The black and white veils in question are those with which the 100 mirrors I will exhibit at The Botanic Gardens will be covered. At the moment I’m still unsure as to which to go for. The black veils are the most obvious in terms of the meaning they generate, black being the traditional colour of mourning in this country. White however is the traditional colour of mourning in Jewish culture (so I understand) and a 100 mirrors veiled in white and placed in a grid formation would have the resemblance of a military cemetery which would tie in with the work I’ve done on World War 1 in that they would look a little like a military cemetery. However, having recently read a ‘chapter’ in Bill Viola’s book, ‘Reasons for Knocking at an Empty House,’ there seems to be a case for looking at the black veils again.
In the following passage, Viola discusses the eye and the black mirror of the pupil:
Socrates (describing the Delphic inscription ‘gnothi seauton’): I will tell you what I think is the real advice this inscription offers. The only example I find to explain it has to do with seeing. … Suppose we spoke to our eye as if it were a man and told it: “See thyself” . . . would it not mean that the eye should look at, something in which it could recognise itself?Alcibiades: Mirrors and things of that, sort?Socrates: Quite right. And is there not something of’ that sort in the eye we see with? … Haven’t you noticed that, when one looks someone in the eye, he sees his own face in the center of the other eye, as if in a mirror:’ This is why we call the centre of the eye the “pupil” (puppet): because it reflects a sort of miniature image of’ the person looking into it… So when one eye looks at another and gazes into that inmost part by virtue of which that eye sees, then it sees itself.Alcibiades: That’s true.Socrates: And if the soul too wants to know itself, must it not look at a soul, especially at that inmost part of it where reason and wisdom dwell? …This part of the soul resembles God. So whoever looks at this and comes to know all that is divine – God and insight through reason – will thereby gain a deep knowledge of himself.
The black pupil also represents the ground of nothingness, the place before and after the image, the basis of the “void” described in all systems of spiritual training. It is what Meister Eckhart described as “the stripping away of, everything, not only that which is other, but even one’s own being.”
In ancient Persian cosmology, black exists as a color and is considered to be “higher” than white in the universal color scheme. This idea is derived in part as well from the color of the pupil. The black disc of the pupil is the inverse of the white circle of the Sun. The tiny image in “the apple of the eye” was traditionally believed to be a person’s self, his or her soul, existing in complementary relationship to the sun, the world-eye.
There is nothing brighter than the sun, for through it, all things become manifest. Yet if the sun did not go down at night, or if it were not veiled by the shade, no one would realise that there is such a thing as light on the face of the earth… They have apprehended light through its opposite… The difficulty in knowing God is therefore due to brightness; He is so bright that men’s hearts have not the strength to perceive it… He is hidden by His very brightness.
So, black becomes a bright light on a dark day, the intense light bringing on the protective darkness of the closed eye; the black of the annihilation of the self.
Fade to black…
Through reading this passage, my question as to whether to choose black or white veils for the mirrors was answered and a title suggested for the piece. These mirrors have always served to represent the individuals of the past and our reflections ourselves in the present. They are an attempt to see ourselves as those in the past once saw themselves, a real as we are today. When Viola writes how the closer he gets to have a better view into the eye, the larger his own image becomes, thus blocking my view within, I can take this as being analogous with the difficulties faced by my attempt at seeing individuals in the past where my view, the closer I look is necessarily blocked by my own self (although of course the theme of my work has been to know past individuals through knowing oneself).
This passage also reminded me of a passage from Rilke’s ‘Duino Elegies’ where in the Eight Elegy he writes:
“Lovers – were it not for their loved ones
obstructing their view – they come near it
and are amazed… As if by some mistake,
it opens to them, there, beyond the other…
But neither can slip past the beloved
and World rushes back before them…”