At some point in the past a friend of mine had a foot injury. He was laid up, unable to walk, for about a week whilst the injury healed, sufficient to bear his weight. He was bereft. He could not work, he could not leave the house. He took it badly.
At the time we were fond of looking for stories in myth which may inform events in our current or past life event. We naturally looked to the story of Achilles. In myth he was dipped into the River Styx by his mother to make him invulnerable. She held his foot to facilitate this. His invulnerable heel was his weakness and this is where the spear that killed him hit him in battle. Today, a weakness can be referred to as a persons ‘Achilles Heel’. After suffering an injury to my own eponymous Achilles Tendon, I can attest to it’s disabling capacity. Achilles was a warrior and for a warrior and foot injury could be a potential fatal weakness.
We reflected on how neither he nor I were warriors. It was some comfort and a useful antidote to equating masculinity with combat. Myths are useful in the way they contain archetypal forms, patterns of phenomena or behaviour that transcend the time of the original story. They are like signposts from the past that point to the present. My recollection of the exchange with my friend seems to include some reference to another myth which pointed to the idea that a foot injury is a sign to rest and reflect. But numerous searches have not revealed any such myth.
In reality Achilles would have seen out his days resting his heel in carpet slippers if he had rested and reflected instead of going into battle. Indeed, maybe the myth points to a warrior resting and avoiding battle should they get a tendon injury in their heel.
On Tuesday the 19th October I tested positive for Covid 19. The government in their infinite wisdom decreed that give such an injury I should rest for 10 days. They wrote to me and said “You have tested positive for COVID-19. You must stay at home and self-isolate until 29th of October (including this date at midnight).”
I could still smell stuff. I had no temperature. But 2 flow tests showed positive. After a while I felt like a large dog was sitting on my chest. I got no worse but was exhausted and slept a lot. I was laid low for about a week. The chest restriction was scary and I could see that if it got worse it would this that killed me. CV19 is an upper respiratory illness. Untreated it would be a terrifying way to go. You would slowly suffocate.
I couldn’t do much bit sit, rest and reflect. So I reflected on Achilles. I figured that for 10 days at least my fighting days were over. The myth told me it was ok to be out of action.
My art making had reached a bit of a hiatus. I have been having a battle with my ‘Imposter Syndrome’. My art making included photography, performance, walking art, painting, poetry and prose, collage, music making, digital art and all manner combinations of the above. But fine art it was not. It had become, in the eyes of my imposter self, a meaningless mishmash of mixed-media. Given an opportunity to rest and reflect I decided to reflect on all the weird things I had done in the name of art, and pick a few to concentrate on. Be a proper ‘Artist’.
How to do it though. I decided to make a book. I would call it ‘Here’s One I Made Earlier – Retrospective of a Non-Artist’. It could be a work of fiction. I would be the unreliable narrator. I remembered a story about artist Joseph Beuys, about how he claimed his plane was shot down in flames and he was badly injured, and a band of nomadic Tartars had saved his life by wrapping him up in felt and fat. It was only partly true. But Beuys built his reputation as an artist on this story. He did lots of stuff that could be considered ‘not-art’, like living in a cage with a coyote. Beuys created his own myths. His story is told in ‘Fat, felt and a fall to Earth: the making and myths of Joseph Beuys’ here.
In the article, Olivia Laing the author says “All the same, by turning his injury into a fable, Beuys did make a clear statement of intent. War, fascism, nationhood, trauma and repair: these would be his subjects, but his approach would not be that of a historian or social scientist. What he was interested in was discovering and communicating in mythic terms how damage might be transfigured or transformed.”
The power of transformation is the power of art. Art preceded science but both act as forms of research. Science of the material world, art of the immaterial. Science is a form of art. John Berger is quoted in the article and says “In matters of seeing, Joseph Beuys was the great prophet of the second half of our century. Believing that everybody is potentially an artist, he took objects and arranged them in such a way that they beg the spectator to collaborate with them … by listening to what their eyes tell them and remembering.”
My book making is going OK. My imposter has coughed, interrupted me, and opined that my retrospective ideas about my past as a non-artist are inaccurate. “I think you might just find that your ideas of yourself are just a myth.” he says. I am getting uncomfortable with the process I embarked on. But this just means the process is working. I am (as Berger says) taking “…objects and arranged them in such a way that they beg the spectator to collaborate with them … by listening to what their eyes tell them and remembering.” and I am the spectator.
In retrospect my past is being transfigured and transformed by my act of making. Not sure what it will be transfigured and transformed into. But that is what art and research is all about. I am in the right attitude. I am available for outcomes but not connected to them. I am in adventure.