11 May 2007

Flickering Birds

[initially conceived as a stylistic exercise in combing an inconsequential moment of time for its detail, treating this moment somewhat photographically as a 'zooming' from a wide to a close focus, while inevitably encountering the hubris of all that cannot be captured and the psychological biases and blind spots of the process of obsessive observation, flickering birds, as it eventually came to be called, was written ages before it was published alongside a photograph by Nigel Bunn in issue 2 of the Bill Direen edited journal, Percutio.]


flickering birds

It is a pale light in which they first become visible. A thin section of day, held in a street, in a few minutes, in a window. Not immediately noticeable, they are nevertheless present within the frame, where further up, gauzy, near-transparent clouds are drifting.

At first the attention is taken by the clouds’ slow unravelling into bits and wisps, but it soon meanders down toward the green-lit tinge of a glass wall at the window’s edge, in which the multiplied reflections of walking birds are distorting and buckling, seemingly locked in a nauseating cyclic repetition which, in the intervening seconds, has neither gained nor lost momentum.

Light pours in and across one side, almost obscuring the single leafless tree, although the tree motif recurs simultaneously lower down, bare branches sharded into a mosaic of mismatched fragments with other patches and points, with fragments of the street, of dark and brown, of the glint of glasses and dull grey coat and a patch of light brown.

Even within the containing pattern of these sharded fragments the cloud forms’ ongoing dispersal throws into perspective an incalculably large stretch of empty air, where no bird can be discerned, and which seems only by its framing in the window, in the glass wall and in the word ‘sky’ to be in any way conceivable as either blue or a location.

There is a quick reversal and narrowing of focus down toward a cup of a white and chalky delicacy, shaped like a tiny matt-glazed porcelain bucket, elegant and linear, in circumference slightly wider at the rim than the base. From the street the cup can be seen as it is lifted and set back down at intervals.

Shifting perspective to the other side of the glass and zooming in, a series of stylised, soft-edged rectangular columns that superficially inscribe the chalky surface can be observed. A rhythmic petal pattern, but the modernist rigidity of its design abstracts the cup’s floral emblem beyond any organic reference, leaning more to a partitioned and monochromatic formal regularity.

As if in protest, the tabletop’s chaotic patina of scratches and biro lines is cut by paler rings where other heated china and glass cups have imprinted the caramel coloured, almost incidentally lustrous antique wood, and ragged dark-edged smudges where spills of liquid have bleached its varnished, scarred surface.

Across and down, the white cup travels a small, irregularly sectioned space, sometimes crystalising its integrity as a discrete object, either hesitatingly or forcefully, sometimes arcing a blur across the air above the golden wood.

Its peripatetic whiteness is simultaneously colder than the table’s amber tones and warmer than the green of the glass wall that lends a sick, almost lurid tinge to the winter skin of those framed in the window, which attention now shifts more fully toward, to the dark bob haircut, slightly wavy at the ends, its black silhouette revealed as warm rich brown where the threads breaking up its edges are backed with diffuse light, framing the pale, pointed smile and lively, determined blue-grey eyes.

Then the small, round, gold-framed glasses and heavy grey woollen overcoat and light brown hair over the unshaven but distinctly haughty jawline. He is taller and thinner and leans over slightly, talking to her, the lines of his body softened subtly by her presence, but still looking as he must look otherwise; intense, neglected, almost dusty.

We can almost see them, but then attention shifts again as the cup’s heat draws the eye down toward where one dried coffee drip trails from the thin rim, down toward the dried pooling on the base, which spreads into a brown edged peaked shape like a botched ideogram or oddly boneless ink drawing of a profile. It is now noticed that age has crackled the inner glaze of the cup into a multitude of tiny crazed abstractions that mirror the skin of the hand.

The coffee that has dripped onto the hand, in the soft webbing midway between the thumb and the fingers, has entered the cracks and traces of a normally invisible system of lines. This fragile craquelure is further offset by the cup’s handle, which soon intrudes until it becomes an obstruction taking up all the available attention.

The handle, noticed originally only for the reason of its not being quite big enough to fit two of the fingers, now unavoidably presents itself in view as a glaring and irresolvable aesthetic oversight, not belonging in any way to the cup’s quiet and assured circular momentum.

The handle, when scrutinised, is incongruously floppy, as though quickly and casually moulded out of clay, and stuck like a looping soft bodied caterpillar on one side, perversely at odds with, and breaking, the cup’s formal and architectural tone, its delicately scaled symmetry.

By the time the handle has been negotiated and attention has been diverted again toward the street it is already minutes later, they have almost disappeared, despite their slowness, and will remain only for a few seconds more, poised just before the window’s edge where the entrance of the partially obscured building becomes a cavernous and unknowable space.

A tiny thing with a dark bob haircut, carrying a brown leather satchel. Gold rimmed glasses that speak of lost things without specific era or reference. A slightly shabby exterior like something formerly luxurious has withered and gone to seed.

He is leaning over slightly, talking to her, the gesture oddly touching, his movements communicating wordlessly and publicly the private fact of his aloneness, and equally the almost dreamlike continual miracle of her company, as it has been, in this day, in this street, in the space of this window.

On the footpath unreadable people are already thickening, obscuring them from sight, walking in twos and threes and singly, sharding into an abstract vocabulary of patterns that fuses faces, hands, tshirts, backpacks and smiles with the ephemeral flickering of the pale light, with the spare and skeletal winter tree, the hard lit lines of the dull metal railing, the sharded cracked glaze of the cup’s interior, the gridded skin patterning the webbing of the hand, the flat winter light glaring on the green tinged glass wall, onto the clouds of white exhalation, onto these visible and partitioned facts.

In the same reflection but slightly lower down, flickering birds are rolling on the grey and grainy flatness of the pavement, their seasick gait stuttering in and out of reflection, soft and flattened bodies teetering on impossibly elongated spindly legs, all movement enacted in an absence of sound which is, simultaneously, their absence, but is at first unnoticeable to the observer except as an inexplicable, almost imperceivable resetting of a habitual emotional suspension or disconnectedness, which is something like a light going out.

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