Last weekend I went to a masterclass… masterclass conducted by Sam Cranston. Sam is an artist from Brisbane in Queensland. His theme for the weekend was around monuments and how they exist in our lives both physically and metaphorically. The responses were focussed on making a prototype of a sculpture from our lives.
‘The memory of wings’ is a phrase that appeared in a relaxed conversation with a glass of wine as I was describing the life journey of the dragonfly from egg to flight. Conceptually it is an evocative image for me. An insect which spends most of its life under the water in the form of its nymph developing slowly and shedding until its body has tubes over it to breathe air above the water and it leaves on a warm day to shed for the last time. It is always a dragonfly even without wings, just like a butterfly is always itself even when it is vulnerably a caterpillar. Written in its DNA is a memory of wings and flight. It can have no actual knowledge of wings until it has them and yet it grows toward it.
My little sculpture was born in Sam’s process of collaging abstract shapes into a form then drawing a monument in 2D which could be something in a real place. I drew a huge pigeon with a tiny male form on its head. An image inspired by a memory of a town square in Glasgow 10 years ago. Distinguished men in bronze adorned plinths. Each man with a helmet upon which stood pigeons to attention.
It all triggers a notion about what a monument actually is. To the maker is has a personal relevance to a time and place but as years pass and the living memory of the people who view it becomes repeated memory the form can inspire new stories. The question has arisen in recent time about what should be seen as representative of our history and community, the tangible constructions of our present which has evolved to become what it is. There is no easy answer as there are many views on the topic: politically fuelled, personally emotive, dis-interested observations…
The existence of the question provokes debate and the tension of what is morally the right decision. In a multicultural society which exists in our present how do we balance the opinions of others and our own fuels that tension. Joshua Greene in Moral Tribes asks this question around much bigger issues than statues. Yet statues are prototypes for those big discussions. What morality is it that we can all agree upon which can hold peace in place in-spite of diverse religious and historical needs? Are we mature enough to have that discussion and let go of ‘rightness’ for a greater good if the moral foundations of a way of life are all shared.
It is at this point that the simple notion of the memory of wings becomes a metaphor. It is the memory of what will be that fuels the process of becoming for a life form that is driven by its DNA. As a species of humans who have a memory of existence as tribes of belonging who have become so diverse that the pecking order of existence can no longer hold in a balanced way. I find myself wondering what it is a memory of that fuels the need for humans to segment and rise up against one another. The story of inclusion also involves the tacit notion of exclusion based on the rules of being in.
In a world full of prototypes which is it we will create? Every family, tradition, tribe, community is in reality a fluid experiment in what could be yet none are fully universal. The one thing which emerges from my observing is that the need for human survival seems to be the fuel of all decision, debate and justification. At our moral core perhaps the man standing on the pigeon’s head is more apropos than massively reasoned arguments for thought supremacy. We are perhaps just part of a global striving for survival driven by a ‘memory of wings’ spawned from 300 million years ago when dragonflies roamed the world and humans were just a glimmer in becoming millennia in the future.
On a rainy day in my world it is helpful to remember that the memory in my DNA is one born of hope and the movement toward being alive and well and able.
The ‘memory of wings’ gives us hope and the ‘knowledge of earth’ gives us reality and somewhere in between the two we make a possible and live with it.