In the years from 2010-13, I underwent a series of personal transformations which had an enormous effect on my life, my world and my art. Among these changes was a subtle movement in identity, in which my self-image took a more ancient turn and I began to consider myself not as homosexual or gay, but as Queer. This took place within a wider context in which myth functions as an essential passion in my life, and with the identity-change there came a deepening in my approach to utilising mythforms in my life and my art. This autobiographical essay narrates that movement in somewhat fragmentary form through a selection of several artworks from that period, and represents an attempt to clearly integrate sensations of the Queer and come to a new understanding of myself.
"Since the middle of the twelfth century, an accelerating disintegration has been undoing the formidable orthodox tradition that came to flower in that century, and with its fall, the released creative powers of a great company of towering individuals have broken forth: so that not one, or even two or three, but a galaxy of mythologies – as many, one might say, as the multitude of geniuses – must be taken into account in any study of the spectacle of our own titanic age." -- Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God
Myth has been for me a constant presence and animating principle in my life since I was a child. From Classical Greek heroes to the strange surrealism of Aboriginal Australia and the graphic imageries from Mexico, myth has not merely been a source of inspiration but the primary method through which I engage with and coordinate my life. Myth has also been deeply liberating for me, the insights passed down over millennia from a world of cultures has allowed me to see my own culture with different eyes and to break out of the models and metaphors which that culture presents.
Such mythical liberation has been especially useful in light of the fact that I am a gay man in a world where heteronormativity is still the dominant paradigm, and over the years of my practice as an artist, mythical expression and a rising sense of the Queer Within have combined to the point where I have had to engage in creative mythology in order to continue my artistic path. In particular, the models presented by in Western society often mean I have to create new models of self-worth, to forge Queer Archetypes, in order to counter the subtle cognitive dissonance that living in a heteronormative society entails. Thus, for me, creative mythology is not merely a playful or esoteric activity but a key element in my seeking of inner contentment.
This autobiographical essay, then, explores that mythical creativity within my work, with a particular focus on the Queer Within, but also upon authenticity and the avoidance, when dealing with indigenous imagery, of colonial and appropriating attitudes.
:: The Eternal Return and Problems with Authenticity ::
Mircea Eliade's concept of the Eternal Return is a relevant factor in coming to view much pre-modern and indigenous artforms, but also a great deal of Western art up to around the 15th century. The primacy here is placed upon the mythical archetype rather than individual experience, and the efficacy of ritual action to transform the perceptual context from 'everyday time' into 'primordial moment':
"...rituals and significant gestures... acquire the meaning attributed to them, and materialise that meaning, only because they deliberately repeat such and such acts posited ab origine by gods, heroes and ancestors. " -- Mircea Eliade, The Eternal Return
And so it is with art also. Pre-modern artworks primarily acquired their meaning through the depiction of some figure or action that took place in primordial all-time, and through that depiction acquired primordial sanctity, in some cases even going so far as to become identical to those mythical characters and narratives. The archetypes guided and shaped the artistic endeavour, and individual expression was largely suppressed.
The Minoan Epiphany - Ritual Action, Vision and the Eternal Return
Conforming to such primordiality was a prime motivation in much of my early work, particularly my 'Ink & Marker Visions' phase from 2004-09. Here we see fairly strict attempts to express mythical episodes with minimal individual expression, which led one gallerist I was working with at the time to pose the question: “But where are you in all these works?”
A good example of utilising the Eternal Return in my early work can be seen in my 2006 piece entitled 'The Seventh'. This work narrates an episode from the Creation Cycle of myths of the Dogon people. The Dogon relate that there were eight ancestors at the moment of primordial creation. The Seventh Ancestor took the longest to be born and was endowed with exceptional magical powers, among which were an ambiguous, bisexual gender. The Seventh is thus depicted as in the creation myth - still gestating deep within the earth under an ants' nest while the other ancestors await hir arrival.
