . . . Because somewhere between not knowing . . . and knowing . . . there lies imagination . . . THIS, THAT and THE OTHER . . . Book 1 . . . CLICK HERE . . .

CURRENT : RED SPARROW WRITERS : storytelling, workshops, book signings : RSPB Conwy : booking now for 29 October 2019
THIS (parts 1 & 2) : OUT NOW from The Red Sparrow Press : paperback & e-book editions

FUTURE : Folklore & Fairy Tales of North Wales : Mixed Exhibition at Oriel Ty Meirion Gallery, Dyffryn Ardudwy : 22 October 2019 - 5 January 2020
THIS (Kindle Editions parts 3 & 4 of THIS, THAT & the OTHER Book 1) : Publication Dates TBA

Saturday, 8 August 2015

A is for Cow - The Haus of Helfa Journals (part 1)

It was the 70th anniversary of the atomic blast that levelled Hiroshima.

The sound of the ceremonial peace bell still chimed through the world media.

It somehow seemed fitting that my first visit to the space that I have been allotted in the house, at number 26 Augusta Street, Llandudno, was on this solemn day of remembrance, 6 August... Because, along with Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the firestorm created by the bombings of Dresden ranks as one of the decisive horrors of the Second World War.

RAF Marshall, Arthur William Tedder, 1st Baron Tedder, GCB, 1943
(picture courtesy, Imperial War Museum)
Dresden was suggested as a target for ‘strategic’ bombing by British Air Marshal Arthur W Tedder. This was the same man who was instrumental in devising the grid system for the RAF ‘low-level marking methods’ used to coordinate the carpet bombing so dreadfully showcased during February 1945. It was not only Dresden that burned, the very air in and around the city caught fire. The true number of casualties will never be known, but estimates range around 25,000 with some historians putting the figure much higher and into hundreds of thousands. The destruction of Dresden is often explained as a response to the bombing of Coventry... Number 26 Augusta Street is still locally known as The Tedder House, it was renamed in honour of Arthur W Tedder when it became an RAF servicemen’s club.

The building now stands empty, its interiors hacked back to the brick. Like an evacuated, gutted house evoking the emptiness of those buildings in post-bomb Dresden, or the ground zero monument of Hiroshima.  Now, that emptiness will be challenged by its antithesis: Creativity will transform the inner space once more. This year’s artists in residence are set to occupy those empty rooms and bring the dormant house back to life.

Ghost writer in residence at Haus of Helfa?
I have been placed on the ground floor, where big bay windows let the light stream through into the darkness. The room is a blank page, quite a big blank page. So, can they install a bar? Yes they can!

So what does it mean to be the first writer in residence for Haus of Helfa?

It is all about art.

There are to be twelve ‘artists’ in residence, plus one ‘writer’.

So, is a writer not an artist?

Or, are writers a special type of artist?

What is art, and what is writing?
Label Your Words by Remy Dean (photograph of assemblage, 2015)
Lines drawn with a pencil can be just simply that – nothing more than marks on paper – yet, through some intangible and subtle act of transformation, they can become art… and also, lines written on paper can be just simply that – nothing more than a bunch of words – though a collection of words can somehow become more that their collective meaning, sometimes they may transcend their basic code. A diagram is one thing, a work of art is another. A shopping list is all very practical, a piece of literature is something else. Same tools, same ingredients… different end results.

To confuse matters – a diagram can be elevated in status to become a work of art and a shopping list could become a poem… depending on the skill of the creator, the context in which it is experienced, the intended meanings and the perceived meanings. Something to do with, as Charles Bukowski put it, STYLE, or with what William Blake described as the POETIC GENIUS. The style and poetic genius of the creator or/and the audience.

Artists are dealing with something beyond their means, wrestling or dancing with ideas that cannot be fully expressed by the physical tools at their disposal. They are hinting at something, exploring ideas that cannot, or should not, be fully expressed. A piece of art is on-going, never fully finished. After it leaves the domain of its maker, it continues its journey and begins to consolidate its meanings in the minds of the users – a conversation ensues between the work (and its intended meanings) and the viewer (and what is understood from it)… Art, therefore is a PROCESS.

A butterfly, fluttering across a meadow of summer flowers, its colours flashing in the sunlight, stirs the senses in a way that a pinned specimen in a museum drawer cannot, and the memory of seeing it can be more beautiful than the experience. A few words can evoke that scene in a very similar way as a skilled sketch may do. I just caught a butterfly in my mind and I gave it to you – is your butterfly the same as mine? I think mine was a comma, but its flight was so lively and joyous that I could not be sure.

