For a fortnight, a group of 20 artists lived and worked together in an old nunnery building in the mountains of Atina. The aim was to enter into creative experiment as the Perseid meteor shower traced milky streaks across the skies. Each night we looked up, photographed, shared what we knew about the constellations and the stories that animate them. Evenings went late in shared excitement, laughter and curiosity, spotting meteors burn up overhead. Spontaneous cries of joy and frustration echoing through the nunnery, when people saw – or failed to see – the brief appearance of these distant specks.
The residency occurred over the festival of the Assumption of Mary, so after the night of wonders, each hot day brought a fresh celebration: processions through the streets holding the Madonna’s casket high, traditional dancing and opera singing in the square, illuminations and fireworks, as well as the arrival of a stream of tiny shiny Fiat cars and an inexplicable race down the hill in tiny metal carts.
The LUMENS 2018 Italian residency finished with a group exhibition in the local church. The theme this year was “Astronomia, Arte E Religione”. It has been gratifying to see people from Atina enjoy the bounty of beautiful imagery and spectrums displayed.
I came to Italy to work on understanding some things. I dived deep into PHD research and learnt about communications across gulfs of understanding: reading Eco and Bateson, Lincos and Laban notation, Neuroscience and Ionic Membranes… And I was gifted some unexpected visceral moments of experiential research: accidentally electrocuting myself on a faulty plug and a bout of extreme food poisoning from shellfish pasta which prevented me from getting to last celebration. Peaceful and focused, these weeks reminded me about how much is omitted in the hurry of everyday life and that imperfection and the unsaid and undone, are always and necessarily a part of the communicative experience. Communications are always animated by feelings of what is not understood, the possibility of something more to come. The story is never over.
In August, my eyes always travel to the Summer Triangle (or the Navigator’s Triangle): the three bright stars high in the sky at the moment (Deneb, Vega, Altair). We populate the earth and skies with stories… The shapes we draw reveal patterns from complexity… These stories in the skies has helped me find my way towards recognising the stars at last. Finding the traces of the swan’s open wings helps me locate the Cygnus constellation. I wonder why we don’t teach kids the constellations and the stories of the stars at school?
There are many different tales from many different cultures that speak of these three stars. One of my residency activities was to translate an old Chinese poem by Qin Guan that tells of Vega, Altair & the intercession of Deneb.
纖雲弄巧，飛星傳恨，銀漢迢迢暗渡。 金風玉露一相逢，便勝卻人間無數。 柔情似水，佳期如夢，忍顧鵲橋歸路。 兩情若是久長時，又豈在朝朝暮暮。
— Qin Guan 1049-1100
Immortal at the Magpie Bridge
Held by the delicate clouds,
ephemeral forms of art,
the sad message of the shooting stars,
a silent journey through this dark Milky Way,
one meeting of the Cowherd and the Weaving Girl
in the jade dew-touched morning of the golden autumn wind,
eclipses the countless meetings of the impassive world.
Feelings flow tender as streaming water,
the inspired moment unreal as a dream,
how can they bear to go back on that magpie bridge to different homes?
If love between two can last for aye,
why need they abide together
day after day, night after night?
— translation KG
And a translation into Italian by my dear friend and poet, Faye Miravite
Immortale sul ponte delle gazze
Tenuto dalle nuvole delicate,
forme effimere d’arte,
il triste messaggio delle stelle cadenti;
da un viaggio silenzioso nell’oscurità della via lattea,
un incontro tra il mandriano e la ragazza tessitrice
in una mattinata giada, sfiorata dalla rugiada e
avvolta nel vento di questo dorato autunno;
un solo incontro che mette in eclisse innumerevoli
incontri di un mondo senza passione.
Sentimenti che scorrono teneri come l’acqua del ruscello
un momento tanto ispirato quanto un sogno irreale
come fanno sopportare di andare sul ponte delle gazze
e poi tornare ognuno a casa propria ?
Se l’amore tra loro due durerebbe un’eternità,
perché mai occorre vivere insieme
giorno dopo giorno, notte dopo notte?
— translation Faye Miravite
It truly is a sad song for long distance relationship and the benedictions of synchrony to console the incurably romantic…
From what I understand it’s the story of Zhi Nu (Vega) the weaving girl who weaves colour into the clouds, and her meeting with the earth boy cowherd, Niu Lang (Altair). As with many love affairs – they were so besotted – so elated – in their meeting, that they completely neglected their tasks and spent all their time love-making. The work remained undone and the Queen of Heaven in outrage demands everyone get back to work and stop shirking and getting swamped by sentiment. She takes her hairpin and creates a rift in Heaven – Yin He – the Silver River or the Milky Way. And this is why, the cowboy lives on one side of the Silver River and the weaving girl on the other.
It seems to be a tale of the endless grind and the impossibility of union, but there is a sweetness to it. Once a year on the 7th day of the 7th month, the star Deneb creates a bridge of magpies to carry Zhi Nu across to the one she loves to reunite. In China they’ve many names for the bridging day: the 7 Dusk, the 7 Opportunity, the evening of the 7s, the Double Seventh.
I find out on my last night in Rome that in 2018 the celebration of the 7 Opportunity is tonight! It gives a magical sense of completion to this sublime work phase in Italy.
If you speak Chinese (or know the story of Vega and Altair well) please send corrections and details at me. I want to learn more. The Lumens programme and the Italy residency connecting artists and creating mutually supportive spaces of creativity and focus is rare and precious, like a magpie bridge.
The Lumens show is opening in London in January 2019 and includes work by: Rachael Allain • Sakchin Bessette • Mark Cheverton • Tim Corne • Kimberley D’Adamo • Dovile Dagiene • Nettie Edwards • Sarah Gillett • Luke Harby • John Hooper • Risa Horowitz • Marty Langthorne • Becky Lyon • Hanna Mattes • Heather Merckle • Aliya Orr • Phil Power • Hannah Pratt • Arezu Salamzadeh • Harry Stevenson Miller • Armelle Tulunda • Katharine Vega • Brenda Vega & Sergio Sarango • Georgia Watkins • Adele Watts • Won Young Chang