The Seventh, 2006
In 'The Seventh' can be found the seed of many problems of authenticity and expressions of queer-otherness that manifested in clearer forms in my later work. From an incipient queer perspective, I was attracted by the disorder of number in the narrative, that the seventh to be created should be the eighth to emerge, and something of the 'primordial other' in this notion spoke to something as yet unnamed within me.
However in 2008, I was honoured to find out that through a mutual friend based in the local area, some Dogon people from the village of Tereli, Mali had seen this image and had been given a textile print of it. I was told they found it interesting but that the dark blue sky colour was inappropriate for such a sacred event - to the Dogon, dark blue is the colour of the darkening sky in the evening and thus a colour of evil influences.
Here, then, were the beginnings of questions of indigenous authenticity and colonialism: I had unwittingly rendered the Dogon's most sacred mythical event as a dying, evil moment rather than a creative manifestation. Despite trying to seek a pure expression of the Eternal Return in which my influence was absent, I had unwittingly brought my own Western cultural and colonial assumptions to the artwork.
And So I Am Born Again, 2004
Other works in the 'Ink & Marker' series from the same period suffer from the same problems – of indigenous authenticity, and of incipient but unrecognised Queer expressions. See for example 'What Do You Know About Wawilak?' for an image of an Aboriginal mythical episode from Arnhem Land, created before I realised that Mythical Dreamings have indigenous ownership tied intimately to the land, and rights to create images of such myths runs through native bloodlines.
Equally, though, an incipient approach to Creative Mythology becomes visible in this period, which is free of such inauthenticity, in that it utilises either pan-cultural imagery or the archaeology of (particularly Neolithic) cultures which are no longer living. Several works could be mentioned, but one which proved to be most relevant for my later journey was 'At The Edge Of The Milky Way' in which a magical menstruating woman is seen giving birth to the Milky Way with her bloodwaters.
At The Edge Of The Milky Way, 2004
It became increasingly clear to me that, in order to progress as an artist, the strict model of the Eternal Return no longer served, as Joseph Campbell's model of Creative Mythology began to rise in my practice. From this point, I ceased working with many living indigenous mythical images, preferring to work with Greco-Roman Classical and British traditions from my own heritage, but an emerging queer perspective brought me slowly back to a wider global purview.
:: Creative Mythology ::
"In the context of traditional mythology, the symbols are presented in socially maintained rites, through which the individual is required to experience... certain insights and commitments. In what I'm calling creative mythology, on the other hand, this order is reversed: the individual has had an experience of his own... which he seeks to communicate through signs; and if his realization has been of a certain depth and import, his communication will have the force and value of living myth..." -- Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God
The reversal of the Eternal Return in Creative Mythology must be effected authentically, and as such cannot be a manifestation of the individual ego acting upon or reshaping the myth for superficial or narcissistic ends. Rather, a creative approach to mythology must partake of the same archetypal energies from the deepest wellsprings of human experience – the mythical image is transformed most authentically by an image of similar mythical origin.
(We should note, in passing, that although Campbell charts the steady disintegration of orthodox traditions in the past 800 years, there is an element of this creativity which is unfathomably ancient. Evidence from Palaeolithic artforms, especially in Europe and Asia, suggests a shamanic component to the religious expression of Upper Palaeolithic humans, and in modern hunter-gatherer societies today, such shamanic elements are decidedly freewheeling and unorthodox and often idiosyncratic to the individual shaman or visionary. Thus we can say to a certain extent that a creative mythical approach recovers some very ancient experiences.)
There are several ways in which this transformation – of mythical image by mythical image – can occur: through dreams, visions, archetypal flights of the imagination, through the combination of archaeological and mythical insights, or indeed any activity in which one can gaze into the deepest levels of oneself, far beyond the personal and emotive. One common opportunity to engage with creative mythological experience is through the seizure or crisis, in which the archetypal spontaneously erupts into the personal life.
:: The Flight Of Icarus ::
In the years 2010-12, such a crisis occurred in my own life. Arriving in my mid-30s with a rising sense of my own mortality and coming to realise that I was entering something of a dark and surreal period of life common to many men in the West, I began to have disturbing dreams of self-destruction. At the same time, I was making a momentous decision to leave my teaching career to take up a role as a freelance artist, a decision which left me both with excitement for the future and fears for my financial and emotional security.
