Saturday, 25 September 2010

The future that never was

Photographer Mariela Paz Izurieta
A while ago, during a very inspiring day in which I finished painting my furniture (except for one little square that I forgot) and met a friend who I hadn't seen in years, I picked up a copy of a new magazine called Oh Comely. I'm not usually attracted to magazines, but this one had a huge amount of white space on the cover, some grey cursive handwriting and a little portrait photograph of an artist on the cover, so I thought it looked promising. Sure enough, it turned out to be like a lifestyle magazine for cheapskate dreamer types like myself, with an article on balancing the need to make money with the need to pursue your creative projects, another on a chinese dance group who try to embody calligraphic designs, and one in which illustrators were asked to draw something about loss. 'Loss' took on a range of meanings, from the disintegration of personality and cognition in Alzheimer's sufferers, to imaginary curator-elves who collect all the objects that the illustrator loses in her lifetime.

I felt like all three of these articles took on an extra layer of meaning simply by virtue of being printed with such wide margins of white space. The first one is a bit obvious I suppose - that sense of spaciousness that you have to cultivate in order to balance a busy life and still feel emotionally fulfilled, illustrated very well by a gorgeous accompanying photograph of a girl relaxing on a couch. The second two were connected for me. I'm not a calligraphy expert by any means, but I feel like when you're faced with a blank page, brush in hand, the white space almost vibrates with possibility. My eye picks out among the imperfections in the paper the impressions of strokes that could have been painted. Actually drawing a character on the page brutally closes down infinite possibilities, but even after the character is finished, the fact that the white space doesn't disappear makes the piece more alive and real, because the memory of a future that never was haunts it.

The chinese dance group draw a similarity between calligraphic characters and human characters. Although a character is static and inanimate, a well-drawn character appears fluid and dynamic, as though the smooth, breathless movements of the calligrapher were being repeated each time someone's eye passes over the result. It is the impression left behind by the painting process, a process that continues as reading. In the same way, although a personality is a dynamic process, a movement of thoughts and feelings that pass so quickly that most of them are disregarded and unrecognised, society forces us to take on an identity, to give an impression left by our mental processes and our behaviours. A chinese character can be drawn in countless different ways, and the same goes for our social identities. Yet we have to give some consistency, other wise we, like calligraphy, are illegible. But like white space behind black ink, all of the things we haven't said, all of the people we could have been and all of the things we chose not to do, haunt our memory and vibrate with possibility.


  1. Oh Comely is the apex of coolness right now. The title appears to be lifted from an eight-minute song by Neutral Milk Hotel about a father making fetuses with flesh-licking ladies. What's not to like?

  2. It's funny, when I picked up the magazine in a shop I thought, 'Wow this is random, no-one will have heard of this' and actually a lot of people seem to be telling me that they've seen it, or they know someone who works on it, or whatever, and everyone loves it! That's either a testament to the magazine or the company I keep, probably both.