'A higher wave in sight'
This issue gathers:
Lucy R. Lippard
This issue tells the first chapter of Ariadne's story.
Scattered in are links to inspiring figures and flaming words.
My name is Ariadne. I’m a goddess. They called me Goddess of the Labyrinth, of the Maze, of Paths, of Snakes, of Passion also. Truth is I’m very smart and wild and they never quite handled it. They needed to frame me into their controlled order for things, pasting big titles on my “misplaced energies”, then sending me to that far island to be a watcher, a door-keeper, a dog-keeper. They want me far, I’m far, and I’m more than fine. I truly don’t give a shit what they are up to. My life lies ahead, way further than the horizon they gave me. I’m only here now because I was assigned a ‘surveillance function’ for a few years. To watch the blind beast that I happen to be affiliated to. To recite the same boring instructions to the stupid men who came here try their luck for glory. Finally now the last one that landed here managed to cut the head off and head back out alive, so I’m done here. I have to say I didn’t give more hope than usual when I handed him the rope at the door. He was alike all the rest, tensing his torso as straight as he could, giving me that both pompous and stupid solemn look before stepping in - but well, here we go. He did it and now he’s finally gone. And I’m free.
Ariadne enters the maze and walks calmly, in long and soft curvy turns.
Without touching any sides, precisely. She knows where she’s heading at, and she is whistling towards nowhere. She left her shoes at the door, she lets the wet mud creep in the soft cavities in-between her toes, back and forth. The loud sucking sound follows her steps, shaking the black soil, lifting its heavy odour up. It smells of fresh blood and of rain. When she has reached the trunk, she checks on its bark and leaves. The tree has been ill for weeks now. It gets more and more covered, covered in white drops, white drops emerging on and from the surface of the bark -from within. It seems like the tree is spitting its own sap out, crying, drooling, vomiting the lifeblood. The walls are so high. She thinks it just gave up because the leaves can’t reach the open air anyway. She cuts four of the thinner branches, makes a crown, makes it turn around her wrists, turns back. She will not come back here anymore, she realises. The last tree dried out, it wouldn’t make sense. It’s all dead in here. Outside the air is silent and breathless, and when she breathes she only hears the absence of echo. There’s no troubling wind, the dust sticks to the blood mud which sticks to her ankles. She looks back at the door and sighs. She sincerely hates this place.
Ariadne has lived on the island for already years now. Since the first day she was dropped here to fulfil her duty. First hoping she’d be freed quite quick, giving up, and keeping herself busy drawing on the sand, talking to the birds. Getting to know the island perfectly, making it her territory and no one else’s. Erecting big wooden silhouettes towards the sky and sleeping underneath at night. Burning them with sage and myrrh when she had enough of them, whistling bad luck between her sharp teeth to the men who locked her here. Tracing new paths every dawn and then destroying them and tracing new ones. On the island there is the maze, and then there is her territory. Or the territory that is left, and of which she is the only inhabitant. She had to accommodate few visitors through the past months but it is still the first time she occupies a land of her own, on which no one would overstep the traces of another being’s feet. She’s both the prisoner and the guide, as she’s the only one able to read the land. It’s an harmonious mess of signs and imprints on the soil here. She knows the shapes very well, she can tell which bird might be wounded, or which crab made it far to the inland, or which virgin paths she herself still has to explore. Her boat is anchored south, in a little cove she has named the purple moon, because of the colour the dust and sand get at night when she sits down. At the north of the island are long twisted knots of black rocks, no vegetation for miles, but tenacious wild mussels and oysters growing within all interstices. That’s her harbour. The wind hits strongly here, from seaward, and it’s where the softest music of the island is to be heard: where the determined waves slap the large rocks, before all living shells burst and echo in thousand sounds the water which leaves them, for as long as until the next stab rushes in. She can sit and listen to it for hours.
Illustration by Yunie Chae
for 'A higher wave in sight'
On the east side is the goddess peak, that, at least to her eyes, resembles the shape of a breast topped by a weathered yet soft elbow. You can almost embrace its curves when climbing. The rock here is both porous and smooth, it is easy to reach the highest point when you know the best grips. The peak is the mother of the island, she watches and softly mutters along the winds through her skin. From her head you clearly see the surrounding waters and their relentless waves. And if you stand here and softly turn around, that’s where all horizons blend into one, into one blurry circle. It loosely hangs around the waist of the island, caressing Ariadne’s.
To the west, or maybe it is actually to the south, is the maze. The piled rocks there are sad and flat.
I felt beautifully tense for the past days. Not sure what to do next. Overwhelmed by the possibilities the unknown before me carries with itself. Never have I been so thrilled and so anxious. How to prepare or not prepare and how to welcome my fate in the most instinctive way. I’ve been gathering food and tools, and drawing possible trajectories in the sand. I’ve been dancing at night too. Until I sweat enough and cry this place out, rinse it all in the ocean in the morning. I’m restless.
The old birds have left for warmer skies today. I hear it in the silence of the morning.
It is probably time for me to take off as well. I sit down on the coast, and I hone my dagger one more time against the white rock. I sing to myself chants of departure and chants of new.The sun is warm on my bare hips and on the back of my neck, it shines on my birch crown and on my brown shoulders, the water licks my toes. I’m leaving.
