Written for a catalogue for Hossein Valamanesh, Sherman Galleries, Sydney 1999
Fingers of memory
listening in the silence
like stones on the roof
listening for magpies
and watching the sky for light
to echo the movement
and sing it
back and forth
across the sky
a creation song for morning
a song for the sun, for the day, and for being
everyday the same as the last
everyday the only one
The human finger touches sand and makes a dot. This mark is like a footprint or the tracks made by a bird or snake. It is like the mark that rain makes, both purposeful and random, it tracks thought the way a track traces movement. It is a first movement historically and individually, linking the present and the past. ‘I am here’ it says and then straightaway ‘I was here’.
The human finger touches fogged glass and makes a mark, writes a word, draws a circle, joins two squares to make a cube.
Point, line, plane. These are elements of the creative credo of Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky and the approach to drawing taught at the Bauhaus which is still used to teach the idea of three dimensions in Western systems of drawing. A point is one dimension, a line creates two dimensions while the plane introduces the idea of volume or the third dimension. This graphic magic is revealed to us as children through geometry and thus we learn a way of measuring the earth, geo – earth, metry – measure. We learn to draw a solid universe on paper, spiralling stairs, boxes in boxes, polygons and arcs, spheres and cones.
In Aboriginal painting from the Kimberley to the Western Desert, from Utopia to Arnhem Land, whether the marks are made on the body, on the ground, on bark, on board, on canvas or on paper, the dot or point is not about dimensions as it is in Euclidean geometry. The dimensions the dot touches on and its purposes are multivalent and polysemic. It can be rain, hail, sand, eggs, trees, stars…it can be more than one of these things, it can be all of them at the same time.
Pattern can disguise knowledge, clouding clarity and enmeshing information, which is already coded, into a matrix of dots to hide a too easy reading. Or it can be a way of inculcating power, lending the painted surface the brilliance of the plumage of a bird, the scales of a fish or lizard, the shimmer of water. Dotting and cross-hatching produce rhythmic structures which both contain and resolve complex tensions. As anthropologists Peter Sutton and Howard Morphy tell us in reference to North East Arnhem Land art: “It is the quality of brilliance that is associated in Yolgnu art with ancestral power and with beauty. The brilliance, the Yolgnu say, makes the gut (the seat of the emotions) go happy.”
In his recent work Hossein Valamanesh is making objects for contemplation by responding to the patterns formed by plant life, patterns which we see red on our eyelids when we are in the sun and close our eyes, patterns which we see on our arms when it is warm and the skin becomes transparent, the veins visible. Forking, branching, dividing, meeting, joining, segmenting, all these organic forms he brings into measured and circumscribed rectangular spaces.
In Iran/Persia, Valamanesh’s birthplace, the idea of paradise as an enclosed garden is imitated by carpets filled with stylized designs of birds and flowers, trees and water. For the artist the knots on the underside of a Persian carpet, as units making up a pattern, have an affinity with the dots of Aboriginal painting and, like them, combine function with meaning.
Valamanesh’s works in this exhibition include gridded dots of black, red and yellow sands made in homage to the use of the dot by Western Desert artists, as the artist reflects on his brief stay in Papunya in 1974 when he observed the Aboriginal painters at work. When he asked if he could do a dot painting he was told: “Yes, but tell your own story.”
Sometimes after I have been working in the garden
and I close my eyes at night to go to sleep
I still see what I saw when I was gardening
I see the mandala rosette forms
of green tap-rooted weeds
floating eidetic onto my closed eyes
Even if I have not been thrusting a pronged tool
into the soil to unroot and remove these plants
I still see a succession of them rising out of the darkness
towards me in a peaceful and beautiful way
Are they the ghosts of the plants that I have murdered
or have I released some image bank that is stirred
by proximity to soil and green things
In these quiet moments
something has entered me
on the border
between the sky and the land
kneeling and touching