Mythologies 2005-2007

Animations

Films and animations made between 2005 and 2007, all in some way reinterpreting familiar folklore. Shown in numerous galleries and film festivals. The first is inspired by the story of Zeus and Ganymede, which has been painted and sculpted by artists for over two thousand years. The ruler of the gods swept down from Mount Olympus in the form of a giant eagle to abduct and enslave a beautiful boy he had spied from the heights of Olympus. Ganymede was eventually immortalised as the constellation and Zodiac sign Aquarius.

Many artists have made notable depictions of the Ganymede and Zeus myth, including Rubens and Rembrandt. Kiddy Fiddler [Ganymede and Zeus] brings viewers face to face with the prosaic reality of this scenario; a child who is subjected to the unrequested— and clearly unwanted and uncomfortable— gaze of an unseen viewer. The images in this work are all taken from public domain 1950s educational films in the Prelinger Archive. No children were harmed! Not by me, anyway.

The Rubens version is emphasising and celebrating the erotic aspects of the myth by depicting Ganymede as a young man understandably disturbed at the prospect of being sexually violated by an eagle, but nonetheless old enough to be aware of his own decisions and the consequences of them. I don’t know how it took me so long to notice it, but the placement and design of Ganymede’s quiver is extremely unsubtle. He totally lacks a bow, too. In the 16th and 17th centuries, a “quiver” would have immediately been recognised as a reference to sexual receptivity. The phrase “her quiver’s open to every arrow” indicated that the woman in question was promiscuous.

Rembrandt’s approach is closer to my own attempt, and shows a very young child crying in fear and looking back at the viewer as if imploring them for help. I suspect Rembrandt had not seen an eagle recently, however, since his one looks more like some kind of gigantic carnivorous duck. Perhaps this makes a strange variety of sense, as drakes are notorious for being rapists.

Please note that there is no soundtrack on this video apart from the hums and clicks of the original film stock, which have been further degraded by Vimeo’s MUXing process. If you turn this up too loud, you’ll probably ruin your speakers and / or deafen yourself with the next video you play.

Stag Film, or The Hunter Forgiven (Actaeon and Artemis) was mostly filmed during a visit to Kyoto University of Art and Design in the summer of 2005. The deer footage was taken in the nearby city of Nara, where the sacred animals– messengers of the gods– roam unhindered around the precincts of a Buddhist temple, and through both the wooded and the urban areas of the city itself. The narrative is based on the myth of the hunter Actaeon, who was punished by the goddess Artemis for spying on her naked body as she bathed. She changed him into a stag, and he was pursued and torn apart by his own hounds.

The film was also inspired by the many versions of the story depicted in art over the past two thousand years. Notable renditions include those by Titian and Gainsborough, and the one found frescoed onto the walls of Octavius Quartio’s house at Pompeii. The Titian can be seen at the National Gallery in Edinburgh.

Mourning Wood’s narrative is inspired by the formerly widespread and well-known British practice of burying suicides at crossroads, village boundaries or isolated roadsides (impaling them to trap their tortured souls was only made illegal in Britain in 1823) and by the allegorical medieval folk song John Barleycorn in which the title character is ritually murdered, dismembered and buried in a field, only to grow up again in the spring. This is a late survival of the prehistoric European practices and beliefs that led to the killings of numerous sacrificial victims later found preserved in peat deposits and bogs throughout northern Europe. Many people found guilty of witchcraft were also hanged, burned and/or buried at crossroads during the Puritan witch hunts of the seventeenth century. My own native part of the country, East Anglia, was one of the epicentres of witch hunt hysteria around the time of the Civil War; Manningtree on the Essex/Suffolk border was the birthplace and home of Matthew Hopkins, the so-called Witchfinder General.

“Nor is it to be thought that man is either the oldest or the last of earth’s masters, or that the common bulk of life and substance walks alone. The Old Ones were, the Old Ones are, and the Old Ones shall be. Not in the spaces we know, but between them, They walk serene and primal, undimensioned and to us unseen. Yog-Sothoth knows the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the gate. Their hand is at your throats, yet ye see Them not; and Their habitation is even one with your guarded threshold.”

H.P. Lovecraft

The ‘black sun’ is a phenomenon seen in Scandinavia during spring; millions of birds gather in gigantic flocks, creating abstract and ever-changing 3D shapes in the sky. The Black Sun is also an esoteric, occult and alchemical concept. This esoteric Black Sun is a symbol of entropy and destructive power, a force that brings everything to its inevitable dissolution. The film conflates these two concepts, leaving the true nature of the Black Sun it depicts ambiguous.

In Japan, the word kitsune can refer to the familiar and completely real fox often found in countryside, gardens and suburbia in both the UK and Japan. It can also mean a supernatural fox spirit which can take many different forms, including a humanoid one. Stories of kitsune sometimes depict them as analogous to the sly, conniving tricksters of Anglophone folklore, but they can also be benign or entirely malevolent. San is an honorific at an ordinary level of politeness, roughly equivalent to ’Mister’ in English, and is also the number 3. In Kitsune San a storyteller recites an adaptation of Visu and the Old Priest, a kitsune tale from the English language collection ‘Myths and Legends of Japan’ by F. Hadland Davis, 1917.

Caption

Foxfire on New Year’s Night Beneath the Enoki Tree’ by Hiroshige from ‘Meisho Edo Hyakkei’: oban print, 1857. Kitsune gather by night— their flaming breath is similar to the British Will o’ the Wisp. Many more foxes approach from the Inari shrine at Oji. The shrine is still there, but the whole area been absorbed into anonymous Tokyo sprawl, and it’s now a suburb with the appropriately generic name of Kita (“North”).

The images are mostly extreme closeup shots of wild English foxes hunting, feeding and otherwise going about their business, and these images all come in threes and repeat thrice like the typically folkloric events, admonitions and twists of fate that are told of in the story. In Japan, Britain and all over the world traditional stories frequently incorporate similar tales of animals with supernatural powers, and imagery related to the number three.

Kitsune are associated with the androgynous kami (animistic spirit) Inari who is recognised by both Shinto and Buddhist belief and is sometimes depicted as having a threefold nature. An Inari shrine in the woods at Nara is shown at the start of the film. Similar ones can be found all over Japan, even in the most urbanised parts of Tokyo. I’ve seen at least two of them hidden away in or near Akihabara, Tokyo’s electronics district / nerd mecca.