Delta State a
Inspired by Grayson Perry’s Art Club to do some drawing.
It has been a while.
The prompt was ‘Dreaming’.
I did a few random searches on ‘dream states’ and was reminded that the name of the brainwave, associated with deep dreaming, is ‘Delta Wave’. These brain waves, electrial impulses, now recorded using electroencephalography (EEG).
I meditated on these words and an image began to take form, behind my eyelids.
I really enjoyed a return to charcoal (probably still my favorite medium of all time!). Burned Tree.
I used a plastic stylus to invisibly carve ‘rivers’, running from the centre out to the edge, each reaching a ‘delta’ at the edge.
Then, when I took the charcoal over the page, it worked like a rubbing, the ‘rivers’ remaining white.
I worked it up from there, getting lost in the ‘mountains’ and land forms that appeared and disappeared with the swipe of an erasor or the rubbing blackness of my finger. Enjoying all the accidental illusions.
As I worked I began to wonder if I had made a mistake making the centre ( that had also clearly became the pupil of an eye) so very dark?
Perhaps the rivers should run from the edge and become delta near the centre? With the ocean as the pupil?
No possibility to change that now.
I introduced soil pigment and was amazed at the sheen it had to it when used with charcoal in this way.
And eventually reached a point when the piece could be worked no further.
One of those pieces when the best versions lie hidden under later layers.
I googled ‘river deltas from space’ and sat, open-mouthed, gaping at the Beauty of these branching, sediment carrying, ‘tree’-like, neuron, blood vessel, veins of Life.
Each finding their own way, pulled by Gravity, following paths of least resistance, at last to join, the Ocean.
I learned that, apart from the threat of rising ocean levels, our world’s great river deltas are actually sinking.
This is due to damming and other human-made, water diversions, higher up stream.
The sediment is no longer washed down to the sea.
Less and less, new, silty land is being created. Fewer nutrients feeding our shores.
This natural barrier to coastal erosion removed by our own, ignorant, subtraction.
(Sub-traction. Ex-traction. These words now haunt my Dreamtime. Our human obsession with all things ‘traction’ so tied up with removing the very earth’s surface we seek ‘traction’ upon! Mechanically hauling ourselves forward. At what cost? ‘Progress’ and ‘traction’ becoming the same word in my kookie mind……)
The real irony is that these deltas provide such rich, fertile, plains, on which huge numbers of humans have made their homes.
And now they are the first to suffer ……
I created a ‘sketch’ mandala using Nasa photograph of the Great Ganges River Delta from space.
Delta State b
I loved the colours of this mandala and resolved to work again with this vision.
This is something I rarely do as my experience is that, everytime I attempt to re-do, better, a vision, it looses rather than gains anything! It seems always to become more contrived.
This time I used my mud preparation and ‘drew’ the rivers through that with a wet brush.
It made sense to try using actual soil/earth, with the direction this idea was moving in.
I sought out my beloved Prussian Blue watercolour and painted an ocean around. I soaked the paper around the ‘mud Earth’ with water and delighted in watching the sediment joining the ocean, the exact same green from the photo mandala glowing through, as the soil met my artifical watery blue…..
It became clear to me that the ‘pupil’ was now an ice cap. A polar region. Each river now beginning as a glacier.
The centre of the ‘eye’ became frozen, white.
Perhaps also a dreaming/trance eye? Pushing the subconscious, mental ‘sediment’, out into a wider ‘field’ …..?
In truth, I did not like this version much.
The rivers did not flow and they reminded me more of roots.
The mediums used seem to clash somehow. So many elements I loved, but overall I found no Beauty in this work.
I learned a few new tricks with mud, but again reached a point of no return. Over-worked.
(I was also reminded how extremely difficult it is to photograph this mud art. These images do little to represent the original, but are the closest I managed to get! It is something to do with the colour/quality of the mud. In edited pictures it always looks more ‘pooey’ than to the naked eye!)
Delta State (final version)
I sat with it again.
One more attempt.
This time only soil/earth on paper. Pure Mud art.
I worked slowly , more mindfully. Mapping out the precious deltas.
Working in negative.
Only adding what needed to be added.
Never ‘taking away’.
The rivers and oceans were the page itself.
Water is Life.
I took great care to leave them alone, not to ‘dam’ them.
Where they met the ocean, I used my finger to sweep the powdered earth out into the white paper ‘ocean’ surrounds.
This time a definite , snow-capped, volcano, began to take shape.
Lying in the centre of this ‘earth-eye’.
It’s crater, the focal point.
I found, again, great pleasure in simply moving the mud to create valleys and mountains, seeing how the terrain morphed and and changed, with the slightest sweep of the brush.
A joy to work with such a slow drying medium. Even when it has dried, it can be rehydrated with water and softens again.
Water and Earth, with the brush playing the part of Weather and Time.
Then it was finished.
I fixed the piece using linseed oil, which, again, changed the finish.
I feel it lost some of the ‘magical detail in its terrain’, but this step is necessary, to stop the whole thing crumbling to dust.
