Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Duality of the Shout

This is part of a statue in Turin's University district. Now for preference, I don't bother with iron sculptures. I feel they are clunky and often out of keeping with their environment - then they rust and look dreadful! But this one made me stop to have a look. In in this case I didn't feel impelled to melt it down to make something more useful. What is symbolic about the figure - man, hands, mouth or shout?  In this shot he does look like he's made from Lego pieces. So there are overtones of construction and, by the same token, deconstruction. Let's go for shout, because it's unusual for a symbol. A shout has some kind of formal association (often unwelcome) in all traditions. There's the Town Crier in England and Night Criers and Night Whistlers in France. The Greeks and Trojans gave shouts of halala as they charged into battle. For Romans it was the clamour!  But in the Koran the shout is all about disaster, perhaps a whirlwind to punish the unjust. As is the way with symbols, the opposite can apply. In the procession along the Sacred Way from Athens to Eleusis, shouts of celebration accompany the Hiera (holy mysteries).  One god in particular, Iacchos, personified the shout. In this case, his association with Demeter means fecundity, love and life. When a new born baby is born what's the first thing it does? A lot of shouting!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Squares and Chairs

St Peter's is in my neighbourhood in Rome, so I cross this square frequently. There's often opportunities for good photos that are a little different. This was taken when the new Pope was about to appear officially for the first time, and all the chairs were formally laid out. I took many shots but liked this the best. Many areas set aside for particular functions are in the form of a square. A square is created and earthly as opposed to heavenly (which is round). A square, like the setting of the chairs, is formal and intellectual - a product of human engagement with the universe. To be on the square is to be honest and to square up with someone is to balance a debt. I am uncertain why the recent term "square", denoting a dull and regimented person, came into being. I guess it's because each side of the square is the same. The chair of course denotes some kind of privilege - and these seats were reserved for the ticket holders, the invited few. Chairs always have four legs for stability, so the picture is all about the number four. Again this is earthly - the created and the revealed. That's why there are four corners of the globe - something that used to confuse me as a child. In some cities, particular areas are know as quarters. There's no mystery really, because these places are solid and knowable - just like St Peter's Square for me, accessible and on my beat.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Nemo me impune lacessit


I think I've featured thistles before, but I came across this picture lurking in a file I hadn't used for a while. The file comprised my photos of the gardens attached to the Madama Palazza in Turin - one of my favourite spots to hide away. Visitors are quite likely to miss these gardens in favour of palace exhibits, so it can be very peaceful there. You can see how closely related are thistles and artichokes. In fact, the artichoke is derived from a variety of thistle. They are prickly plants and central to the legend of the Scottish army being fortuitously disturbed by advancing Norse invaders - who stood on them. I don't know if that's true, but it would certainly be a painful experience. Symbolically, the thistle defends the heart. Nemo me impune lacessit - no-one touches me unharmed! It set me wondering about conflict - and the tendency these days to discourage critical expression. We just don't want to allow the prickles to prick us, so anything we say must pass through a neutralising filter. And if we don't do it for ourselves, then surely someone will do it for us. I had the privilege of hearing Augusta Boal, founder of the Theatre of the Oppressed, before he passed on. In a riveting lecture in London's ICA, he elaborated the concept of the "cop in the head". We are all encouraged to have this censor, he argued. In maintaining it, we immunise ourselves against exclusion and injustice. So I think we need our critical prickles so that we may better stay aware. If it moves, prick it.