The pinned specimen was different – a blue variety, and something I can also do is carefully blow the pale dust from its delicate, iridescent wings, unpin it from the display tray and hold it in the palm of my hand. Watch closely and… yes! Its wings tentatively move again, part closing then opening like the pages of a book that will not lay flat. It is delicate and shimmering in the light from the open window, little legs grip the very tip of my finger for a moment before it takes flight, the blue of its wings flashing against the blue of the sky as it flies free and far… we smile, until the bird swoops and takes it. Are we now happy for the bird to have something to feed its nestlings? Or are we saddened that a specimen that had sat in a dark dusty draw for more than a century only got to enjoy its miraculous resurrection and new found freedom for mere moments?

Do not worry, the bird was not really there – I made that bit up – we watched as the butterfly flew away, a diminishing fleck in the vast dome of bright sky… and was gone.

'The Visual Arts' is an often used term of differentiation.

From the very simple butterflies example above, we can see that text and writing are within the visual arts. See what I mean?

A is for 'Cow'
(a manipulated vintage illustration)
Reading, with your eyes, has an obviously visual element, yet in good writing that element vanishes and we see the evoked mind-images, instead of the visual text. Painting and drawing are much more ‘in your face’, yet often it is internal dialogues that have led to the creation of the piece and are then sparked off in the minds of the audience. The image creates words. Many artists will argue that they express only emotion and the response in the viewer is purely emotional – many writers will also claim this – though this is clearly not the case. Art deals with far more than emotions and, probably, if we could sum up everything a piece of art is or does, then it would be reduced to a document and no longer be art.

So, all visual arts are attempting to express something from the artist and elicit responses from the viewer. What differentiates each piece of work is the materials and languages used, and the codes conveyed. Writing began as the drawing of sounds, visually recording those sounds that make up words that are the codes of a language - and through the understanding, or at least an interpretation, of language a meaning is arrived at. Visual art also uses languages, such as theories of form and colour, there are codes, and through the interpretation of those codes a meaning is arrived at. Different interpretations = different meanings.

Let us start at the beginning, when drawing and writing were the same thing...

This meant ‘cow’:
A Cow
We can still understand the visual code here as a simple portrait of a generic 'head of cattle', the broad curve of its horns above the tighter 'U' shape of its head. Originally devised as a means of accounting to keep track of cattle, which were used as currency, and to aid with the introduction of taxation. The glyph was scratched into soft clay, which could be re-wetted and wiped clean for re-use.

“How much does that cow cost?”

“One cow, please.”

“I already have a cow…”

“Well that’s one cow you owe me.”

“Hang on a minute…”

When there arose a need for more permanently accurate records, ones that were harder to tamper with, clay was replaced with stone. It was more difficult to etch curves into harder materials, so the cow glyph was simplified and adapted into straight lines only.
Three Cows
Imagine reading one of these stone tablets upside down... perhaps this was the reaction to that first ever tax bill:

 " A A A "

The letter for ‘cow’ survives to this day as the first letter of the Alphabet - a testament of the central importance of cows to ancient western societies.

F is for ‘cow’

It is the same story for the letter 'F' – adapted from Fehu, the first letter in the Viking Futhark, the ancient Germanic alphabet.

This glyph started out as a simplified pictograph of a bull or cow, seen from the side: a horizontal line representing the body of the animal with two upstrokes for horns. I see it as a cow fording a boundary river, as it is driven from the territory of one owner onto the land of its new owner.

Lucky Cow!
This rune came to represent wealth and prosperity, and became upright when it needed to be used in conjunction with other runes in a row of writing. Later its form was simplified to what we recognise as our letter 'F'.

Words become pictures become words become pictures.

B C N U xxx

PS: The shortest SF story ever, written by Forrest J Ackerman and first published in Vortex Magazine during the 1970s, was titled Cosmic Report Card: Earth and consisted of a single letter…

NB: Due to copyright, I am unable to reproduce the story here.

& so with that, I shall F off ...until next time.

For more info about the Haus of Helfa Residencies, see the Helfa Gelf website

(this is art not academia, but if you are interested in more info on the origins of writing)

Origins of Writing at The New York Metropolitan Museum of Arts's Heilbrunn Timeline
Writing Timeline at the Ancient History Encyclopedia
The Story of Writing at

No comments:

Post a Comment