My natural instincts gravitated towards mythical images, and from amongst a maelstrom of strange and intense dreams, one archetype began to illuminate the situation, that of the flight of 'Icarus and Daedalus' from imprisonment in the Cretan Labyrinth to freedom across the sea.
Icarus and Daedalus, 2010
In the Greek myth, Daedalus fashioned wings from feathers and wax for him and his son, and the image of the young Icarus flying out over the ocean, away from a former life, was an attractive one. It also reflected many of my inner fears that my endeavour as an artist, and indeed my journey through a dark and surreal part of my life, would fail just as Icarus had, by crashing and burning into the winedark sea. At times, I found myself hoping, and even praying, to become Daedalus successful in his journey to the Sicilian coast where he found psychological safety and security, and to avoid the watery grave of Icarus.
Here, then, was a dreaming image of a call to adventure to burst out from my previous life into something novel and amazing, combined intimately with all the fears and anxieties that such an undertaking brings.
Then in May 2011, a fascinating dream came to me, barely a day before I was due to quit my job: I dreamt I was Icarus crashing into the ocean. But far from death, far from being a nightmare, the dream revealed to me what happened to 'Icarus Under The Waves'. As Icarus, I became transformed, just as Glaucos and Pelops were, into a dolphin, and explored the dark deeps, the collective unconscious embodied in the ocean, to find a glowing world of artistic delights. As I wrote at the time: 'There's a whole world of wonder down there...' I realised I was Icarus after all, but that was no bad thing – indeed it was the perfect image for an artist to bear in his psyche: Icarus Transformed.
Icarus Under The Waves, 2011
In this dreamlike fusion of two Greek myths – Icarus and Pelops/Glaukos – we can see how myth can authentically transform myth from crisis and tragedy into something simultaneously life-affirming yet surreal, thus creating an image which moves beyond the everyday, and beyond the initiatory mythologies of the hero or of the adolescent. There were for me shapeshifting elements of the shamanic about this dream in that it appeared to burn through the crisis rather than retract from it. My subconscious instinctively did not seek to save Icarus from his watery grave, but instead transformed his actions and adventures after death. Dying to oneself in order to be reborn thus became the guiding light during those years of darkness and self-transformation.
The shapeshifting aspects also answered to the burgeoning sense of the Queer and the Liminal within me, and once I had returned to the light of the world with a transformed self-image, the questions these senses prompted began to illuminate my subsequent artist path. At the same time, with a new-found sense of purpose, I decided to make use of this nascent descent-and-emergence approach to the mythical image in a context which had long been familiar to me.
:: Questing Lost Mythical Images ::
The spontaneous emergence of the mythical can be mirrored in the archaeological, and for many years, an essential aspect of my practice has been to combine archaeological insights with the archetypal – as it were, allowing what is brought to light out of the earth from early civilisations to cause archetypal images to emerge out of the realm of collective experience. This approach I have found to be extremely useful in my seeking to uncover life-affirming queer and visionary images, particularly in my researches into the Minoans and the Eleusinian Mysteries, and I believe that in the artefacts of neolithic and many non-Western cultures can be seen profoundly challenging and radically different arrangements of gender identity and human visionary capacity.
Here, the intention is to view myths that have come down to us from Classical and Bronze Age sources not as seamless images of wholeness, but almost as archaeological strata, where the narrative contains half-remembered or garbled memories from earlier times, or where names or events reflect realities of a previous civilisation. These insights are then combined with archaeological findings to attempt to animate the older image, and then, in the words of Laurence Caruana, one 'enters the image, with feeling and intention' to create an archaic vision both relevant and challenging to the modern world.
