Three Strong Words



My dear Isabel it is coming, can you hear it? We are in a period of ‘advent’! What is it? That is hard to decipher, it comes in waves and many faceted guises of both loss and gain, it offers deliverance and renewal, yet it is strict and exclusive in its existence. Where it comes from is as oblique as its method, as ancient as it is new. When it came before you greeted it with silence, no, you silenced its greeting; yes that is the way, that is always the way.

On a spring morning nearly eight decades ago it came, a very modern greeting filled the skies, the drone of modernity embracing the past. The starlings and songbirds fell silent, like you Isabel, aware yet stoically unmoved. And as the marketplace filled with every age in the morning sun the modern shadows gently silenced the pink earth hue. Chiaroscuro heightened the drama, silently; olives, tomatoes, apples, oranges, milk and meat became subdued, their tones darkened, their bright voices muted to a grey beneath the falling delivery, they silenced the greeting.

The chiaroscuro faded to darkness, and out of this darkness came light; the light was ancient in its essence but modern in its contrived delivery; I am reminded of the Fayum portraits, of their production from dark to light but also of their totally bastardised art-form, a hybrid that corresponds with the modern situation-but I digress, Isabel. This hybrid light and temporary colour soon subsides to shadow again; what remains is shades of darkness not colour, yet this darkness shines out like the memories of Fayum.

Not too far away, North West as the fleeing birds fly, an artist greeted the coming with silence; his silence had provoked others rebuke, his placement solitary within the growing regime, yet he remained there working silently until the shadowed silence was delivered.

The artist worked silently; there was noise in the studio, the click of documentation of the work from the mechanical eye, and from outside street noise drifted in through the open window on that late spring Paris morning. As the artist moved across the plank, that enabled reach, it groaned; the artist with brush on stick reached high to deliver both light and dark, modern and archaic became one.

The drone of modernity appeared again in physicality, and voices and footsteps climbed the stairs that led to the atelier; the stair risers groaning in unison with the plank that the artist balanced on, the dead wood heralding the ‘advent’ and the artists depiction of this moment, and of other moments. As the studio door burst open the camera clicked, the plank groaned and the brush bristles scraped out, in monochrome, the greeting. As you greeted the arrival Isabel in your day, the artist did the same; unmoving, silent reproach. Again chiaroscuro pervaded the scene; the visitors in their uniform grey muted the tonal voices, removed the hues and the artist embraced these shadows.  Click, the shutter fell and captured the shadow and the silence, click, click, click…the metal grey modern tools were ready for use, ordered by a monotone bark; the same bark directed orders to the artist who continued to work.  The barking leader of the pack moved closer to the artist’s work, ‘did you do this?’ The plank groaned as the artist stepped down, he faced the inquisition for the first and only time and uttered three strong words ‘no, you did!’.

Is that not the way Isabel? Is that not wondrous?

What is coming now, or soon, is a similar light Isabel; similar to that which you greeted and similar to that which fell on that spring morning nearly eighty years ago. Can I say this? To you I can, for you would understand the likeness; as Levi Strauss commented ‘nature is raw, culture is cooked!’ And culture is this lightness, and how cooked culture has become my dear Isabel!

Such comparisons may seem severe, but not to us! It is with controlled deliberation that the light is delivered, it is brought through presumption and arrogance and delivered in many guises; it is a process that gathers weight and speed and encompasses all, whether wanted or not.

In a few lines this cooked nature of things can be shown, whether in the inverted face of a dead child-staring out from a ‘chiaroscuro spring morning drama’ or from a page crafted from within an enforced regime as Gramsci wrote: ‘If we think about it, we see in asking the question: What is man? We want to ask: what can man become? Which means: can he master his own destiny, can he make himself, can he give form to his own life? Let us say then that man is a process, and precisely, the process of his own acts.’

Imposed culture comes hand in hand with transition, they are fervent bedfellows; juxtaposed like chiaroscuro, dark to light and back. Some would call it cultural hegemony, others would break this down into various ISA’s, but it is process, man’s process.

So it is coming Isabel, and I will greet it as you did, no, I will silence its greeting as you did in your time; my silence is a homage to you Isabel, it is a homage to the artist who uttered three strong words, and it is a homage to the market town on a bright sunny morning in spring some eighty years ago when the natural light became cooked.


three strong words

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