(Or The Sacred Art of the Mandala Part 2)
“Color me, breathe your blood into my mouth.”
Handwriting has always been a creative outlet for me- in both an authorship sense and as a visual art. I have been recruited to handwrite notes and labels, hired to write chalkboard and window messages, and asked to participate in various performances and worship spaces with my handwriting. Using the written word in a visual way is part of my regular canon.
Several weeks ago I sewed up a few dozen prayer flags to add a physical dimension to my prayer life. I have them going around my bedroom and would like to eventually install them in an exhibition in a giant never-ending spiral on a ceiling.
Last year I tried to take up calligraphy with the idea that I would like to write in blood and use it in my exhibition artwork. I love the way both old Spenserian handwriting and perfect calligraphy look and what they communicate: thought, care, time, and the real artful crafting of words both conceptually and visually. After many hours spent fighting with calligraphy nubs I gave up. Though I would like to convey care and beauty in my words, I also do not want to spend 10 years perfecting such a craft (as I’ve been advised that is how long it take to actually master the art).
Whilst out shopping for art supplies I saw a felt-tip calligraphy pen that could possibly be the key to my success. If I can master that, then maybe I could fill a felt tip with blood and write with that! I purchased the pen and looked forward to practicing with it. I threw it in my art bag early Thursday morning before rushing out the door to my Sacred Art of the Mandala class.
Which brings me to The Revolution.
That week in class we were charged with bringing a sacred text and sharing it with the class. I brought Rublev, a poem by Rowan Williams (copied at the bottom of this post). I found reading and sharing valuable words with the class to be a wonderful experience. There is a level of mutual respect there that I have never experienced before. I am learning so much about the experience of other traditions, which have long been opaque to me. Listening attentively to my classmates had me more open and receptive the words I love so much by Rowan Williams.
I could not wait to get my new pen out and start working the words over and over. I dug through my bag- no pen. Emptied my handbag- no pen. Dumped my art bag completely out- no pen! My exciting new pen was nowhere to be found. Discouraged I wandered to the art supply table- maybe there would be something similar there.
And that is when I saw them: bamboo pens. Aha! I would get the red ink and write in bamboo pen. When I could not find a satisfactory red I settled for the Chinese black ink and went back to my table. I expected the pens to be difficult to use and the ink very messy. I was pleasantly surprised to find the learning curve only so very slight and my enjoyment immense. Here it is! Here my handwriting looks just how I like it and I can write in blood!
“Color me, breathe your blood into my mouth.”
I stopped at an art store and market (turns out blood is cheap and very easy to come by) on my way home. Lo and behold: it worked!! I’ve been writing in blood ever since. I am not completely sure how or where I will integrate this practice into my bigger works, but in the meantime I am perfecting the handling of the blood and have an idea for a ‘blood book’ project that I would like to create: a smallish art book with every page filled with the same phrase written over and over in blood. The covers of the book will be gilded and ornate like a precious object. It will stretch a tether between sacred text and the scratching of a person gone mad.
I do not know how to express how excited this makes me- I find writing in blood to be beautiful, and feels sacred. Writing something in blood feels to me similar to getting a tattoo- it is written in the most indelible and personal of ways. Conceptually I like the idea of writing in my own blood as it becomes so much more personal, but I need to overcome the hurdle (both conceptually and actually) for procurement. I do not want to harm myself- though pain is an important theme in my work, the world is painful enough without intentional harm.
The physical shape of the mandala has not appeared in my work with text in the last few weeks, except in circles on my prayer flags. The complete circle or ever unfinished spiral are more inherent in the meaning and sentiment of the texts and prayers and do not demand to be formed physically into said shapes. To do so would be redundant. Though repetition feels important in sacred acts, redundancy feels strangely profane.
(I never found my pen.)
One day, God walked in, pale from the grey steppe,
slit-eyed against the wind, and stopped,
said, Colour me, breathe your blood into my mouth.
I said, Here is the blood of all our people,
these are their bruises, blue and purple,
gold, brown, and pale green wash of death.
These (god) are the chromatic pains of flesh,
I said, I trust I shall make you blush,
O I shall stain you with the scars of birth
For ever, I shall root you in the wood,
under the sun shall bake you bread
of beechmast, never let you forth
To the white desert, to the starving sand.
But we shall sit and speak around
one table, share one food, one earth.