This method I am beginning to call the 'Triple-Eyed Technique' in that one comes to the archetype with an archaeological, rational eye, a mythical, dreamlike eye and a third, visionary eye. An example of an early attempt towards this method can be seen in 'Europa Untouched', in which the strata enfolded into the Classical Greek myth of Europa are teased apart and combined with Minoan imagery to reveal a pristine Cretan goddess of trade, the open-sea, visionary epiphanies and motherhood.
In 2011, slowly emerging from the maelstrom of transformation narrated above, my thoughts turned to the Eleusinian Mysteries and I began a quest to pierce into the veiled heart of what occurred there, bearing an intuition that the forgotten human experiences there would contain much that could have value for contemporary society.
By following the winding path that led from the kidnap of the goddess Persephone and her mother Demeter's world-destroying grief at her loss, into the Sanctuary at Eleusis to sense from the archaeological space lost memories of the sacred rituals, and finally into the Telesterion, a creative mythical approach uncovered fragments which demonstrated how the Mysteries revealed to the initiates a world-healing visionary epiphany of an Ineffable Female Godhead. Here again, the Triple-Eyed Technique was utilised to reveal the transformative visionary world in Archaic Western conception.
A series of works, entitled 'Eleusis', were liberated from this research-mythical-visionary process and the descent-and-emergence and epiphanic teachings of the Mysteries remain at the forefront of my conception in my life and artistic practice.
By mid 2012, I was beginning to feel that my various experiences over the preceding two or three years had brought me into a new sense of myself and of the mythical image that has been my lifelong passion, and in so realising, I returned to another very ancient theme in my life – the image of the shaman-deity, lord of visionary experience.
:: The Prince Of Flowers ::
I have always been drawn to the archetype of the bringer-of-visions, the magic figure who is the source of all dreams, inspirations and visionary experience, and several times in my early years, created naïve works expressing this theme. 'Viho Man' is one such image, and during my many years working with the Mexican entheogen salvia divinorum, I have had contact with beings I have called the 'Keepers of Salvia Visions'.
But despite my familiarity with this figure, when I began a triple-eyed research into 'Xochipilli', the celebrated Aztec Prince of Flowers, god of ecstasies, visionary plants and dreams, I had no idea the depth into myself that I would descend. It perhaps was an unconscious call to bring the queer, shamanic and shapeshifting aspects of my creative soul, aspects which had long been bubbling under the surface, murmuring just out of view and whose voices I could occasionally hear and acknowledge.
Xochipilli, 16th Century Aztec, Tlalmanalco, Mexico
In researching this Aztec God, I found first that his commonly-understood name, Xochipilli, was merely a title, and his true name consisted of his day sign in the Aztec Calendar: Macuilxochitl – Five Flower. Here was an entrance to indigenous authenticity, and I began to suspect that the famous ecstatic-faced statue of the god in shamanic posture, bedecked with carvings of hallucinogenic plants, represented only part of the truth of the full mythical image. From amongst the network of myths that had come down to us, and entering into the image of this deity, I began to see that Xochipilli was patron of five magical phenomena, as his true name suggested:
- Psychedelic Plants & Sacred Visions (Flowers of the Earth)
- Dance & Chanting
- Poetry (called 'Flowers and Song' in Aztec metaphor)
- Recently departed souls (often depicted as butterflies) and the near afterlife
- Male homosexuality and male prostitutes
Suddenly the title 'Prince of Flowers' began to take on a more delightful, effeminate shade of meaning redolent of a Queer Archetype. I saw that Xochipilli's domain was primarily Liminality, the edge between two worlds: sacred plants that allow one to cross over into godly realms, dances of ecstasy in which one can embody the gods, poetry which calls that-which-is-not into existence, the recent dead who yet hover on the edge and await their union with the Great Collective Animism, and male homosexuality, the Queer on the edge of society, at once desired and undesirable.
Something ancient, simultaneously vision-inducing and sexual, awoke in me upon this realisation, for there is great potential for ecstasy in the activity of male homosexual sex. In my experience, this particular ecstasy, predicated as it is not upon ejaculative orgasm but on the kind of full-body ecstasy that our society tends to believe only women are capable of, is a deeply hidden and rarely-acknowledged portal to the sacred in the human being.
