before history

By: alexanderlewin

Mar 04 2018

Tags: , ,

Category: Drawing, Dreams, Photography


During the first phase of the dream I had been getting a lift home in a colleague’s vintage sport’s car.  Problem was that I realised en route that I should still have been at work, and where I was eventually dropped off was nowhere near my home, in fact just as far away from home as I would have been had I still been at work, which is where I actually should have been.  Still, it was a pleasant journey despite that, and fun to get a ride in Chris’s funky roadster.  A third problem emerged when I got out of the car and realised that I wasn’t wearing any shoes.  So I was overjoyed when things moved seamlessly into the second phase of the dream and I found myself presented with an upmarket yard sale, where many and varied pairs of slightly worn-in shoes were on display.  Perfectly worn-in in fact; just the right amount of wear, where shoes stop being annoyingly new and start being comfortable and definitely yours.  After passing up a pair of black brothel creepers I plumped for a pair of blue suede trainers with which I was delighted.  Then I am inside the house of the person who was apparently giving all of their gear away.  I’m in a room full of books, not really a library as it is all rather dingy and chaotic, and for some reason one thinks of a library as a calm sedate space, a place of comfortable refinement.  I’m obviously not the first person here; I’m not the only one enjoying this house-contents bonanza.  It also appears that in between choosing my new (old) shoes and rooting around in the bookshelves I have picked up some other goodies, namely a small bright-yellow rucsac, which isn’t empty.  In other words, the dream has been edited and a scene has been cut and we are faced with a glaring continuity error or a deliberately intriguing mystery: where did the bag come from and what is inside it?  Well we never find out: or at least I don’t find out; perhaps someone else will dream a different version of this dream in which the bag-finding scene is shown and they get to discover the contents.  So, I am scanning the shelves in this dingy chaotic room full of books and my attention is caught by a small hole in the wall that I notice between one of the rows of books.
I reach my hand into the hole and pull out a small black journal, one from a stack of goodness-knows how many that are immured behind the wall.  Taking a step back at this point, let’s look at the structure and direction of the dream thus far: we have gone from an exterior display of old shoes to an interior display of old books, from an open outdoor space to a claustrophobic ill-lit space (no windows in the book-room). And then we go deeper still, darker still, more intensely inwards to a partially-hidden not-so-secret cache of personal journals.  From shoes to books to journals, the level of intimacy and meaning has gone up a notch at each stage of the dream.
You don’t think too hard about giving away a pair of old shoes, especially if they have become a bit down at heel or have a stone rattling around inside the sole.  You may well be more reluctant to part with an old book, especially if it is an old favourite, one that you may have read and
re-read and enjoyed differently at each reading.  But personal journals, giving those away (as opposed to shredding them or burning them) would be unthinkable.  And when I looked through just one of these journals the dream did what dreams are so beautifully adept at doing:
it got really weird and disturbing but always remained utterly believable.  For inside the journal (and inside all of the innumerable journals I presume) were photographs of a woman, presumably the woman whose house we had been so happily ransacking.  They were photographs of her face, photographs of her emotions as depicted upon her face, every emotion, every type and degree of emotion, and they were increasingly hard to look upon and equally impossible to stop looking at.  Now we were in the realm of contemporary art: an installation that had lulled us into believing we were rooting through stuff, picking out what we fancied, thereby discovering and presenting our own predilections; but which now had turned into a discovery of someone else’s entire emotional catalogue, more intimate and distressing than any hard-core pornography, possibly because there was absolutely no acting or pretence or ritual involved, just utter nakedness of soul.
This isn’t what we had signed up for at all,
this had stopped being fun and was getting rather unpleasant, the opposite of retail therapy, more like Janov’s Primal Scream Therapy.  Sometimes the images morphed into Francis Bacon-like grotesques, where the jaw would stretch and you could peer into the depths of her face and her soul and you would quickly turn the page just after you realised that it was creeping you out.  I had a book as a child, full of all sorts of pictures and stories, which included a painting of a Tyrannosaurus Rex which I found terrifying.  I knew that it came just after a two-page spread of historical styles of furniture.  How dull and innocuous, but what an odd juxtaposition, as if designed to create the maximum shock value when you turned the page and were faced with a massive ravening monster leering at you with its bloody drooling maw!  Even though I knew what was coming and how much I feared it, I never skipped the page but always looked at it for as long as I could bear.  So it was with these photographic portraits: except that they didn’t stop coming, they didn’t become easier to view, they just got more and more unbearably intimate and internal until I could stand it no longer and woke up from the dream.  And while I was still floating in that strange space between dreaming and waking, while I was still able to inhabit the dreamspace and at the same time to examine it from outside, I thought and felt that the dream had been about charity and renunciation, giving away things and giving yourself away.  Giving away shoes and books can be a charitable act, because people may well want and gain some pleasure and usage from your old shoes and books.  But offering up distressing images of raw human emotion, that’s not something that people generally want when they go shopping.  They might choose to see something like that at an avant-garde art gallery or in an art-house cinema, but the dream seemed to be presenting her actions in a spiritual context, wherein she was shedding herself from the outside in and not resting until she had shed and revealed every layer, exposed the entire contents of her personality, laid her self bare.  Perhaps this is where Art and Religion meet.  Perhaps this is where Art has tried to replace Religion as a means towards delving into the innermost recesses of Being.  Perhaps this is also where Art & Religion met before Art & Religion existed as separate cultural concepts.  Before History.
With a tranced-out shaman painting out her soul upon the wall of a cave, somewhere on the outskirts of a community, whose inhabitants were hoping that somehow she could make everything better, like it was before.

al. 4/3/2018

fay bacon 2