The waters of Uranus

Fake diamond ring - Self, February 25th, 2012

Consider Uranus...

Apart from being, if you pronounce it a certain way, the funniest of the planet names - Uranus lies at the root of the Ancient Greek creation myth. With his mate Gaia, Uranus, or Ouranos fathered the Titans (among others) who would themselves give birth to the bickering pantheon of Olympian gods we know so well.

Ouranos was primordial. He had no forebears himself. Neither did his mate Gaia - they simply came to be out of Khaos. Largely speaking, neither is portrayed anthropomorphically. Nurturing Gaia is depicted as the Earth, receiving the enfolding embrace of lusty Ouranos, the sky above, coming down to enfold her under the cover of nightfall in a shower of dark rain.

Creation myths are all similar in a way. Curious things, where the initiator of creative act has to be notionalised in a non personified way. You know, how can there be a creator to call things into being when nothing exists, including the creator itself? That's why creator entities in these myths tend to be inchoate. Structureless, formless and primal. Even in the Judaeo-Christion myth, the creator-God, is an unembodied spirit, moving across the face of the waters. He only gains his beardy anthropomorphic aspect when envisioned conversing with Adam and Eve in the Garden by Mediæval artists.

Water is, however, a constant motif in these narratives. I guess it makes sense, as much in a symbolic sense - the 'creative flow' - as in an atavistic one - our evolutionary race memory knows that the place of our origin is in the vast, unknowable ocean and parhaps this ancient nuance inevitably planted itself at the root of all these myths.

Certainly, Ouranos is closely associated with water. Etymologycally, the word is thought to originate from the ancient Greek word "ouróu" which means to "drip" or to "moisten". It's the root of our word "urinate". He is known as the rainmaker or the fertilizer, his flow enabling fertile Gaia to bear fruit to the universe of Earthly existence.


In the past I've written about the difficulty I find in creating. I am a creative person. I find satisfaction in having ideas and in making things. It's what I live for and what I make a living from. But when the flow is dammed, I find I simply cannot do anything worthwhile. I sit for days, sometimes weeks, listlessly uncovering things that I never quite finished, or procrastinating by building up piles of mundane tasks I "need" to finish before I can apply myself to the creative stuff.

I clean a lot. I chat with friends on Facebook. I fold and iron laundry. I rip DVDs to hard disk. I bag old clothes for the charity shop. I tag and file photos on flickr organizr. The avoidance tactics I employ are numerous and actually devised (ironically) quite creatively to eke out as much dead time as possible. Every few months, I come up with something else, like my new tumblr sites, to occupy even more time.

Often my self-portraiture comes to the rescue.

The self-portraits are edge-case creative activity for me. While I do find it enjoyable and I enjoy the reaction it creates, I've always felt it to be kind of low down in my personal ranking of the merits of the various things I make and do. For instance, in terms of photography, I feel a far greater sense of creative satisfaction and worth in my landscape and still life images and struggle to bring that level of compositional insight to my self-portraits.

I also feel at the same time that I'm hopelessly unselfcritical and allow far too much dross to be seen when I post my self-images. I still intend to correct that over-abundance as I mentioned in my previous post.

But the one thing they can do is stimulate other things into being. Doing my self-portraits makes me feel creative and sometimes that's all I need to spark a new flow of inquiry.

I was in a massive creative trough a couple of years ago and that was when I did that prolific stream of twelve monthly themed photoshoots. Conversely, when I am feeling creatively stimulated, the frequency of my self-shoots goes down. Last year and this have been prolific with music making and I've felt less need to play with my self-image.

The making of a Fake Diamond Ring

Last month I felt my creative flow was blocked again though. The recording of our second album was pretty much complete and so I wasn't feeling the satisfaction of making new music. We weren't even playing live that much as we'd planned to hold that back until the single comes out in May.

The frustration was setting in but I didn't know how to channel it to break the dam that had blocked my river of making things.

I've written about how dreaming can sometimes help me unblock or inspire. Apart from stimulating my creative writing, it often suggests music to me. Some of the songs on both my band's debut album and on the forthcoming one originally came to me in dreams - usually snatches of melodies, or musical phrases which are so nagging that I wake up and feverishly try and note them down (usually using the voice memo feature on my phone - I now have hundreds of these little fragments that I go through occasionally and try to knit into a song).

Sometimes the dreams are incredibly vivid. One new song came to me last summer in a violently lucid dream where I was lost in a rubble strewn, post apocalyptic landscape (I'm most reminded of the hallucinatory faux-Vietnam that Kubrick constructed in East London for the combat scenes of Full Metal Jacket).

From a building in the distance I could hear strange, driving, powerful music. I approached, drawn like a sailor to the siren song, entered and climbed the rusting stairwell towards the sound, and found three rusting, almost derelict robots playing the song, endlessly, on a loop. They turned and looked at me then turned back, continuing to play. I knew they could never stop. I woke up in feverish excitement and recorded what I remembered and this has now become Nova, probably our favourite of the songs that will form the new album.

Another song that came to me in dreams was a strange, nagging, polka-beat melody that I found impossible to put a coherent structure to. I knew it was called Fake Diamond Ring but my lack of ability to take it further was driving me crazy in my flow-less drought of last month.

I decided to take a lateral step and try and use self-portraits to make a breakthrough. Perhaps a bit crazy and long-winded but you don't know how desperate it can make me when I know I have something good but I can't follow it through.

I had an idea that the song was about the artifice of self-image. The paradox that the lack of honesty inherent in how one perceives oneself might actually be the most honest part of self-perception. So I wanted to do a series of mirror portraits to see if I could get those ideas out. We have five mirrors in the house, so it made sense to do one self-portrait in each mirror.

I used a new method of shooting based on what had stimulated me so much about doing the band photos with Simon and it led to quick, decisive results that I was really pleased with.

These are the images that popped out.


Fake diamond ring - Self, February 25th, 2012

I was pleased with them. I consider my self portraits to be still lives in a way - myself to be an object in space. it's important for me to express a sense of detachment or the photos become meaningless to me. Kitsch.

The photos heped stimulate the writing of the missing lyrics of the song. The lines and couplets for Fake Diamond Ring came quite naturally as I edited and shot. It's a strange song. Not sure if it's a Deathline number or whether it stands apart. I'll share a demo when I record it. Meanwhile, here are the lyrics, linked to the photos that inspired each line.

The dirt in the mirror
Fake diamond ring
Brokeback moon
Underwater room

I'll be waiting
I'll see you soon

Fake diamond ring
Fake diamond ring

I'll be with you
With you soon

Gone with flow

I'm not so worried about creative block as I used to be now. Perhaps it's weird that it's taken me so long to work out something as simple as the fact that when the flow is dammed, you should just head off sideways into the countryside and find another tributary.

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