As I put substances through various irreversible chemical changes in art (and Art) processes I wonder about the correlatives to those processes in ritual, most particularly initiation rituals. What are the actions and reactions that bring about transmutation, what are the necessary conditions? I do not mean a description of the specifics to one particular operation, but what are these actions in a more general, identifying sense?
What are they, and what is the good?
Practically, in the micro: what should one pay attention to, what not to worry about. One of the first things to figure out before anything can be done. In the macro: “what is thy will?” That decides pretty much everything else.
But back to the operation-
How may the “harmonious detachment” be mapped, those separate spaces of the materia’s own potential and mystery that are really not the (explicit) business of the operator? And on the other side of the mirror, the evolutionary needs/impulses of the operator that cause him to undertake the work, yet the materia cannot fathom these factors, nor is it necessary for it to do so. Yet both are united in the work, and each catalyzes the other albeit in different ways.
-the natural law of the realm they share unites them, as both must abide by it in whatever place they coexist enough to work one upon the other, the field in which the work takes place
-perhaps karma brings them together (though I admit that I am not sure that I know enough about “karma” to use that word.)
-other forces unite them – the animated and animating air, the living fire, the vessels, pure water, invoked beings of whatever sort, the physical space of the lab- all have one hand on the operator, one hand on the materia. There are a lot of officers at that wedding, it seems.
Can an increase in sensitivity to observing physical transmutations lead to better perception of more subtle ones? I think so. My modest experience in this so far has led me to believe so. Otherwise, why undertake any sort of regular practice? It’s why things must be done as much as studied.
What irreversible chemical changes have I observed in materia and/or operator as a result of dramatic ritual? What transmutations, even if they started invisibly?
I’m not ready to analyze this in terms of (my) life-particulars yet, I’m still soaking in this, still experiencing the question and I don’t want to hurry out of that lovely state. It feels like a good direction to be tending.
Four miniature pendant paintings commissioned for Mark Levine’s film production of Maybe God is Talking to You. These were commissioned to be thank you gifts for backers contributing in one of the pledge categories in his successful Kickstarter campaign.
All are hand fabricated from copper, bronze, and brass and filled with enameling resin. A variety of techniques and other materials was used in this series. They are small paintings intended for hanging on a wall or in a window, each measuring about 2-3″ (5-7.5cm) in diameter and about .5 inch (1.25 cm) thick.
A fifth jewelry-scale pendant will be made in silver, to be featured in the film.
Path of Nun
King of Hearts
Here is what one of them looks like hanging:
Luna wn 97%v
ebony, bloodwood, bronze 220, sterling silver, yellow brass, camel bone, emeralds, human molar (artist’s), gold-filled head pins, resin, piano key ivory
6 x 6 x 1.2 cm (2.4 x 2.4 x 0.5 in.)
Reliquary well face with four wings of carved camel bone. In the well are a hummingbird, white-handled knife, and a a section of wisdom tooth I had extracted some years ago. The white handled knife is about 3/4″ long. Its blade is forged and sharpened sterling silver, its handle made of piano key ivory with brass rivets. The hummingbird is about 4mm across and was hand carved from sheet brass with small knives and files under magnification.
Sigil face on sunburst edged with clawed rays, “emerald necklace” of seven 4mm Indian emeralds set with gold pins in silver cups.
Binding cord with three knots carved into the third face of the disk circumscribing both the sigil and reliquary well sides.
Luna wn 50%v
Four resin sample tests in brass bases conducted last night. Worked with Durenamel and regular air-cure Colores brand epoxy resins. Durenamel is much harder but requires holding at 130*F for three hours to fully cure to (grindable, polishable) glass-hardness. I’ve worked with the air-cure resin before, but didn’t have the jeweler’s scale and so could not measure proportions of resin and hardener nearly as accurately as I can now.
The test pieces were done on identical heart shaped brass stampings. Four dried and cleaned adult (with 99% isopropyl) Lucilia coeruleviridis, L. illustris, or L. caesar (common Calliphorid greenbottle, blowflies) were immersed in the resin in the center of each heart. The larvae of these species will consume rotting animal tissue while leaving healthy tissue intact, and have been used in maggot therapy in the cleaning of difficult infected wounds. Also a forensically important species. Abdomens and thoraxes of adults are also a range of gorgeous iridescent metallic greens and blue-greens.
