“At the still point of the turning world…”

Despite the silence of ‘lockdown’, turbulence continues. At the time of writing, Sydney and much of New South Wales are affected by a current ‘lockdown’, to attempt reducing or stopping community transmission of Covid 19 in one of its variants. Very recently Victoria has been or continues now to be in part or whole, in ‘lockdown’. A wide range of doubts persist, not least those created by the ripping of social fabric – in our community does that actually mean anything other than light cotton cloth easily shredded? – including politicians’ implied “we know where you live”. Each day for each citizen, for all citizens is mathematical. Only.

What a revelation: the days of larrikin and laughter earnestly controlled and zealously contained, regulated into silence.

Wide-spread, even more mechanical unnatural consequences accompanied the pervasive silence of ‘lockdown’: the biological and physical turned out not to be the sole risk. The future has been instantly distorted. Over some eighteen months strong legacy certainties of the post Second World War era have gone. At Eliot’s ‘the still point of the turning world’ (Burnt Norton 1936) future reconstruction is going to be elusive, demanding, 1945 Berlinesque. The bombers and viruses go; rubble remains.

Human beings pick up the first broken stone, correct the first broken word.

For us ‘free generations’, some of us life-time teachers who spoke and taught to individual chosen ways of life from the 1950s onward, known natural glory of classroom and ‘teaching moments’ has disappeared. There is evidence of spiritual as much as social and ethical desolation. Who could have, should have imagined such a time?

Writing emphatically in The Australian 4 June 2021, Gideon Haigh in Victoria,

“…We are legion, we fenced-in, fed-up families, into our fourth lock-down of lies that distance education is any substitute for the intimate kind – when, on the contrary, it is an instrument for reminding us of what we are missing out on…Because of the very modern mentality that what cannot be measured does not exist, the educational and social setbacks of the young are as nothing by comparison…” (p 11).

Contemporaneously at Easel Art Space we were hanging the exhibition, Port of Call. The result was that in the midst of turbulence, repeated medical or epidemiological setbacks, many stood still in this quiet Space in front of these original works by two senior artists in their continuing life-time practice. Throughout the exhibition to 27 June 2021, relaxed people stood still before finely rendered artistic observations on many facets of the nearby harbour, the safe harbour, the contemporary working harbour, of the ship and the sea, of evidence of thousands of years of maritime history, of human courage, ingenuity. Admiration and optimism in every artwork could not escape even the casual, strolling observer. No distortion here, then. Just positive, artistic conviction.

What a welcome relief. Above which there is truth beyond context. Obviously “at the still point of the turning world’ artist, art, observer and time converge. Time is secured by art. There is no melancholy, no Covid there where cohere time, event, tide and each life. Moreover some reflect on the fact that through those same artworks others in that future will also see, also understand, also be assisted.

Therefore during June 2021 as intended and expected the Space proved to be almost a side-chapel of the world. Each peaceful minute counted, repaid concentration. Whilst inevitably each observer, even a collector inevitably turns and walks away; the art remains. Present imagination, rendered artistically, informs the future. Distortion need not be borne, need not persist.

For those who like us assist life in and of the arts – in our case the visual and plastic arts – imagination and perceived meaning must matter. We need to live consciously in the knowledge that Hippocrates (460-370 BC; translated) captured the zeitgeist of every generation no matter geography:

Ars longa, vita brevis, occasio praeceps, experimentum periculosum, iudicium difficile”: Art lives long, life is short (brief), opportunity fleeting, experiment treacherous, judgement difficult.”

Some art and some arts live from generation to generation, century to century. New inspiration occurs through art and arts; there is a secure continuum, sometimes unexpected. Hippocrates speaks directly therefore to this present Covid damaged day.

The measurable outcome of ‘art on the wall’, observed, appreciated, enjoyed, even loved is its being instrumental in advancing the human condition and human enterprise. It calms, confides and allows confidence. It is well beyond Covid in being transmissible.

Port of Call joint exhibition by Gwendolin Lewis and Robert Carter OAM has warmed a cold, bleak, very uncertain contemporary world for hundreds of people who came to Easel Art Space. It has been wonderful in the accurate sense of that word, in its reverence for the past whilst asserting a positive future. It has done more than speak solely the language of art and the arts. It has re-stated core confidence, against contemporary odds, by reminding us all of truths that must not be lost.

Peter Cornish

July 2021.


Recent Posts

See All