Harmonies

I have a personal dream of tuning an entire city to A. What if, for 20 minutes, TV, radio stations and hospital intercoms played pieces in the key of A? What if children sang songs, mothers hummed to their babies … all in the key of A…! Perhaps for 20 minutes at least, the city would be harmonized.

— Fabien Maman

This text is slightly peculiar, as is the period I am living in, right now in Israel. I started writing this post before what we now call a war, and it didn’t feel right to continue with my first idea only. So, the result is a fragmented text, or maybe a few texts stitched together in an odd manner — but the times are odd.

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9th of May 2021

Last night, I accidentally locked myself on the balcony. I was looking forward to spend my evening playing the guitar or relaxing in front of a tv-show, but my sense of perfection pushed me to launch another laundry, even if there was no need. While folding the previous laundry, I thought to slide the door in order to prevent mosquitoes from entering, and without noticing, I locked myself outside. And there was I, alone, without a phone, barefoot and surrounded by plants. I thought of things to do, but they all involved having a pad and paper or a technological device. So I sang out loud and that helped me to stay centered for a while, but soon enough, a flow of anxious thoughts emerged… until finally, my partner freed me.

This little episode led me to think about perfectionism or rather over-perfectionism, and the expectations under which we strain ourselves in order to please our inner judge. Being trapped on the balcony on a Saturday night was one example of the many troubling situations I fell into, due to an excess of zeal. Not only in domestic situations, it also happens in the studio where, although I have the intuition that a work is finished, I insist and overwork it — mostly with poorer results. This is how I no longer have paintings that I wish I still had, having covered them under other paintings.

Funny enough, it is precisely the imperfection of things that touches me more than anything else. In creation, I rarely get moved by perfection: something so perfect becomes flat. I’ll always look for the cracks and flaws that undeniably bring more depth and reveal the secret layers that I find so interesting. Our perfection strive is often guided by a desire to conceal those secrets, to hide the processes through which something is born, and to show-case only their “good” side, leaving aside the story of its conception.

Sometimes, I get the same impression in art galleries, where the atmosphere feels cold and aseptic. It always makes me regret the happy mess of an artist’s studio: the thoughts on the walls, the beginnings of creations – and failures alike – laying here or there, the machines and tools in the open and ready to be operated, the boiling heat of a working space. I cherish the lack of conscious curation that still exists, when spontaneity and secret layers are not yet concealed nor closed into a fixed narrative. 

I discovered that Japanese culture actually treasures imperfections, to the point of finding beauty in them: the wabi-sabi is an ancient aesthetic philosophy based on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. Derived from Buddhism, its aesthetic values are on a par with the Greek ideals of beauty and perfection in the Western world – which is quite refreshing! 

Wabi (“rustic simplicity” or “understated elegance”) refers to the quirks that result from the process of making, adding uniqueness and character to the finished object. Sabi (“beauty of age and wear”) finds beauty in the age and wear of things. I particularly enjoy the art of kintsugi (“golden seams”), which consists in revealing the cracks of pottery by filling them with gold lacquer. The results are often more beautiful than the originals. 

The wabi-sabi philosophy shows us how vain our quest for perfection can be. What I retain from its principles is its humbleness as well as its sense of ecology. But most importantly, it is a great way to deal with failures and to embrace mistakes by enhancing, rather than erasing them.

***

16th of May 2021 (War)

A week later, I am trapped again, this time not by any zeal on my part. It is odd how, from one minute to the next, our world can change and our sense of perspective can be reduced to nil. Our regular  spectrum of possibilities closed down to the small space of four walls protecting us, namely the bomb shelter (or the building stairwell for those without shelter). Hard to think how lucky I was just yesterday, walking around freely and without fear.   

What I was busy with until now (writing this text, thinking about my art, practicing music) just paused and froze, following the first bombardments over Tel Aviv. I was only able to operate, and focus on automatic tasks like cooking, cleaning, laundry (again?) – tasks, that require less analysis or discernment. But not only, these tasks firstly take care of our reduced space and by extension, of ourselves. Maybe, the time is not about being creative, projecting ideas or being fulfilled; it’s about restoring energies in the most primitive way: eating, sleeping and hiding from danger.

My partner took this time to read some books and she learned an interesting fact: humans only have two innate fears, namely the fear of loud noises and the fear of falling. All the other fears are acquired and can therefore be unlearned, as opposed to the innate fears – which we are facing now. 

Fear generates a strong physical reaction: the nervous system warns the body to secrete stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline, which enable the body to run or fight for its life. To achieve this, some other faculties must shut down. This is how the cerebral cortex, responsible for reasoning and judgment, is weakened, hence the feeling of not thinking clearly or nor being able to concentrate.  

Hearing blaring sirens and multiple missiles exploding nearby turned on this primitive defense mechanism. It’s not a coincidence that I have been feeling so sleepy these last few days, unable to focus on what I love or usually do without difficulty. Now, I understand the physical stress that my body has experienced, perhaps the equivalent of running three marathons without a preparation – leaving very little room for music and arts. 

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17th of May 2021 (Waiting for cease-fire)

I write to Nick Cave through his website: the Red Hand Files.

Dear Nick,

I would like to listen to your songs but I am scared to put headphones on and not hear the sirens warning us to run to the bomb shelters. Instead, I read too many hatred comments on social medias and take this forced time at home to unfollow the accounts of artists (whom I loved the work, though) that seem to suddenly be experts of the Middle East and send messages that could be wrongly interpreted.

I wish, if there were only one message to be sent to the world right now, that it would be one for a sustainable peace in the region. Like the whole world, I care about Palestinians, I would like them to have a democracy in which they would lead a prosperous and peaceful life, filled with arts and songs of Nick Cave. Because every human deserves this much.

I also think the world should be governed by women (only).

Love, Ethel