Monday, May 9, 2011
I saw the paintings in that cave, in this movie, and it was as if someone plugged a memory card into my brain and in the theater people were gasping quietly and the place fell silent in a way that means no really no ones moving, no one's even breathing for a minute. The quiet was amazing.
When you enter a cave, there is this first moment when it breathes out at you, and it's when you realize you are somewhere else. There may be no other sentient creatures in the place, you may be completely alone, but the rocks and walls, even the floors, are alive and growing and moving around you. The darkness is dense, and the air smells different, wet, hard, cold, blind. You are walking into something's mouth. Something so large it is not even aware you are treading on it's tongue.
And then people came in, and they did what people always do, they made it theirs. They found the cave, and they used it. Can you imagine the bravery needed to keep crawling and walking in the darkness, with only a small flickering light to illuminate the bones crunching beneath your feet, and the cave breathing all around you? The fear you must have of the outside world to venture that deep into a rockface, and then because that fear exists out there, you imagine it and scratch it into a wall, and you are the first human being ever to make a figure? To paint a figure? To paint a horse? There was one human being one time the only time ever who drew the first horse. Who saw them, and studied the lines of their muzzles, the curl of their backs, and took those lines in his head and made them with his fingers.
The faces of the animals were the most moving things. They had personality. They looked like individual horses, like individual lions. The ibex looked like an ibex - the wave of its horns and the black patch on it's chest, the white markings on it's neck. Moving fighting living animals. These were things that the artist had seen with his own eyes, and hunted, and ran from. The walls of the cave curved and shook and waved so that if I were to just reach out and touch those lines, if I were to put my palm on the rockface to steady it, the whole earth would stay still just for a moment.
And its incredible, miraculous, holy, that in 2011, on another continent, in another body, I could understand the feeling that they all must have had, thousands of years apart in different bodies, to leave a painted handprint on the wall.
They told me that at one point, 5,000 years passed between painting. That 5,000 years after the first rhino was painted, another rhino was also painted. 5,000 years. 5,000 years. 5,000 years. Where were we 5,000 years ago? And if you and me today were to walk into a room with paintings from 5,000 years ago, which may as well be from another species of man, aliens, we would never dare to just add our own painting. At least, we would know we weren't allowed to. But these people, us, they had no history. There was no concept of 5,000 years. There was no concept of a 100 years. Is it better for us? To not add ourselves to the cave, to instead seal it back up to save it so the future can see it too? Does that make us better people, or does it reek of a presumption that the future will be ours? Either way. When woolly rhinos roamed the hills of Southern France, and people drew them. Either way, reels of film with faces and words.
Fluidity: The idea that any one thing can become another thing. A man can become a tree. A rock can become a man. A bison can speak. A woman may be a horse.
Permeability: Nothing is solid. The cave can accept you or reject you. The man can channel the animal he dreamed of last night. Through the woman comes the future. The rock communicates to you, and you are not in control, but instead these drafts coming from between trees and water and air, these drafts blow the spirits into you, and then the spirits come out of you, and everything is drifting in a wake. The dream world.
A scientist spoke about dreaming of lions. I dreamed of squid. I saw the black purple tentacles of the squid, gathered into the folds of all our worlds, the things that connect us. The internet. Television. Radio. Even the waves of our own voices. Books. Print. Paintings. Every form we use to try and make a bond between us, a shared experience. And this squid curled silently over all of our sleeping beds, breathing.