The link between my vision and my homosexuality was here made explicit and immediately transformed. In a wild moment of expression and self-realisation bursting forth from within, this artwork bore witness to my newly-understood link between liminality, the shamanic and the queer. For it has been said the world over, from Siberia to Native America, from secret cults in West Africa to Polynesia, that a shaman can be powerful if he is male, but rarer and more powerful is the female shaman. But rarest and most powerful and even dangerous of all is the Queer Shaman: the homosexual, the transsexual.
We're born under Xochipilli. He is the patron of all that is other, illegal, abjected and all that is ecstatic in the truest sense of the word (εκ-στασις), all that is beyond, that which moves out of the static into the dynamic and transformative. Part Dionysos, part Hermes, part Janus, but queerer by far than any of those, and all of this coalesced within me in a Grand Queer Epiphany.
But given that I am not Mexican, and given that Aztec traditions survive in some form among Nahuatl-speaking indigenous peoples today, one could argue that with this artwork I had fallen into the same type of inauthenticity that was present in my early works. However, in my view, the combination of the Triple-Eyed approach and the shimmering awakening of this Queer Within lent the work a transpersonal authenticity I could never have dreamed of previously.
This artwork represents my emergence out of the homosexual, that is to say the defining of oneself merely in terms of the orientation of one's sexual attraction, into the Queer, by which is meant the continuous re-creation of a visionary identity that dwells outside the heteronormative and the rational mainstream currents of our society. I became Xochipilli's son:
I was born on the day Five Flower,
I live under you and I die under you,
I love under you and I fuck under you.
Through you I can become, can go beyond:
Oh Xochipilli, I am your house!
:: Queer Authenticities, Queer Liminalities ::
Bearing this mythical realisation of myself as Liminal Queer, I began to look at past works which hinted at these notions, in a new light, beginning to see that I had for several years already been unconsciously working upon the recovery – or perhaps re-creation – of life-affirming, liminal and sexual Queer archetypes. Two artworks in particular stood out.
In 2011, in the midst of my transformative maelstrom, I created the homoerotic work 'Shot By Eros' which was primarily intended as a meditation on the radical, almost violent healing of love in times of crisis. Springing from a strange flight of the imagination I'd had many years previously, the artwork had in part depicted an internal struggle between opposing ideals within me – for security and for adventure – but now took on new dimensions of the ecstatic and the sexual.
Shot By Eros, 2011
Suddenly I could see how Eros's arrow was not merely an instrument of profound self-healing but a phallic symbol of penetration, the portal to a liminal sexual ecstasy, emphasised in part by the pseudo-sexual posture of the two male figures. I now consider this artwork to be a beacon for the future, and the theme of male-on-male sexual ecstasy is one I intend to pursue in future works.
My 2010 work Human Shadow sprang from a half-dream, a moment between waking and sleeping in which both dreaming and waking consciousness seem to be simultaneously active. One morning, I sensed a presence both within and above me made of shimmering flowing lines. As the experience deepened, I noted the figure was male, but bearing a vagina which bled forth creative water and menstrual blood, and the vision evolved into a large-scale artwork in which the female attributes expressed the creative, birthing process of the artist.
This image resonated with a much older work from my 'Ink & Marker' days – 'At The Edge Of The Milky Way' mentioned above – which has dwelled within me for many years: that of a menstruating goddess who, in birthing the cosmos also births the creative spirit within me. Filled with the spirit of Queer Liminality, I was finally able to come to this inner image and see it as an essential part of my Fundament. Not merely an anima or a female side, I experience this vision regularly as being itself the source of my visions – as she menstruates, so I envision.
She Is In My Blood She Is My Shining Blood, 2012
I experience her as birthing my dreams, and in the landscape of my body, she dwells in a house in my belly. Though of course it is psychosomatic, there are times when I can feel her house inside me. Here, for me, is something profoundly queer – a visionary identity beheld as female shaman. In conversations with several (male, heterosexual) fellow visionary artists, I have heard of no other who experiences the birthsource of their visions in this gender-swapped manner.
