An extract from the preamble: “THE BELL CALLS – the anatomy of the autonomous artist”:
I had my first wake-up bell. It happened next to a lake that was book ended by two volcanos. I found myself in Central America, Costa Rica at lake Arenal. I came to shake off feelings of confusion about my place in the art community.
Every morning before anybody else was awake, I would walk to greet the sun on the edge of the hill overlooking the lake. The forests filled with waterfalls, monkeys, birds, and orchids curtained the lake. The sunrise tasted like a Mary Oliver poem: “And then I feel the sun itself as it blazes over the hills, like a million flowers on fire – clearly I’m not needed, yet I feel myself turning into something of inexplicable value.”
I will ask the sun: “Why am l so disheartened?“ Most mornings a mist of rain fluttered like moth’s wings against my cheeks and smeared the lake’s horizon into the sky like mascara after a good cry. At first I could not hear bells muffled between the whoops of the howler monkeys. Other mornings I could receive it clearer when the drizzle stopped. It was in the middle of the week and the church bells could have announced a funeral or a wedding. At breakfast I asked the innkeeper where the church was that I was hearing. He told me that there was no such thing, and I must have picked up the dawning cowbells of the local herd. Overlooking the body of water, I found my confusion growing instead of my much sought clarity. The bell was there.
On my last day visiting, me and friends frequented the small coastal town down from the Inn. We were sitting outside on a restaurant balcony having a Jugo de naranja con leche when I noticed geometric shadows in the lake. The restaurant owner eagerly shared with us the history of a couple of towns under the water. Arenal lake was man made and two towns got sacrificed in creating it. In fact, he said, if you go out on a boat you can see the town below and you can float over the church. Divers love to scuba through the belltower. Once home I researched and found many underwater bell myths of drowned towns where you can still “hear” the chime of the sunken bells. There is Kitezh in Russia, Ys in France, Cantre’r Gwaelod in Wales, Forrabury Church Cornwall, Dunwich in Ireland, Port Royal in Jamaica, and Reschensee Switzerland. The English poet Susan Katherine Phillips wrote in 1878 about “The Buried Chime” of Whitby:
“…Up from the heart of ocean
The mellow music peals,
Where the sunlight makes its golden path,
And the seamew flits and wheels.
For many a chequered century,
Untired by flying time,
The bells no human fingers touch,
Have rung their hidden chime….”
We cannot silence the submerged bell in its water casket. Its essence is in its calling. Forgotten and concealed, it rippled throughout the lake. If you can only make time for those quiet moments to stand at the shore of your body and listen. There is an ancient promise of remembrance in its tone. It jolted me back into my body. How is it I forgot why I was making art in the first place?
This was a reminder of my own calling sinking under the waters of expectations and shoulds. Even as I felt drowned by the world my calling is ambivalent to the depth of my existential crisis. It might be muffled and refracted, but it cannot be silenced. It will haunt you – if you are listening or not. Edward Lear penned in his poem:
There was an Old Man, who said, “Well!
Will nobody answer this bell?
I have pulled day and night, till my hair has grown white,
But nobody answers this bell!”
To answer the bell you have to obey yourself. Frederich Nietzsche said that He who cannot obey himself will be commanded. I was submerged in the waters of others; their opinions and criticisms. Long time ago I used to be indigenous to myself but I have become a foreigner to my interior. I had a plethora of false ideas and false conceptions, chiefly about myself, and I had to rid them before embarking on the new. That day in Costa Rica, I started making my U-turn. First – I had to remember my body and step back into its core. I alone occupy my abode of flesh, from this stance I can have engaged somatic experiences. The fodder for art-making. Second – I asked who else is living with me in my body? I evicted the squatters and silenced the unsolicited voices. Third, I returned being obedient to the calling bell and claimed my autonomy. I became an artist of none-and-neither.