The island has disappeared. Ariadne lies in the middle of an endless and endlessly moving black circle.
She lies down on her back, dizzy from the waves and agitation. It’s a new sensation, so she actually cherishes it, it’s salty, sweet and painful, runs from the stomach to the back of her mouth. Above her, clear stars start to appear, and staring at them she lets her body stabilise itself. Her heartbeat fades into the mutters of water that fade into her warm whispers. The constellation she sees now is unfamiliar, she recognises certain shapes she could perceive from the island, but a wide array of new dots emerged. It is a new map. She sees a gigantic silky spider, she sees a spiral maze with no dead-ends, she sees a bewildering three-headed snake, she sees sharp-edged lips.
She whistles against the lapping of the waves, she wraps her arms under the scarlet woollen blanket: ‘Just like moons and like suns - With the certainty of tides - Just like hopes springing high - Still I’ll rise Just like moons and like suns - With the certainty of tides - Just like hopes springing high - Still I’ll rise - Just like moons and like suns’* - after a while she falls asleep.
In the daylight, Ariadne sits on the deck, follows the voices of the winds and birds. She tries to remember them, carving the chants in the soft wood between her legs. She carves the stories the dreams and the poems. She presses the razor deep, she makes mountains words and sentences like canyons, in which the water flows during the days of rain. Nothing around her is flat anymore, the wooden floor is full of holes and elevations, and the water underneath never stops shaking. Today she writes: I’ll keep my sword close,
Drive deep with the blade, Feel which angle is best
And I’ll let the excitement of the first stroke feed me, I’ll let
the anger flow in my palms, I’ll leave to my spiral mind the task of the plan,
And educate my hands with the thrill of what’s coming.
At night time Ariadne rolls on the carved floor until she rests within the softest curves. She counts the stars above, renames their alliances, redraws her favourite constellations. There’s now the mad sun, the tentacular hurricane, the bubbly veins, the ravenous tongue. She stares at them, her alert lids slowly swallow the sparks. Some nights a comet startles and explodes in her retina and it’s like fireworks. Amazing her tired eyes, which close themselves, full. She dreams of unknown territories that she explores relentlessly, and that she visits again in thought the coming days.
Illustration by Yunie Chae
for 'A higher wave in sight'
She cannot help but repeat what she has performed through the maze of before. She tries to scan the sea and the spaces in her dreams, she wants to memorise each step she takes on them. She carefully looks around as she lets herself drift away. Just like with the thread she used in the labyrinth, she records the unknown, marking what she has seen, then reaching further.
She wonders if others navigated here recently, or if some might cross her course.
Or if she would run into other threads, left behind or lost,
and follow them up to their dispenser, grasp a hand, or reach a wider web.
I swear there are whispers that reach my ears. At first I thought I had gone mad, or that I was just trying to make sense of the waves and birds but now I heard it very clearly. A soft human voice was singing.
It said “this endless wasteland, this ravaged space, your ruined states, without armies, without mastery, without ramparts, you didn’t know that they were the gardens of love.”* I don’t see anyone. I whistle back for a while, repeating the loop I had picked up, eventually transforming it into a new melody. Night comes.
* Coming to Writing, Hélène Cixous, 1992
When I wake up there’s a boat next to mine. There’s a girl sleeping on the bow, on which sharp and tempestuous waves were sculpted. She looks peaceful. She has long dark hair that dances around her body like snakes. I climb on the mast to check around, but there are no other boats in sight. I sit back and whistle, glancing at the newcomer and at her ship. The deck is covered with what I first read as plants, because they are like stems, growing vertically. But they are feathers, thousands of them, pinned in the floor with red clay, like arrows in a soft soil. They are surrounded by red traces of feet that draw many circles.
Ariadne wakes up, blinded by the sun of noon. She looks down and figures that the girl is awake now, she’s reading something in her palms. She climbs down, and the girl stands up, smiling at her. Her name is Darya, she says. She has been navigating for what she feels is a year or so. What’s your name, she asks. She flee from a city called Tripoli after she got punished for being in love, she says, laughing. She’s beautiful, she has big black eyes and a hole between her teeth. She grabs a rope and jumps onto Ariadne’s boat. They talk for hours about the sea and the lands and the sun and the men
and the winds. Darya says Ariadne is the second pirate she meets offshore. The first one was older and told her about the islands. What are the islands, Ariadne asks. ‘The islands are where the sea gathers all learning minds to meet and fuel themselves’, Darya quotes from the older woman. ‘She said I’ll go there too, that we all do, and that it is a very special time. That the sea decides when to bring us, because she knows.’
They share legends and food and embraces for three days and four nights. They cry while disentangling their bodies and their boats. Promising to meet again, singing seaward so the streams hear their vow. They can still hear each other’s voice for miles, even after they lose sight of their boats.
Ariadne feels full of joy and full of sadness. Meeting Darya invited two feelings into her chest: love and impatience. For the coming days she weaves the image of her with a large yarn and install the hammock high between the poles. She reads the stars differently now, she tracks them to understand where she’s going, when she might find that island. Now the constellations are: the melting cliff, the spiral jetty, the labyrinth of Venus, the smoking forge. The sky turns a bit more every night, and Ariadne keeps on drifting around with it.