Monday, May 9, 2011

Under the Cave is the Water, and Under the Water is a Deeper Cave

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.


  1. OK, so you have written a beautiful post about painting and human beings and caves and water and then you filled it all with Blair Witch / Saw I imagery, which I think is fucking awesome.

    Carry on, then.

  2. I've been to that cave in France twice, and each time cursed our tour guide (nothing to say? start over!). Alas! alackaday! you cannot go down there without a crowd, and they will only turn the lights down for a few seconds (in case somebody wigs out, but also to keep an eye on us to not touch the walls)(not that it was even the real cave).
    I swear if I am ever rich I will buy a personal tour, and pay extra for the obligatory guide to SHUTTHEFUCKUP.

    You photography is awesome!

  3. Shane, those are just pictures from some of my caves. I don't see them as Blair Witchy at all, they are just beautiful. But thanks.

    Nan - No, you've been to the other cave? The movie is all about the chauvet caves? They found them in the 90s. And no one is allowed in except some scientists for a few weeks every year. No tours. Herzog getting to film there was a really big deal. You should definitely see the movie. I'm obsessed with it a little.

  4. Oh, sorry, I thought you meant Lascaux. Haven't been to Chauvet. (or in fact heard of this film, which would have been a clue)

  5. You're back. The plague has lifted. The snot is gone and your voice is in full effect. Thanks goodness.

    "When you enter a cave, there is this first moment when it breathes out at you.."


    And twenty points for that typewriter pic. Lovely.

  6. you know this stuff is seasonal right Ells? What are you trying to say?

  7. This reminds me of that song by the Liars... you know the one...

  8. I like that the cave is so totemic to you. Chthonic gods are usually feminine and also gods of the underworld you know - ancient people understood these qualities to be related to womanhood. Ancient peoples must have met girls like you is what I'm saying.

    But I'm seeing that you'd maybe, well, heck, probably, be happier exploring caves than these buildings?

    I thought about it and you know which buildings have been the most satisfying? I think its the ones with obscure reasons for existing - then it really is archeology. Without actually having the element of discovery there - it's archiving.

    Not That I Am Complaining

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