Ataraxia: Unconditional Serenity
Unconditional serenity, to me, is not tranquility or calm. It’s the feeling of being swept along effortlessly in the currents of time. That’s how these paintings have arrived.
The stories that come to the observer are the ones that matter most to me. That’s why the brilliant Syilx storyteller Jasin Wellons is telling the stories of the images. In a process like this I really wouldn’t be the one who would know the story of the paintings.
But there is a story about the process that I do know:
The Time Zone Research Lab is an arts-based study of time and temporality. These drawings and paintings are part of my investigations.
Early November 2019, just a few weeks before the beginning of the Time Zone, and it was starting to snow in Toronto. A big old raccoon had died on the side of the road, very close to the sidewalk. Its body was still warm, the snow melted as it landed on the fur. I stood over it, unsure, should I move it…what should I do? And I heard a very clear voice that said, “Take its eyes.” I thought about it, but I simply wasn’t prepared to do it. How? With what? What would I do with them? I didn’t understand it. But when I walked away, I felt this warm little entity come with me. Subtle; just a feeling. I was moved, but not concerned. I wondered if I should have taken the eyes, but I brushed it off. Obviously not.
The next day, I was teaching a theatrical storytelling game in a group, and my friend Ella Cooper and I were giving an example. It’s a game where a storyteller and silent actor influence each other, and follow each other’s clues to a story that surprises them both. Well…somehow we ended up at the edge of an imaginary pond and I was pulling on an imaginary rope and I pulled something out, and I held it up, and …Ella said, incredibly, “it’s a raccoon. It’s a purple raccoon.” The imaginary racoon grew to about six feet tall and I ended up embraced in its arms by the end of the story. It seemed like much more than a coincidence.
Well, I learned a lot about raccoons after that! Practiced drawing them. Asked all kinds of people about them. Months later, when I began painting the images I’d been drawing for years I was delighted but not surprised that the raccoon appeared over and over again.
About a year passed, and I was telling this story about the raccoon to the group at the Time Zone, during the morning of the fifty-first session. I asked Kai Northcott, do you know anything about the eyes of a raccoon? And Kai said, well I have done a number of workshops about using the whole animal, and the liquid in the eyes can be used as a paint fixative for natural pigments.
“Take its eyes.” Everything paused for a moment.
The raccoon is the guide, my guide, and the guide through the paintings. Each of these paintings is a world, and they contain worlds, and they make a world, and they belong to the world of the Time Zone, which itself is a world that belongs to a world. When the characters speak, they open a window to the world, and within themselves they contain memories, hopes, desires, regrets, and other intensities that themselves have generated worlds. Inner, outer, and endless fathoms, these are The World, which is impossible, and These Worlds which are alive.
“As I understand it, the painter must be receptive to things at a stage prior to that when they display and impose their forms, before they have become objective and characteristic: at a stage when, emerging from the invisible-undifferentiated fount, they are in the process of taking form and coming into actuality.”
Francois Jullien, The Great Image Has No Form
“The pictures were painted directly through me, without preliminary drawings and with great power. I had no idea what the pictures would depict and still I worked quickly and surely without changing a single brush-stroke.”