I am still questing the implications of this transition from homosexual to Queer, and it has so far liberated a number of lines of investigation into how this individual male-gendered, queer-identified human may be able to utilise his visionary experience, mythical descent-and-emergence methodology and reflections upon himself and society in order to birth new queer ground. My intention here is to move beyond mere archetypes (no matter how life-affirmingly queer they may be) into inner territories that overcome heteronormative cognitive dissonances to manifest unified visions of queer experience.
:: Lucifer's Heteronormative Betrayal ::
One gateway into the continuation of that quest was through the image of Lucifer, and the creation of an artwork which began life as a historical-archetypal investigation into the origins of the Light-Bringer mytheme in the mythologies of the Aegean and Ancient Near East. Here, the call in creating 'Luceat Lucifer Libertum ~ Shine Lucifer Free' was not initially a quest for the Queer, but an archetypal expressionist image of the need to expunge the strictures of recent organised religions and return the Morning Star into free and joyful manifestation in our modern culture.
Luceat Lucifer Libertum ~ Shine Lucifer Free, 2012
However, very quickly a queer-identified sexual dynamic began to infuse my perceptions of the completed artwork. We might recall how in Christian mythology Lucifer was conceived as being formerly the favourite angel of Heaven, but in the first days of the world, refused to bow to mankind thus dishonouring what God saw as his greatest creation. This betrayal cast him into the abyss under God's wrath. This movement from most-favoured to most-damned was something I saw reflected in the queer experience.
In our contemporary, patriarchal and heteronormative culture, there are specific boundaries on acceptable both female and male behaviour. Masculine ideals are strictly codified: there are correct social behaviours, correct emotional behaviours and correct sexual behaviours, among many others. Of course there are many more codifications for female behaviours than for male – this is the very definition of male privilege – but one immutable male codification is the Roman adage that a real man shall not permit himself to be penetrated. All over the world, historically and still in many places in the present day, we see sodomy cast as the greatest, most treacherous sin, and representing an irreversible turning away from all valued masculine ideals.
I must confess that frankly I delight in betraying this heteronormative ideal, smashing through this cultural boundary into an ecstasy which profoundly unseats any cognitive dissonance that the alleged treachery seeks to present to me. In so doing, my experience is that I embody Lucifer. I refuse to bow down to this masculinity which is our Western society's most valued creation, and in this refusal, alternative (feminist, enfolded, non-oppositional, penetrated, queer) masculinities are available for me to explore and experience.
:: Non-Oppositional Masculinities ::
One of the foundational mythforms of Western and Abrahamic religious culture is the slaying of the dragon. This image emerges time and time again, whether in the form of a creation myth, as in Marduk and Tiamat, or as a ritual subduing of an older substrate of gods, as is the case with Zeus and Typhon. Greek myth is redolent with heroes laying waste to the ritual landscape through murderous actions in order to found a new cultural order, and such images found their way into Christian iconography as a way of promoting self-mastery.
St George and the Dragon
We might remember the medieval adage... Non Draco Sit Mihi Dux ...do not let the dragon be my guide, but in view of the creative mythological descent-and-emergence practice mentioned above, it seems strange to turn away from the archetypal image of chaos, primordiality and underworld transformation and to term this turning away 'self-mastery'. Looking upon this with my Queer Triple-Eye, I increasingly found this adage to represent an act not of mastery but of self-cutting, an internal violence similar in form to the strictures of emotional constraint and social repression found in traditional masculine ideals.
I have found, too, that it remains common in Western society to valorise expressions of masculinity which tend to be 'oppositional', that is to say, expressed not upon their own terms but against or counter to some other entity, phenomenon or idea. Again, here the dragon-slaying imagery demonstrates this – the active power principle of the masculine is expressed primarily though its ability to overcome, dominate or otherwise destroy the dragon, and all valorous activity is thus conceived in terms of a dualistic triumph of Good over Evil. In my own life, I do not feel remotely connected to this image of maleness, and to continue to align myself with it amplified rather than soothed the cognitive dissonance I have long felt.
