. Peter Adams

For ten years the Drop stone bench has withstood countless storms, searing sun and hundreds of people sitting upon its robustness.

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It is a sculpture lovingly crafted and meant to compliment and enhance one’s experience of being in wild nature.

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Arriving late in the evening around 11PM after flying into Tasmania and then renting a car to drive down to Windgrove, my former student Ingrid from Brazil and her fiancée Magnus from Sweden were a bit travel weary yet excited to finally come to a place they had only heard about for the past three years.

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Just on midnight after a refreshing tea and because the moon was full, I decided to take them for a walk down to the Drop Stone bench to delight in the magic of moonlight bouncing off waves whilst sitting on one of my “family members”.

After years of living on the land, being open to the vicissitudes of wind, earth, fire and water and, thereby, gaining experience and sufficient wisdom to teach how the power of art can change people’s perception of the world for the better — especially, when art is placed in nature — nothing could have prepared me for what Ingrid and Magnus encountered on their first experience of being at Windgrove; a place I like to refer to as “a refuge for learning”.

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All eight stones were thrown/rolled from bench. Six went over the 50 foot cliff to the rocks and waves below. Two were stopped by the dense coastal wattle at the cliff edge.

My heart for five days has been grieving. When the refuge gets violated — a place where people bring their vulnerable selves because of a sense of trust and safety — I begin to doubt the effectiveness of what I’ve been trying to create here for the past twenty two years.

We are definitely entering into a period of time Joanna Macy calls “The Great Unravelling”. I understand this and have been diligent in doing what I can to plant seeds of active hope in all that come here. Yet, when desecration is so close to the bone the violation causes me to weep.

I do believe in the interconnectedness of all beings. I also believe that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. If, in our society, our weakest links walk the land with vacant hearts, unable to see the love that has been freely given, our work is made all the more difficult. Yet, oddly, all that more important.

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The young and agile Magnus managed to get to the bottom of the cliff, and, with crashing waves soaking him, did manage to find four of the stones. Along with the two other stones found in the bush, for this I am grateful as it is not a total loss.

But will it happen again? And how will we learn to live with the increasing losses most certainly coming with climate change?

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Placental mammals are those that have live birth and nourish their embryos throughout gestation via a specialized organ—the placenta—attached to the wall of the mother’s uterus. More than 5000 species exist today, from the 1.5-gram bumblebee bat to the 190-tonne blue whale, from the mole to the elephant, from the horse to the human.

This rather amazing branch on the evolutionary tree shows the ancestor of all placental mammals as a tiny, insect eating, furry-tailed creature that evolved shortly after the dinosaurs disappeared some 100 to 85 million years ago.

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Within every mammal’s womb, one end of an umbilical cord is attached to the fetus at its navel while the other end is attached to the mother at the placenta; thereby, making “the connection” between mother and fetus. In the umbilical cord, one vein carries oxygen and food from the mother’s placenta to the fetus and two arteries return deoxygenated blood and waste products, such as carbon dioxide, from the fetus back to the placenta for disposal.

So what would be the most distinguishing characteristic of placental mammals should it be possible to “line them up” for a photographic comparison? Well, in my opinion, it would be the little scar we placental mammals all carry on our belly: our belly button.

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This scar, or cicatrix, we all have is paid scant attention by any of us. Maybe noticed when removing a bit of fluff, but generally disregarded as insignificant. Well, I want to change this and focus my next sculpture on the huge symbolic importance of our belly buttons. Important, because they are a very visual and physical reminder of our connection to the female and to the mother.

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Every man has one; every female.

Simply put, if we want to create new stories that re-empower the feminine in the overly dominate male hierarchy that passes for western civilization, than what better symbol than the navel? Surely, even the Pope would have to look upon his belly button and feel some sort of connection to the female. This particular scar cannot be erased or suppressed. Ever.

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Concerning the one half of the title used in these past three blog entries — The Cicatrix and the Stone — this refers to a poster I am producing that brings together the “birth” processes of the ‘Deep Time’ sculpture (just being completed) and my next sculpture called ‘Present Time’ that will be based on the belly button. The idea behind the poster is to link the long history of evolutionary processes that give birth to more and more divergent and varied species; from stone to human, so to speak.

I’m not quite sure what form this next sculpture will take, but I trust the birth process of imagination.

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I ended last week’s blog with the self-coined term “religious neoteny”.

Neoteny is the retention of juvenile characteristics in an adult animal. Strictly speaking this only refers to physiological development, but I find the imaginative combination of neoteny with “religion” or “culture” informative. It implies that, as adults, our religious or cultural views are adolescent in nature; not yet fully mature or wise.

