September 28, 2014

PLEASE NOTE that arthealswounds.blogspot has now moved to a new Wordpress format ARTHEALSWOUNDS.

Please transfer there to follow, like, or comment on more exciting posts such as:
Seeing With Fresh Eyes: The Pearl That is Penang 

The story of Joe Sidek and the George Town Festival, and my encounter with the lively spirit of Penang- Pearl of Malaysia- which has it all, temples, art galleries, theatres, mansions, fashion shows, restaurants, jungle national parks, and beaches. It includes a dip into the history of Penang at the time when Noel Coward visited and wrote 'Mad Dogs and Englishmen.' 

Face Reading: A Divinatory Art?

How your life can be read by looking at your face with a visit to Chinese/Malaysian Taoist face Reader Master Ming and Eddy Phoon, giving Thai Buddhist Blessings, lek lai stones, and life advice, including numerology, palm reading, astrology, qabbalah, taoism and even Angelina Jolie!


and Pareidolia: The Face of Things Unseen

An exploratory analysis of the significance of signs, symbols, divinations and synchronicities in life and how being able to read them increases our intuition, including Tarot, Frog Reading, Dreams, conversions, mysterious faces in yoga mats, and all the interdimensional stuff that appears once the veil of nature is rent. 

I hope you find the new version more  accessible, readable and interesting. It's a work in progress and I'm keeping things very small so no big SEO campaigns, or advertising campaigns, just genuine articles, not clipped for media packaged length.

Look forward to seeing your comments there.



June 16, 2014

Zen and the Art of Being Marina (Abramovich) : 512 Hours at the Serpentine

Photo by Adele

There are several people at the Serpentine standing around either motionless, facing the wall, or just staring out of the window, or slowly walking backwards gazing into a small wooden hand mirror. Others are just sitting on chairs dotted around, saying nothing, doing nothing. This artist has a team of assistants in black who clasp people’s hands and lead them to a space to become part of the ’now’ performance. It is like suddenly finding yourself on the set of Resnais’ 1961 film Last Year in Marienbad, where for a moment the universe is temporarily unhinged in slow motion, going backwards in repeated loops and long shadows stick to people even on an overcast day. 

Marina Abramovic, with her jet-black plaited hair and slightly stooping shoulders is arranging people in groups. She gives spontaneous instructions. Amazingly, everyone just complies. She is mistress of ceremonies here after all and people are eager to see her - the hostess at her own party of nothingness. No watches, mobile phones are allowed in the space.

She zeroes in on me spotting my Ziggy T-shirt from the David Bowie Is  exhibition last year, and grabs me by the hand, eyes on my chest, saying ‘David’ as if that is my name. Then she leads me with her tight, warm, cosy hand that I cannot refuse, and walks me to the next gallery. “It’s very crowded here” she says. She proceeds to act as if she’s known me for years. It seems that way to onlookers, but I have been selected - at random or by calculated choice?- for this assignment.

“What do you think it is about?” she asks me. She, the Marina Abramovic, asking me for my opinion?? If this trick of flattery is to immediately disarm any Great British scepticism and sarcasm through flattery, then it was beginning to work. According to Abramovic, binge drinking is also one of the faults of the Brits - she herself is a tee-totaller and uses fasting as a way of sensitising her experience in the world. Yet she believes that addiction to drink is a defensive mechanism, covering up wounds people would rather not open up to. She might well be right. Yet asking for my view was validating, placing the power in my hands, and not in her as the ‘author’ of the work. This shows complete openness, honesty and trust that whatever I felt, that was ‘it’.

“It seems to be like Zen practices” is my answer. She says nothing. Then I dare to boomerang back and ask her what her view of it is. She says “Simplicity. Being  present …this is what people really need in the world now.” I nod in agreement, judging by the numbers of people around me being present with her, the need is greater than ever. 