Indeed, my own personal adage was quickly becoming... Draco Mecum Ambula … walk with me, dragon. In early 2013, such thoughts came to a head, and after a fairly intense dream one night, formed themselves into a dual-image artwork, where one image is visible in daylight, and a different, more magically responsive image is seen only under ultraviolet illumination. This work, 'dakini-daemon', neatly set me upon the path to uncover a novel image of masculinity, one informed by queer and non-oppositional mythical experiences.
Dakini-Daemon, Day & Night images, 2013
We see here the slayer and slayed as indivisibly linked aspects of a wider wholeness, in which the daylight forms of the sword-bearing warrior and primordial dragon locked in a death battle (seemingly unaware that they are entwined in a genetic connection at the base of the image) give way to a shimmering magical illumination of the two enfolded together. The warrior now becomes a magical helper and the dragon the archetypal image of indestructible life, and the hybrid form is only seen, only experienced when weapons are laid down, where oppositional power plays are set aside.
the indivisible unity
of light and dark
the act of self-mastery
an act of self-cutting...
...and we might also say, the indivisible unity of Self and Other, of the (bodily) Male and the (archetypal) Queer identities that were now both living delightfully within me. I was rapidly coming to realise that if I could integrate these non-oppositional masculinities within me (surely a quest of a lifetime!), then I would be living a truly creative mythical life redolent with liminalities. Strikingly, I realised that an artwork I had created in 2011, 'Xibalba Song', could, in part guide the way.
Xibalba Song, 2011
Like the artwork 'She Is In My Blood...' (see above) this work had a long gestation period. Many years ago, I wrote a poem called 'Xibalba Words', narrating a dialogue between a Lord of the Mayan Underworld and a dead soul seeking to be reborn into a new life. This artwork was a depiction of that poem, in which the new soul's body is being constructed. What struck me here now was that although an oppositional life/death duality strongly dominated the composition here, something transcendent of that duality – the newly-creating soul floating in the centre – was emerging creatively from the point where the duality had no further meaning, where life and death joined together to rebirth new life.
This artwork from the deepest maelstrom of my troubled years now seemed to mirror my peak moments of liminal, queer-infused inspiration.
:: Enfolding Queer and Masculine ::
The next step, and at the time of writing, the most recent step in this strange quest of mine was to explore within myself the image of an enfolded queer/masculine mytheme. Here I realised I was far from the path of religiously-authorised masculinities or socially-ordained forms of perception, and quite by accident my eye fell upon the Greek myth of Bellerophon.
We might recall that Bellerophon is most famous for his slaying of the Chimaera, a mythical hybrid beast with volcanic undertones, part-male, part-female and to me, a beautiful image of the Queer Within. Immediately we see the act of murder partakes of the same kind of ritual subduing and domination of chaos common to traditional masculine forms, and the hero even seeks advice, in a dream, from the goddess Athene on how to destroy the creature.
In addition, Bellerophon's name – which may mean 'Killer Of Enemies' – shows him to be rather an extreme version of an oppositonal masculine hero. No myth appears to tell of any love-interest either: Bellerophon appears to be a rampant destroyer and (if his attempts to reach Olympus and harry the gods is any indicator) a prideful one at that! I wondered if such an extreme, destructive character could be successfully subsumed with my liminal Queer Within.
The Dream Of Bellerophon, 2014
The presence of the Athene's dream sent to Bellerophon, however, provided the creative mythical link to the kind of subversion I was seeking. Rather than provide the solution of how to kill the Chimaera, my Athene unseats Bellerophon's violence and has his masculine identity melt into the Chimaera...
...and you, Bellerophon,
dreaming upon my altar,
sword failing in your hand,
body melting into earth,
...when liquid essence
of volcanic Chimaera,
writhing like serpent tails,
formed of starry shimmer,
has seeped into your soul...?