Fundamentalists — whether Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu or New Age cults — take story telling literally and, therefore, ruin the intention of the myth maker.

Not only ruin, but prevent us from unifying the advances of science with the sacredness and wonderment of all life.

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Twice as old as the Biblical story of the creation of Adam and Eve, the carving of the Goddess of Laussel dates from 22,000–18,000 BC. This was in the Palaeolithic age when our ancestors worshiped her as the source of life and where the cave “represented” the womb of the Mother Goddess.

“The Palaeolithic cave seems to be the most sacred place, the sanctuary of the Goddess and the source of her regenerative power. Entering one of these caves is like making a journey into another world, one which is “inside” the body of the goddess. To those who would have lived in a sacred world, the actual hollowed shape would have symbolized her all-containing womb, which brought forth the living and took back the dead. The cave as the place of transformation was the binding link between the past and future of the men and women who lived in the forefront of it and held their religious rites deep in its interior sanctuary. Inside the cave were placed the stones that represented the souls of the dead who would be reborn from her womb.”

Baring and Cashford, ‘The Myth of the Goddess’, p. 18.

Jesus was symbolically “re-born” from the cave; the stone removed from the entrance.

If we want “literal”, it is only from the womb of the human female that we have all entered this world. This would also include the radical social activist Jesus who, as an unfertilized egg in Mary, was fertilized by Joseph.

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Above, Leonardo da Vinci drew the inner child. Below, the last half of a poem by Billy Collins speaks clearly about understanding our lineage and temporary place in the long evolutionary cyclical path that goes from birth to death to birth to death, ad infinitum.

“And while I am at it,
thanks to everyone who happened to die
on the same day that I was born.

Thank you for stepping aside to make room for me,
for giving up your seat,
getting out of the way, to be blunt.

I waited until almost midnight
on that day in March before I appeared,
all slimy and squinting, in order to leave time

for enough of the living
to drive off a bridge or collapse in a hallway
so that I could enter without causing a stir.

So I am writing now to thank everyone
who drifted off that day
like smoke from a row of blown-out-candles —
for giving up your only flame.

One day, I will follow your example
and step politely out of the path
of an oncoming infant, but not right now

with the subtropical sun warming this page
and the wind stirring the fronds of the palmettos,

and me about to begin another note
on my very best stationery
to the ones who are making room today

for the daily host of babies,
descending like bees with their wings and stingers,
ready to get busy with all their earthly joys and tasks.

Billy Collins, from “Thank-You Notes”

The intention of myth is to take the stories of the human race and dream them onwards. According to Jung, our role today is “to dream the dream onwards and give it a modern dress”.

— continued next week

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I had every intention of posting today’s blog entry last week on April Fool’s Day. A day that also coincided with Easter Monday, a holiday in Australia. However, a five day workshop at Windgrove on “Wild Mindfulness: Leadership training for activism” stuffed my head and heart with so many other thoughts and feelings that I became immobilized and incapable of completing the draft blog I had started earlier in the week. The best I could do was to strip down fully and do what my animal body craved: to crawl on hands and knees in the soft, plowed soil of the yet to be constructed tennis court pulling out bracken roots with a pitch fork, all the while allowing the warming sun to sooth a darkening body.

Sorry, therefore, to any readers expecting some form of witty prank on the 1st of April.

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But the subject matter is still relevant. “Who’s fooling whom?” could also be the title of this blog entry as I am writing about myth making and it’s importance as story but not literal truth. To perpetuate myth as factual truth is to mislead.

Most practicing Christians would know of the story of the crucifixion of Jesus and his placement in a cave where a stone was rolled over the entrance and then rolled back three days later to let the “re-born” Jesus out.

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I’m all for good stories to inform and give clues on how to live decently with compassion, with a loving heart, inspired to do good to all creatures great and small as practiced by the historical Jesus. For two years at Harvard I gave monthly sermons based on such teachings of the Bible.

Why, though, is it that educated people around the world are still fooled into believing in the literalness of a myth that is as old as the first pagan rites of 30,000 years ago when going into a dark cave for three days and nights was an abstract representation of when the New Moon disappeared for three days and then “magically” was re-born.

In most forms of Christianity, these pagan connections are disguised and, in a way, plagiarized so that the story of Christ at Easter (and Christmas) appears to derive from sources entirely within the Christian framework of belief. Even the word “Easter” has been derived from the name of the pagan goddess whose feast was celebrated at the vernal equinox.