(Note to the cynics out there, I will not give away all my secrets, but this method of fixing does work! I now have mud art pieces that are over a year old and show no signs of crumbling! )
The photographs do not really do it justice, but it pleases me.
It now is.
Another piece of physical evidence to prove my ‘doing’ …… to document here …. to qualify my existence …..
I did enter it to the TV show, but hold little hope of being chosen. Image not screen-grabbing enough? Not really Grayson Perry’s style either. I do not have a mobile, so did not record my video ‘on my phone’ as requested. I do not do Zoom or other facetime apps, so would probably prove to be a bit of an awkard body, even if they did choose to feature ‘Delta State’!?
I did enjoy working to this prompt though.
Words often provide the gateway to the image in this ‘artist’s way’.
I may revisit this idea again, sometime.
It has traction.
I read a book that shouted ‘Dogon’ and I followed that call.
Lit up with a passion I cannot explain and everything began to go right for me again.
Weaving and wandering.
It became important to me.
There is ‘gold’ here. I feel it.
A typical westerner.
This time not stealing sacred statues for my museum, but scouring their ancient knowledge for answers.
So I dig my feet into the sand and begin my quest.
My ‘Dance with the Dogon.’
Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…..
This a story of spiralling light.
Beginning with the smallest of things.
A tiny, tiny seed.
This seed, when conditions became just right, began to vibrate from within.
This tiny seed grows and grows until it becomes the entire universe.
A, holding-all, universe, in the shape of an egg.
An oval mass.
Aduno Tal. ‘The Egg of the World.’
The womb of the world.
It takes seven long stages of spiral unwinding for the seed to become the egg, each stage longer than the last. This seven stage unwinding is drawn, by the Dogon, as a prefiguration of a human shape. Beginning with one foot, then a hand, then one half of the head, then the other half of the head, then a hand, then a foot and finally, orgasmically, the sexual organs. I can find no reference as to in which direction around the body this spiralling happens!
At this point the egg breaks violently open and Amma is born.
(Does that sound like a male name to you? Most of the pages I scanned say ‘HE’…..the Dogon say the ‘breast is second only to Amma’….I guess this is up to interpretation…some, more generous, texts refer to Amma as androdgenous.)
In Amma was born a divine plan.
To create a new world.
She created a planet.
Amma did have intercourse with that first planet, but it was struggle, a violent battle, the planet’s ‘clitoris rose up like a penis’ !!!, but Amma eventually succeeded in becoming impregnated.
A new egg was made.
An egg containing twins.
A male, with perfect female balance, and a female, with perfect male balance.
Perfectly designed to seed a new world.
These were the first Nommo. Children of Amma.
……BUT SOMETHING WENT TERRIBLY WRONG!
The ‘male’ oriented twin was born too early!
And he tore out of the egg into space, leaving the ‘female’ twin behind! He took with him his half of the egg sac and even stole some of the Amma’s seeds to create his world.
It was a HE who created the first world in such haste.
Due to missing such a vital part, his creation was a dark, dry and imperfect world.
This twin lived his life in restless disgrace and as punishment, Amma turned him into a desert fox or jackal. Yurugu. He repeatedly raped the planet and the resulting DNA from this union still echoes in the world today. The descendants of Yurugu’s imperfect, incestuous, children.
This mistake HAD to be rectified. Balance had to be restored.
So Amma gathered strength and created another eight sets of Nommo twins, from the remaining female twin. Four cosmic pairs and four more ‘earthy’ pairs, that came from East, West, North and South.
The Nommo travelled through space on two rays of spiralling light, in a basket shaped boat or ark. As they powerfully collided, in a rain of fire and thunder, with the planet, they brought with them the element of WATER and created the oceans. The much needed, missing, feminine, essence for this dry, parched land. These Nommo are depicted as amphibian. Looking very much like a catfish. Able to walk on land, but whose natural element was water. They thrived in the ocean where Yuguru’s children could not hurt them, but their mission was to populate the planet, become one with the, corrupted, first people, dilute the situation and restore the balance.
The bargaining began.
Yurugu was lonely. So lonely. He now understood the consequences of what he had done and felt wretched. He conceded to allow these beings to join him on the land and oh how he longed to ‘drink from the Nommo’, but still untrusting and sly, he only agreed in return for the power over the WORD. (Isn’t that wonderful!? This explains so much….even the confusion over the possible original gender of the creator AMMA!)
One Nommo came out of the water and was, willingly, ’NAILED’ TO A TREE! This female Nommo went through a painful transformation, she sacrificed herself. She died there, only to be miraculously resurrected by Amma and she returned to whence she had come, only after solemnly promising that one day she would return.
After this act of sacrifice the remaining Nommo grew legs and descendants of Yuguru and Nommo slowly populated the world.
One of these original Nommo, Ogo, a male, also returned to Amma, but only to steal a piece of the sun, using his crook, to bring back to this new ‘Earth’. It was that piece of sun and the planet’s new, watery atmosphere that gave him a rainbow bridge to return swiftly on, making his escape.