We are now in a corner where she positions me near a wall. She is still so close that her mouth is almost nibbling my left ear.  “Just stay here in silence…  don’t move and be in the moment” which I do gladly aware that it is a chance to be mindful. “…But don’t forget to breathe,” she adds mischievously, as though I might just stop breathing for her sake. Apparently, in Japan, she is taken so seriously that people might just do that. Few appear to challenge her instructions, even from her assistants who have none of the magnetism and charisma of this woman. “Take as long as you like and come back many times. We need people to come back,” she chuckles. I ask “Is the idea to empty your mind? Is that what you try to do?”  She nods, sphinx-like, “yes, that’s right, sort of.” But in other interviews online she has said that it’s more about just cutting away things that get in the way of direct, open experience, and  just being with that. It is not so much about labeling them according to any religious ideology, though she is on record as having been inspired by Tibetan monks and their disciplines. Walking meditation is one tool. Just sitting or Zazen meditation is another. Endlessly counting individual rice grains apparently helped Lady Gaga to give up smoking. 

So there is a definite link to practices drawn 
Marina Abramovic
from the contemplative traditions. To bring this into the art world helps to blur the boundaries of art and higher order experiences. Abramovic has collaborated with Tibetan monks and shamans to create a series of exercises to allow people to experience ‘durational art.’ These are what she teaches at her Institute where she instructs people to slow down time and learn the art of being.

She then glides away from me with that enigmatic grin on her face to my friend and grabs her by the hand with the same sideswipe and clamp technique, not letting you slip away.  She gets them to walk slowly - a meditation walk which is to increase awareness of each foot fall from toe to heel.  Her presence is very palpable, and real, not abstract or cold, but earthy and intense. Her touch gives off a radiance, a warmth. When Abramovic puts her hand on your shoulder and presses down into you it goes deep. It is a privilege, like receiving Reiki from a master practitioner. She’s channeling this Shamanic type of energy, and it is like being given a gift of transference.  She feeds off the responses of the public - her public, not in a vampiric way, but because it gives her higher motivation to touch those parts that wouldn’t otherwise be touched, people’s inner selves.

The moments after she has gone, I remain still, and gone, and aware of my toes pressing into my shoes, and of my slowed-down breathing and the hushed silence in the room, broken by a few cars passing from outside, were  personal yet shared. It reminds me of being in a church when it suddenly goes intensely quiet and contemplation is realised.  Relief from excess noise is always welcome. It creates space just as Marina says. I don’t have any trouble being still, but I wonder how many others would find it a major challenge. Abramovic has boiled it down to the essence  which was never better expressed  as in Pascal’s Pensees (1761) where he says “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

This can be scary for some, like approaching that abyss within we tend to run away from with distraction after distraction. She said in the Artist is Present documentary that "the hardest thing to do is something that is close to nothing. It demands all of you because there is not story anymore to tell. There’s no objects to hide behind. You have to rely on your own pure energy and nothing else.”

She operates on many levels. One is just cunning self-promoter, having fun with a bunch of people along for the ride. But see beyond that and another is as strategic conduit of experiences to be shared by everyone, making her a shaman and even high priestess of art. She helps you to create that space inside. You can do it by yourself, no doubt, but by facilitating it, she makes it a shared experience, marked by her presence. Emptiness indeed is all around. The gallery is empty of anything so crude as a physical object. The art ‘work’ she is creating is what the viewers bring to it, carved experientially on the screen of their own minds, but one could call it living sculpture as several people are standing motionless in different directions like statues on a platform when you first walk in.

Abramovic has achieved a near-cult status now by challenging herself at every level. She attempts to fuse artistic concerns with spiritual practices. One of her friends, Laurie Anderson, has noted in Bomb Magazine, that Marina’s work has become ever more personal, direct, and ‘spiritual,’challenging its viewers and participants to confront their own disjointed selves. It is not unconnected that the rise of Mindfulness, as proposed by Kabat-Zinn, has and still is steadily gaining steady mass acceptance in business and the corporate world as well as medicine, education and even the government. The power of mindfulness is that it is deceptively simple.  

