What is the ‘fabric of knowledge’? I wondered. This thought arrived…
Fabric is woven from truth
but the fabric is not THE truth.
It could have been woven
in a different pattern and selection.
To know the truth, we must know
the choices we are making
when responding to raw material.
Take for example the material of red wool in my photo series ‘The Red Thread’, from ‘In The Woods, March 2016’. Specifically image No. 5 and 6 ‘The Headdress’.
A brief introduction to the Red Thread:
Clarissa Pinkola Estes writes about “those three old (or young, depending on what day it is) sisters, — Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos — who make the red thread, meaning the passion, of a woman’s life.” She goes on, “They weave the ages of a woman’s life, tying them off as each is completed and the next begun. They are found in the woods of the huntress spirits Diana and Artemis, both of whom are wolf women who represent the ability to hunt, track and recover various aspects of the psyche.” (Estes, In Women Who Run With The Wolves, p194)
Following the thread
I first wrote about the red thread, representing passion, in my 2006 poem ‘Shut Eye’ which saw it unravelling across the tightly woven ‘carpet of our hegemony’. In the woods however, the wool looked lifeless against the spring backdrop. Planting the wool on my head transformed it suddenly from thread into a bloodred headdress:
The emphasis was suddenly the colour, crowning me in the colour of blood. Transformed, I am no longer chasing meaning in the woods, but creating meaning, owning the power of Red.
I remember it distinctly as a moment of spontaneous and instinctual choice. With the benefit of hindsight we can read the significance of this choice in two ways. The first, is through understanding my thought process, the second is through the excerpts from Clarissa Pinkola Este’s book ‘Women Who Run With Wolves’ which became known to me later.
First, the choice. I remember it as a moment of departure, from the established narrative of the red thread. It was the same red thread that had been woven through participants at the Laboratory of Dissent symposium, and arranged on the wall alongside my poem ‘Shut Eye’. To me it had been symbolic of connections, timelines, and passion.
I chose now to create a different selection, including my body in the composition. Later, I presented ‘The Headress (No.5)’ with the caption ‘The Artist is Present’.
The selection, or pattern chosen, now reads (to my mind) ‘the wool is symbolic of a headdress, of blood, of wisdom’.
As though drenched in blood but wearing it proudly, I’m not oblivious to the violent, bold, or potent potential of red. It is the colour of life blood taken or given and that was never a pretty subject.
‘There is throughout the world a figure known as the red mother… she is the watcher of things coming through… whosoever leaves the world or comes into this world has to pass through her red river.” (Estes p.99) “I’ve studied the colour red in mythos and fairy tales for many years; the red thread, the red shoes, the red cape and so forth. I believe many fragments from mythos and fairy tales derive from the old red goddesses who are deities governing the spectrum of female transformation – all red events – sexuality, birth, and the erotic.”
Adorned, I’m claiming that ferocity of colour. The simple gesture of placing it on my head felt like an integration. A willingness to live my passion and embody the power of the red thread. I feel mildly embarrassed to reveal such a feminine reading of these images but I am confident that this is the reason they work – to whatever degree they are arresting, provocative, or strangely compelling.
I also observe, from my reading of Estes, that there is a “fabric of knowledge” where the red thread has consistently acted as a symbolic device that points toward a deeper truth. It’s strangely affirming to realise I did not need to be conscious of, or schooled in it to draw on the potent symbol of red thread. The intellectual understanding is subsequent, running in the rear, not at all the force majeure leading my artistic expression.
I also observe a clear evolution or change in my treatment of the material and the symbolism. What started as a ‘minds-eye image’, captured in a line of poetry, became an interactive symbolic device at the dissent symposium, and then took shape on my head, not as a conceptual thread, but palpable statement in form, colour, and arrangement. With this, I myself am changed, acting now from new understandings of my work, my practice, and my material.
By making the red thread visible and palpable in the outside world, I have been able to look at it, and consider it – this psychic material – and now I return it, dropping the red wool from my motifs. Because the red thread is not THE truth, just a symbolic device pointing to a deeper truth. I can weave from the truth but not reproduce it, for as many of us know by now, the famous caption on a famous image that read ‘this [image of a pipe] is not a pipe’.