Three of four tests placed into toaster over and held at approximately 130*F for two and a half hours, cooled slowly in oven overnight. Studio ambient temperature around 70*.
piece 1 – (2/13) air cure resin only, set aside under glass
results 2/14: normal curing, will be non-tacky at 24 hours, fully cured in 72, No additional air bubbles emerged, resin is clear. Green color much darkened, may be brightened and magnified when the full doming is done on second pouring.
piece 2 – (2/13) air cure resin with layer of Durenamel over to be added in second pouring (air-cure resin layer placed in oven for heat curing)
results 2/14: though all visible bubbles were brushed out from the insect’s nooks and crannies with the heat gun and a needle before putting into the oven, in the morning numerous bubbles appeared in the resin. They probably came from the cavities inside the insect’s body, drawn out by the heat. Unfortunately they did not pop. Resin feels hard to the touch, mostly if not all cured. Color of fly’s body darkened somewhat, metallic sheen not very bright.
piece 3 – (2/13) air cure resin placed in oven for heat curing, second pouring to be more air-cure enamel
results 2/14: same as above, with air bubbles
piece 4 – (2/13) Durenamel first pouring (second pouring to be of Durenamel as well)
results 2/14: similar to other baked pieces as above. Resin very hard, nice and clear where there are no bubbles.
Luna wn in Libra, 67%v
Went out to a coworker’s house today to pick up a bag of bones. He is a hunter, and in November he brought down a black bear on the east side of the Cascades and generously offered me bones for carving. He is a bit of a bear himself and has the proper respect and hunting ethic for me to consider accepting such a gift. I agreed after much deliberation, and I will make him and/or his fiancee rings or pendants from a small part of the bone in gratitude if nothing else.
I am not a “bear person”, neither have I been specially tapped by the (symbolic or real) figure of the bear in any of my spiritual dealings outside of a passing acquaintance within the realm of the coins project. I’m not the owner of the bones in the same way as I am for other animal-sourced materials I’ve collected for magical tool-making. Perhaps this will change as the exploration of the figures of bull and bear as economic totems proceeds. Perhaps not. Maybe owner is not the right word. “permission to use” is more like what I mean. I haven’t had the experience yet that lets me feel like I have a right to use them.
We first talked about it in late November of 2011, soon after he and his hunting partner had shot and butchered the bear. He had no use for the bones, and he knows I sometimes use bone for carving and so he offered a few to me. After a meditative back-and-forth question session of OK/not-OK with what was my best attempt at asking the spirit of the bear itself, I determined that it would be OK for me to take some of the bones and put them in the ground near my house. But as to whether I ought to clean them, slice them up, and start making things now or later on…that was not clear at all. In this situation, not-clear means NO for now. For whatever reason, NO for now. Allright. They can rest for a while here, possibly permanently if that’s how it shakes down.
So time passes- he got sick, projects came up, and all of a sudden it’s nearly 2 months later. We arrange for me to pick them up this morning because they’re getting pretty stinky in his shed. I thought he’d kept them in refrigeration all this time. Apparently not! They have been stored in a plastic bag inside a large Coleman cooler in his shed. He told me an amusing story about trying to rig up a peppermint-oil soaked bandanna across his face so that the smell wouldn’t overpower him. Of course the vapors from the oil stung his eyes and made them water so much he couldn’t see. And it still smelled- like peppermint and rot. Reminded me of the story of Lon DuQuette’s adventure with the Mass of the Phoenix and Abramelin oil.
Honestly, the odor wasn’t that bad- standard decomposing mammal smell. I’ve certainly smelled worse.
I’m also mightily impressed with the opportunism and tenacity of the common carrion fly. The bones were wrapped up pretty quickly after the bear was butchered, and kept in a closed cooler for several weeks. I didn’t get the impression that they were left out unwrapped for a significant length of time since the hunt or anything like that. Yet I found some very big maggots in there- probably a couple of weeks old estimating by their length (avg. 12-15mm). And they were still alive! I put most of them in the ground with the bones and hosed away the rest.
I got them home and set to digging three deep pits in what will be the Artemisia bed in the spring. That was another “OK”- lay them under the wormwood. The pits were dug to 2 shovel-depths to discourage unearthing by the various neighborhood critters. Very happy to see so many healthy earthworms down there. I spoke some improvised psalms as the pits were dug and the bones laid, smoothed the earth over them and poured a small libation.
Now it only remains to wait, and listen.
In the “real world” of galleries, museums, and sales (assuming you’ve been given an opening to step into, an opportunity for participation in some way):
For every convention you decide to deviate from, there is someone rolling their eyes over the extra thought/work/trouble you’ve made for them by doing that. For every convention deviated from, there is that much extra effort you will need to exert to jump the gap in expectation/actuality between viewer and art to get it right and get it engaged-with. So choose your battles and your deviations well. And do your job. Show it.