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We are supposedly an educated society. This should require that we fully understand the importance of both science and myth in giving meaning to our lives and world.

I love what science brings to my understanding of the world. I also love what imagination, poetry, sculpture and the non-rational can bring to my understand of the world. As an artist, I’m all for creating stories to guide us through the turmoil of a complex world. Art as a useful “truthful lie”.

All children grow out of believing in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. Christian adults — as adults — should stop believing in the literalness of their mythic Biblical stories and accept that they are just stories to help guide and inform, but nothing more. Why? Because not to do so keeps us in adolescence.

This, I would exclaim, is “religious neoteny”.

— Continued next week —

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The stones know all

March 25, 2013

I have this recurrent dream where our most ancient ancestors – the stones — are washed up on the shores of time marking the beginning of the Phanerozoic Eon (visible life) that extends from 543 million years ago to this very moment.

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A long link in time of multiple stepping stones, one could say. From that first beginning a dimly discernible path heralds in the greening of the land and, ultimately, leads up to the most recent sub-classification of evolution — the Cenozoic Period — and humans.

Yesterday I was down on the cliff looking out over the water towards the sandstone Triassic cliffs that were created 252-200 MYA (million years ago). The Windgrove side of Roaring Beach, however, is made up of dolerite cliffs from the Jurassic Period (200-142MYA) that immediately followed the Triassic Period.

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Just before a massive wall of rain completely drenched myself and the camera, the “recurrent dream” became a daytime reality and, peering through the blur of water, I sensed and profoundly felt the creative forces of evolutionary time shaping existence.

But how to translate this into a sculpture?

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In my “open-to-the-weather” studio for the past thirteen months, I have been slowly evolving and shaping Deep Time where twenty “actual” Dolerite stones from Roaring Beach are embedded into a “symbolic” Triassic layer of sandstone carved from a single piece of huon pine wood. The idea is to portray the sequence of time where the Triassic gave birth to the Jurassic coupled with the individual Jurassic/dolerite stones giving birth to smaller stones within them. In effect, one continuous if very slow evolutionary birthing process.

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A technical aside is that numbered pieces of cut fabric have been placed in each depression to protect the wood from the stones until the stones’ bottoms have been polished. They also act as a sun block so the wood depressions won’t darken under the sun’s ultraviolet rays like the rest of the exposed wood. Once the rocks are all in place, the fabric won’t be needed.

I’m only up to 320 grit sand paper and have a few more weeks work left to do. In the end, though, like all artists I certainly hope the aesthetics of the Deep Time sculpture will make people stop and gasp at its intricacies and beauty.

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More importantly, though, I hope the sculpture will make an impact on people’s understanding of how this earth was formed and how many millions of years went into the making of its many stages; especially, the making of the two footed animals that are now causing so much havoc on it.

It’s all about respecting your elders. And the stones are certainly among our oldest elders.

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I’m not a painter, but…

November 12, 2012

If there is ever a time that conspires to make me want to try my hand at applying daps of colour to canvas it is those moments when cloud and water meet as one “real time”, “wide screen”, colour-field painting.

All three photos (untouched by computer manipulation) were taken from the same spot this past week. The first two within five minutes of each other. And notice the slight difference in colour; a bit more red in the first.

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You can use the brush of a japanese monk
or a pencil stub from a race track.

As long as you draw the line a third
the way up from the bottom of the page,

the effect is the same: the world suddenly
divided into elemental realms.

A moment ago there was only a piece of paper
Now there is earth and sky, sky and sea.

You were sitting alone in a small room.
Now you are walking into the heat of a vast desert

or standing on the ledge of a winter beach
watching the light on the water, light in the air.

Billy Collins

Seemingly simple — i.e., no real skill needed as in detailing objects such as people, trees, buildings and birds — the more one observes this supposedly simple scene, however, the more complex it becomes as it turns into a Zen koan of form defying articulation.

Traditional representational painting of objects seems like child’s play. I mean, anyone with a wee bit of academic training in perspective, choice of pencil or brush, photographic copying and life-drawing classes can learn to render something solid.

The magic and trickery of capturing the movement of cloud over water is that they are “ill-defined” with no anchor point except, perhaps, a tiny cloud or faint outline of a distant hill.

So, go ahead like Billy Collins suggests and draw a line a third of the way up from the bottom of the page. It’s a good start in exercising your imagination.

But it’ll take years of hanging out at the shoreline to truly master the art of capturing the un-capturable.

As for this last photo, where did the colour go? Try painting this assemblage of grays and nebulous light.

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