...when subdued earth,
shouts of battle turned to ash
from your heroic posture,
whispers to me on breezes
to deliver a subtler dream...?
...when we hover before you
among glowing moonbeams
just beyond your horizon,
blessing with shifting magic
what you once opposed...?
...when we plant a wild seed
embodying within you
a moment of hybrid union,
a vision that turns you chimeric
and invites you to step beyond...?
...then, Bellerophon, what image
of manhood will you then forge
with wings and goat-horns
and your face upon your enemy,
what name will you bear...?
So far, then, on my journey into a new Queer inner identity generated from a creative approach to mythology, this image has been the apotheosis of my endeavours: the deliberate melting away of all oppositional masculine forms so as to more greatly delight in the liminal-visionary and ecstatic-sexual delights afforded by a queer-identified human. A question that illuminates the future and, I hope, will take half a lifetime to fully answer. What kind of human will I become?
This is a work-in-progress, and if this autobiographical musing through a selection of recent artworks in light of my archetypal journey seems to end suddenly, it is because at the time of writing, the quest is not yet done. But it must be said in closing that my creative mythical approaches have unhinged me – and unhinged is the right word indeed! – not merely from Western heteronormative and cultural mainstreams, but also from many of the ideals and divinely-held truths of the visionary movement of which I still consider myself a part, albeit a relatively unheard-of one.
Whether the type of human I am becoming will lead me deeper into the pristine forests and surreal mindscapes of what it means to be Queer, or whether I will use what I have learned so far on this journey to reflect on the mainstream world remains to be seen.
BR, February 2014
:: Postscript: The Fernal World – A Queer-Identified Cosmos ::
In the past year, in the quest to uncover Queer imagery within myself, I have also taken another pathway beyond simply that of the artist's archetypal journey within, and that is to consciously create a full myth cycle which places a queer-identified gender on a perfectly equal footing with female and male, and then enfolds them together in a sequential ritual context whose reality is amplified by the invention of a queer-identified language, Fernalese.
This is part of an ongoing collaborative project with several other artists, called The Garden of Fernal Delights, a sublime and paradisical place where all the delights of the natural world and of being human, from the sexual to the surreal, the visionary to the instinctive, are celebrated as natural behaviours and perceptions of being alive.
Three Fernal Deities, 2013-14
Ana – Woman of Earth Atlai – Man of Heaven Ayia – Queer of Underworld
My role in this has been two create (so far) two mythical epics and the bones of a constructed language. The language, Fernalese, is playful and descriptive, valuing images of quality and colour rather than of rank or comparison, and while it is relationally (grammatically) gender-neutral, lexically it is gender-trivalent:
|fe||Pronoun||3rd person – he, she (animate)|
|-(h)e||Suffix||3rd person – he, she (animate)|
|ona, -na||Noun||woman, female|
|tlai, -tle||Noun||man, male|
|yia, -ya||Noun||queer, queer-identified|
Here, queer is not considered a non-female, non-male identity of exclusion but as a fully-realised gender identity in itself. Already this trivalence is influencing the process of language construction to the point where expressions are emerging which are barely translatable into a Western language.
Such inventions also flowed into the myth cycles. The Tiarzecatar ('Thirteen Songs') narrate the process of creation from primordial eternal moment into a completely-ordered cosmos, using gender-identity and sexual expression as the primary sacred precedent of creation. The songs range from magical shaman-chant to comedic sexual farce, but each act of creation is initiated (or perhaps, birthed) by a female character, continued and nurtured by a male figure and finally infused with magic by an queer-identified being.
Finally, the Lucaioncatar ('Song of Lucaion') narrates in five parts the actions of a queer-identified hero, Lucaion, also called the Fisher of the Stars, who brings the cosmos out of primordial chaos not by acts of violence, but through non-oppositional and reciprocal actions. These projects are an ongoing work, and their intention ultimately is not to challenge the heteronormative, but to provide a creative mythical haven for all queer-identified folks from cognitive dissonant cultural forms.
BR, March 2014