It’s settled- the zeroes will have no maker’s mark or metal purity hallmark. Every time I visualized them with those marks, they weren’t zeroes anymore. The landscape was obscured, the horizon clipped. The sole exception is the one electrum coin I struck, which will be the only one I keep as mine.
I only reached that conclusion when the anxiety over what to do, how to finish played out and I dropped the mental attempts to achieve everything in this one small beginning series of strikes. In the process, a major obstacle to finishing things became apparent.
Because it takes a fair deal of work, of effort, to make anything at all worthwhile, the lazy/efficiency-obsessed (take your pick, they tend to resemble each other at times) part of me figures that if I have to exert myself, I may as well try to accomplish a whole lot of things in that effort. After all, I have no trouble doing just that in my head. That part of me also gets anxious that in focusing on finishing this one particular thing, I may be missing out on bringing to material form every other possible iteration of the series (It’s right, I am. But only for the time I spend finishing that one thing.) I somehow manage to try to fold multiple layers of time into the thing while simultaneously disbelieving in the future.
The solution is to allow these things, the different iterations to spread out in space, to not be stingy that way. And to realize that the unfolding requires more time than the time to think about it. Complete the one thing as the one thing. Respect it. Keep its boundaries clean and clear. A fence, a magic circle, a cell wall. Allow myself to fully inhabit the time it takes, eschewing all other “times” until consummation in the material of that one thing is accomplished. Allow myself to believe that the infinite horizon of possibilities will continue to be there beyond this temporarily self-imposed limitation of vision and action. There will be a “next project”. With luck and long life, hopefully many.
But while I’m in it, be IAO Absolute: confident, all-powerful, limited, flawed, fabricating a truthful lie in a world of my making, a world that I must believe with every fiber of my being is IT. The time for the graceful bursting of that illusion (and blessed release!) is later. For now, this is IT.
Only by holding to this can I hear what the piece and I are telling each other about what it should be rather than allowing the swarming embryos of future possibilities invade and potentially upset the integrity of what’s going on. Of course it’s a fine line- flashes of inspiration happen and should be listened to, but discerning between an inspiration relevant to the piece at hand, and inspirations more suitable to a later variation on the current theme can be difficult. Is it a voice from within the circle, or without? Is the voice entering, or shouting outward? Does it lead to further fixation of the work at hand or volatility? They are flashes and vapors. It can be hard to know. To know the answers to those questions, it’s necessary to understand what the piece is, to have a handle on its essence…which you only get by keeping to it and it alone while working on it…and not thinking much about it, just doing it…
I heard an analogy recently that applies to the back-and-forth of sensing/thinking/doing: sense and register what’s actually there first before making up your mind about it. Let the horses pull the chariot. Don’t harness your mind to the front and try to pull the horses. The mind should handle the reins, and lightly at that.
Some thoughts can be persistent and invasive. Asana, pranayama, meditation are good tried and true remedies for that (take your own oft-given advice, B). So I put the horses back in front of the cart and see anew WHAT’S RELEVANT to THIS thing and voila, the answer to the question of the mark comes easy. Stop trying to do everything at once. I may be a multidimensional being, but not in that way, in this place.
Sol in Capricorn
Luna wx in Aquarius, 5%v
Dies Luna, Horae Mars-Sol-Venus
Remelted some scrap fine silver I had, adding in shreds of two half-coins I accidentally made from the first batch of zeroes to make 6g, twice the mass of the previous strikes.
Used a charcoal briquet (non-kerosene-embedded) that I leveled and dug a pit into for the melting. It seemed to work ok- a little snappier than the compressed hard charcoal brick I got from the jewelers’ supplier because it had some shreds of wood in it, but once it got cooking it worked pretty well.
Annealed and struck three times to yield a coin 16.5 x 2mm (approx. 5/8 x 1/16 inches) in dimension, filling the smaller of the two mint collars.
Also struck the electrum zero with my maker’s mark and then burnished around the mark. This marking (since it’sthe one I’ll keep for myself) felt right. Still unsure about marking any of the silver zeroes.
In the past couple of years of trying to determine just what kind of artist I am amidst the wide and swirling world of magical implements, talismans, gallery, museum, and market art, conventions keep popping up that I sooner or later have to decide how I feel about, and how I will negotiate. A few notes on the latest here.
Convention: sculptural work bears the artist’s signature (makers mark) and serial number if part of a limited edition.
