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How to Save the World - Organifying the City Mind

How to Save the World - Organifying the City Mind

 Studio notes from pondering on

 How to Save the World

Organifying the City Mind
2008 Perth City
By Helen Norton

Sitting at the corner of Stock road and Leach Hwy – from overhead there is a black cross or is it a junction of bitumen rivers and for some reason the shiny coloured capsules on two sides have stopped, they are not moving, they are purring – the eyes are located on the right side behind a glazed cover, almost like a flounder, not quite central to the body.  Nature has in its wisdom put the brain and eyes here.  We zoom in and note that it is as if a magnetic force is in operation, and all these eyes are staring at the pole god for a command.  The command is relayed through colour blushing, and is agreed upon and all are compliant.  At the same time, there is another growling massive movement as another school of them gushes past in the cross direction, their eyes fixed on the invisible portal the pole god has opened up for them to escape through. For some reason, unknown to myself, but once again one of natures little quirks I imagine, they take turns. This goes on all day and night, it goes on all year, every year, and each season it is the same.  If the pole fails or falls, it is replaced to continue the same way and if the blushing stops they become confused.

 As part of my ongoing work in resolving a midlife artist crisis, I moved back to the city of Perth, just over 2 years ago after 30 years of living in remote and distant areas.  It has taken me all of these 2 years as an artist to work out how to deal creatively with something I ran away from at 16 years old.  When I left Melbourne alone as a young woman to head to the Nullabor I could not deal with what felt like to me a massive complexity of energy and confusion in the city.  It was as if we were doomed, the world was going to end, through nuclear war, or just over population as the fragmentation between humanity and reality was insurmountable, but more importantly the issue causing me such suffering was that these problems were my problems, my personal  problems to deal with.  That was the problem of me.  Obviously one could have coped through ignoring it, shutting out the surrounding reality and diving into some new obsession within the noise, take some drugs, get drunk or do a degree in biology, politics or economics; but that was not my nature as I could not shut out or ignore the problem in the full surrounds.  What an inflated mind I must have had to think the world was my responsibility and further more, that I could do something about its problems through worrying!  I suppose on reflection I can be kind to myself for running away on my Fisher King journey, and surrendered to the lesser option, moving into the space in which I might get to know me first; hence the desert may have been a good first choice for the first 10 years of my outback journey.  I say this in hindsight.

 Now here I am, and finally I feel I can work constructively with all my fears and horrors about sitting amidst a booming city.   How can I re-vision my thinking about something that disturbs me, causes me a sense of personal suffering?  Living in the city; hovering at traffic lights, watching SBS and the world news; peeping into all the horror stories in everyone’s backyards.   Here I am, sifting through all the stuff that gets airplay; that we thirst for, all the gore, the war and the beautiful home magazines in between.

 As a brain twister, Krishnamurti said, the desire for non-violence can only exist when violence is still present and I am challenged to find a way to move beyond these poles of judgment in my work about all the city things I ran away from, all the worldly things that disturbed me so much as a child with access through technology and dense population to everyone else’s business.  How can I get on the bridge between and stay there?

 It seems that artists and creative people fall into depression as par for the course as part of the coming down from the lofty heights they travel to in their imagination, but what use am I as an artist in a depressed state?  Is it any different for the stockbroker, or the ambitious mother I am, seeking perfect A’s through my child’s school performance?  I can only ‘fall’ if I have been or am  in a high place, and so I ponder that too and how I can be in a better more sound place consistently and still be creative.  I am not able to do my job for the community of standing between, of translating life into art for easier consumption, for a more poetic comfort and understanding if I am lying under the bridge in the mud of judgment – about self and other.

 So how and why would I celebrate or hold development, pollution, overcrowding, poor planning, and materialism in a romantic sensual abstraction of meaning or distortion of truth …on canvas?  My aim is to put conflict – my inner conflict to rest.  If I can do this, I can see more clearly and more holistically all that is around me more fairly as opposed to always longing for change.  If I see things – even just as a mass of fish on bitumen as closer to reality – I see more clearly patterns of behavior as energy, this may even assist how I participate in that swarm and think through problems more elegantly, less nit picky about things I don’t understand or like.  My leg will not so readily get bogged down in the personal judgments that blind us to better behaviors for our community.  When I realize that everything is organic, including our pollution, it then becomes a matter not of what is bad and what is good, but instead what is balanced about the matter of pollution.   It is really a psychological attitude change that allows me to approach pollution more positively and creatively.  Factory owners work for us, to serve us, if we demonize them we are the demons.  How can we help because it is our problem, not just theirs?

So as the artist, what purpose is there to make something that dances and sings in colour and form from what could be seen as ugly? I will say to myself, that no thing is achieved when we do not accept all of that which we are including our ignorance about what’s good for the soul.

 Embracing our development as an inevitable outcome of our full reality allows us to manage it more responsibly, to apply our creativity to our problems, to think about preservation and beauty as being something we want to do rather than something we ‘must do’ to save our bacon. That development and balanced evolution is as important to reach in our internal selves as it is in our cities and material obsessions as ultimately they are a further expression and symptom of our organic condition.

 If we are to improve our condition we need to look at all these wonderful external outcomes of our internal longings lovingly, nurturing positively how we do it, how we ‘do development’, instead of building more psychological complexes about how bad, how naughty we are which overloads our already confused and fear filled psyches with more complications and conflicts about what to do leading to a general world helplessness, which manifests as depression both internally and externally.

 If we end up developing more internal conflict, because we are always in shame, instead of really looking at a sea bird choking on plastic we look for the one to blame, and guess what? Who does that end up being? We are always wasting time fighting the feelings of guilt, of being told ‘what to do’ instead of just being able to come to this naturally and responding to natures calls through love and common sense through seeing our interconnectivity to earth and creatures. Last night I saw that show, the one that showed the plastic sea, our Coles bags ending up in our bird’s bellies, and as a result today I will be responsible.   When I saw the bus with 10 dead people after the bomb, I went shopping with plastic bags.

 Its helpful to do a little bit of reflection upon the way of our mind but not just within the limited field of mans mind; how about in the context of the full natural world, which we mine so readily for our creative needs, as artists, miners, academics, laborers, businessmen or  mothers. Our creative needs are to organize structure, improve, make order; to contain and compete with power towers and to build the occasional religious or anti religious cathedrals. How do we re-animate, re-animalize our thoughts about these processes to reconnect to our more earthy self relationships with everything?  A temple of God or a temple of China, there is no difference in that which drives it through the sky.  Reflection upon this drive might serve to remind us of our oversights about what pushes us.  And our oversights are our vulnerabilities, and represent our need for humility about our limited field of measurement for what we value.  A priest is still after all just a man and for us to have expectations outside this about him is to be living slightly off the plane of reality.  Why are we so disappointed when he fails in his role of absolute trust?

 “In the new “How to Save the World” series, of paintings, I attempt to “organify” – to pull down, to animalize our highly refined processed life into a possible decomposing of existing perceptions about visual symbols of hardness, in order to challenge the non biodegradability of our city life attitudes.


For all my scientific friends I say - After all - is the answer to saving the world really just there already in the cure for hair loss?

 Helen Norton

21 July 2008 Fremantle WA

 Some titles from the coming new series on 2008 Now and Then (shown at Linton and Kay Gallery Perth WA)  ‘How to Save the World’.

  • A House Plan
  • The Cure for Hair Loss
  • Step carefully in the Cleavage
  • Granny’s Must Cross
  • Don’t Get Lost
  • Avoid Cyclists
  • Be Careful in the Garage
  • Keep an Animal at all Times


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