He was also punished by Amma. Killed and his body parts thrown far and wide, where they landed became the scared places for the Dogon. From this story grew the male-lineage, metal workers, of the Dogon. The Holy Blacksmith. The one who travelled over the rainbow bridge. The Magician. The Alchemist. Iron the realm of the dead. Air the realm of the spirit. Fire, that piece of sun. So powerful is their energy that they must forever wear metal shoes to prevent their feet from poisoning the soil.
The Dogon still wait for the coming of that Nommo who promised to return.
(One has to bear in mind that the Dogon are very clear that all this wonder is taking place in a specific part of our known universe, a place in the sky near Sirius, to them, a Holy Trinity of stars. One sun, one perfect, ‘blood-filled’, seed and one invisible, female star, Emma Ya, now either dead, or beyond ‘seeing’. Their knowledge of this area of space long precedes ours and is the cause of much debate, and fascination, among scientists, anthropologists and astrologers. As yet we can only see ‘the brightest diamond in the sky’, Sirius….possibly the original sun, and one tiny white dwarf, Sirius B, whose density is immense, beyond imagining, which orbits that. A new seed? The Dogon religiously count its orbits, their calendar based on them.
Emme Ya remains a mystery……
There is also some indication, within the references I found, to point to our Earth not being that original planet! This could be a longer story than we can even comprehend, perhaps we are all descended from extra-terrestrial IMMIGRANTS moving through the galaxy, re seeding and re-seeding worlds!)
A desert people, the Dogon, re-enact this sacred tale in dance and recited knowledge.
And they hold their hands up to the sky and pray for RAIN.
Only once the world is cleansed, flooded, and all descendants of Yurugu are erased (basically all of us carry his gene) will the Nommo will return to this, then watery world, only then all will be in balance, as originally intended.
They say many star travellers visit and then return. They talk with Yuguru through fox prints in the sand. They build their villages in spiralling formations and carve statues of their ancestors. Covering them with offerings of blood, millet porridge and earth. Their calendar based on the orbit of Sirius B around Sirius A. The seed is all. Their granaries holy. Their society split into 3 principle parts, Awa, (whose responsibility is the dead, whose masked dances escort the souls of the ancestors to their final resting places. They reorder the spiritual places disturbed by the death of that naughty, thieving, Nommo), Lebe, whose responsibility is LIFE (primarily agriculture) who comes to earth, at night, in the form of a serpent, to cleanse and renew the life force, by licking the priests, (the Hogon), and Binu, (the guardians of the sacred places, spiritual communications and animal sacrifice/blood). The Binu often make themselves known to their descendants in the form of an animal spirit, many reptiles among them. Crocodile (age) Tortoise (home), but also hedgehogs, deer and other animals are represented, each with their own interpretation. They are the carpenters or workers with the TREE. Which is normally the spikey, ancient, baobab, which they harvest, limb by limb, with the utmost respect to the tree, for their artwork.
One thing really struck me in the translations of their songs and chants. Common in them is the repeated sentiment. ’Forgive us. We are sorry, Excuse Us’ as if somehow they hold themselves to account for all this imbalance. I know a powerful mantra like that!
To the Dogon everything is a miniature of the whole.
It is their responsibility to work to maintain cosmic HARMONY.
And to keep up communication with their imperfect creator to let her/him know they still intend and desire to come HOME.
It comforts me greatly this creation story of theirs.
The modern world has dramatically impacted on the Dogon, many are now converted to Islam, their scared places have been ransacked and tourism is always threatening to destroy their culture. But some strongholds still remain. Strong secret holders and it would not surprise me if, like my beloved Kalash tribe (North Pakistan whose culture shows some very surprising similarities!), they often lie to strangers in order to confuse and thereby protect their mysteries! And sadly many, now, will have forgotten the original stories, even retelling them incorrectly.
I have taken the liberty of weaving this story from many, many different, often contradictory, sources, into one that makes sense to me….I have done so holding the deepest respect for the tribe.
This general jist is only a reflection of a tiny part of their ritual and complex understanding, so I betray them less than many others, who sell their own interpretations as truth.
When I look at images of the Dogon, I see a graceful and wise tribe. There is a simple visual beauty in their design and manner that is difficult not to see. Their tribal art has had huge influence on our own art history and culture. And I cannot help feeling that they KNOW so much about the movement of energy and DNA.
So much of this tale resonates deeply with me and I have no real idea why although I could talk about this for hours! Sirius has naturally long fascinated me. That loyal hound at the foot of the hunter. That twinkling spectrum low on the winter sky line. It always draws my eye and spirit.
The accompanying illustration is probably the first of many images on this theme. I have called it ‘Nommo Dreaming – On the pad’
The book that shouted ‘Dogon’ was ‘Half Asleep In Frog Pyjamas’ by Tom Robbins. In it, it is the main character, Gwen, who, inspired by free-spirit Larry Diamond, makes several connected ‘leaps’…..not least of which was the likening of Buddha to a frog on a lily/lotus pad.
It just happens that the Dogon also nurture several lakes. These lakes are covered in water lily flowers.
I have always felt in touch with ‘something’ when I meditate…..on my pad.
It amuses my Nommo DNA to dream of coming HOME and talking, through the trees, with the stars, while praying for new and better worlds to come.
Kat Robertson October 2018