Convention: precious metals bear a hallmark of their constituent metal’s provenance- .999 for fine silver, .925 or the word STERLING for sterling silver, and a number followed by a “k” for karat golds.
The coins, particularly these first “zeroes” are small. They have no hidden inside or back where a mark would be sufficiently hidden to not interfere with the expressive surfaces of the pieces. My early impulse was that the “stars” on the faces and their varying radiating arcs need to remain clean and clear of any symbolic marks, especially ones that are alphabetic.
Would it be enough to have one side unmarked but for the points and arcs, and place my maker’s mark on the other? I hesitate, but why? Isn’t my mark one of the contributing factors in legitimizing the value of the pieces as art, as a king’s mark legitimized the coin of the realm? Would it simply be me taking public responsibility for creating them? Would it still be a “zero”? Would marking it with my personal mark impede its circulation, limit its potential to embody fulfillment of desire (give it too much “character”)?
The third side, the edge is a possible surface. But again, I hesitate to disrupt the irregularities, the small peaks and valleys in the landscape of that surface with an alphanumeric mark. I like this (for this series) even less than marking a face.
Having marking stamps much smaller than the ones I currently have (.5 or .75mm, say, instead of 3mm and 1.5mm) would help, but I don’t have those now and this series needs to wrap up with the equipment I already possess.
To make a truly slippery and flexible (in terms of value-summoning and desire-holding) currency, there must be no trace of the individual beyond the determining of the composition and formation, the result. In image-rich coinage, we enter the land of the Symbolic with a capital S. We see the hand of the king, the mark of the people, or the spirit of the land in our palm. It should seem as though it was exuded whole from the source of its value; from god, or the angels, for from the Empress’ own lap. We go there, we believe it and others do too. It moves, flies, circulates, setting bodies and materials into motion. That’s the magic – the belief (projections) and the motion inspired by encounter with the object itself. It’s not made for the maker. It’s made for the possessor and the limits of their own imaginations.
Should I try for that degree of malleability on my first outing, or must I assert my ego identity as creator through the mark until I know how to make it invisible yet present. Probably. The above sounds like a masterwork. I don’t know.
Besides, the zeroes may not be made to fly quite in that way. As to the one piece I will keep, when I look into the faces I see a heaven with stars as well as the effect of my ordered artifice and physical force. When I look at the edge I see undulating earth, the truth of the material expressing itself. When I look at the whole I see both a vast horizon and the real and present child of my desire. I have already bought the world with it, so what would I wish to exchange it for?
I realize that my feelings about it are unique and personal. But visually, might others read similar things in these tiny discs? I won’t know until I “put them out there”. Back to the question of the mark: would this drag them back to me too much?
Another aspect of many pieces I make is the talismanic quality- they are made to be objects of contemplation or functional concept-holders and/or transmitters for someone who is not me, who will be actively using it ceremonially or meditationally. Many times the entire surface is active in fulfilling its function. In these cases it almost always feels best to hide or leave off a signature, or find the symbolically appropriate place for the maker’s mark to be. For the most part, though, the whole visible and touchable surface should be free of anything that would impede the operator’s use of the object, both psychic (by which I mean “involving the psyche”) and physical. A prominent maker’s mark would pull the operator out of his or her “moment”, even if subtly/subconsciously just by seeing it. The ego inhabiting should be the operator’s, with no interference from another. This could be a whole other topic- visual form and function in magical weaponry.
To take Shoji Hamada’s traditional view, nothing speaks more fully the craftsperson’s signature than the whole of the being of the created work. I tend to find that view very appealing. But there are certainly ways in 21st century America that that could be a hindrance. If one pursues conventional modes of selling one’s work.
Also, the metals number, .999 for all but the electrum piece- It might be enough to accompany each zero with a certificate attesting to the purity and type of metal. The series numbers could go on one of those too. I could do something clever and mildly propagandistic with the nines so as to make them appear as sixes in artful swirling arrangement. Accompanying my personal mark, that would be quite a boast. It would certainly help me sell them to a particular group of persons. No, that’s not the point of the zeroes, so no.
However, if they are unmarked, a person wishing to sell them to a metals dealer for their value as pure silver would have some trouble without the mark. They might have some trouble anyway, as the form is unconventional. Photo documentation on the certificate might help, along with the other information certifying the piece’s origin and my guarantee of the metal’s purity. I would hope that the owner wouldn’t want to sell the art as scrap silver for the relatively small $ value, but it should be an option, and one I will facilitate if I can.