Be Quiet! The Artist is Present.
So whether you think it is much ado about nothing, or a chance to trigger a personal epiphany, she’s here in London for the duration of the summer. One day silence another day a scream fest- it could be either or something else. Who knows what she’ll cook up next to challenge us? The queue was not long, but I have a feeling that, while it seems to be easily dismissed as fake, or even a bit daft, it will catch on, and it would not surprise me if, by the end of the summer, people are clamouring to go back again and again to Ms. Abramovic’s house to experience a bit more of this nowness and take away from it what you will.

The exhibition runs until August 25th.

© Kieron Devlin, 2014
all rights reserved

June 10, 2014

The 2014 International Yoga Sports Federation Competition

Roll Call Before Starting 

Watch a video slide show of the Competition here:
So as the dust has settled on 2014's International Yoga Sports Federation competition, one of the most exciting events on the yoga calendar. This year it was at London's Institute of Education, and now I'm pondering about this display of dedication and prowess to the promotion of yoga as a life-changing force. It is more than impressive. As an IYSF volunteer, I was able to meet Rajashree Choudhury and her daughter, plus Cintra Brown, who was the first to bring Bikram to London, and Marianna Massaccesi, the UK youth champion 2014,and so many other great contestants from all over the world. These yogathletes descended on London to take in this juicy exhibition of vendors from Mind Body Connect, Shakti Activewear, Dragonfly, Yogabela, La La Land,to Max, along with athletes and hardworking yoga practitioners. 

Rajayshree Choudhury
Yoga can be classed as a sport. Yes, why not, as B.S.Iyengar said it is only the asanas of all the eight limbs or petals of yoga that are less individual and personal,  so there is no harm in competitive displays of asanas. It has been a tradition in India for over a century to run competitions for asana, and it is through those events that Rajashree and Bikram Choudhury first met. 

Some might not even wish to waste time on this debate about whether it is nor is not a sport, as it's all been said before, and just want to enjoy the display of skill in competition, but yoga has five thousand years of sacred prestige weighing heavily on its shoulder stand. Yoga, while being difficult, is not usually known for its spirit of rivalry, or point scoring, but more for its private and personal body/mind/spirit inner development. It certainly cannot be compared to the body elastics of gymnasts, but there is nevertheless a purely physical aspect to yoga (called asana) and many believe that this athletic strand in yoga which takes long hours of practice and training, is gaining prominence and, yes, even more acceptance, mostly through the efforts of the IYSF (International Yoga Sports Federation) with back up from C.J. from YogaBrighton and Lorraine Bell from Sohot Yoga
who run the UK Yoga Sports Federation.
Joseph Encinia

But asana or posture, as you can imagine, is no ordinary sport. Once you go beyond the physical, and it does  not take much, then yoga's rightful sphere is the field of consciousness. I don't think there could ever be a points-out-of-ten for the achievement of Samadhi for example, or that could we ever envisage a situation where people's experience of Bliss is 8.5 while someone else's is only 7.9? Never, because that is the hidden, mental aspect of yoga which is beyond comparisons of better or worse. Some things cannot be measured on a points scale. Yet the the body-mind connection is evident in yoga, and it can inspire people to know more about it. 

However, on the ground level, it does actually look mighty fine considered as a sport.  It requires intense discipline like any other sport and is eminently watchable, just as we watch divers, who also wear speedoes which are necessary for unrestricted movement of the body. Yogis, in this sense, would have to be called 'athletes' and not yogis or yoginis, but they are clearly kind of both, depending which aspect is focussed on, so we might settle for the term yogathletes? No doubt the argument will go on, and on, as debates that push around words tend to do. It seems to me and others that you are either  in with it  or you are not.  It is a personal choice.
A Female Contestant
Bear in mind that traditionally, women were not allowed to practice yoga, but Western women have changed all that by defying that rule in droves, and now they have almost begun to own yoga in a way that the men do not, so thankfully perceptions do change, and innovation moves forward. 
Whether it reaches Olympic standard is another matter that barely matters, at least to me. Whether people say that yoga-sport is not yoga is like saying a molecule of water is not the ocean as in one sense everything is yoga. It depends on a certain kind of quality focussed attention brought to bear to perfect a pose. 

The fact that a huge number of athletes from Ryan Giggs, David Beckham to Andy Murray all swear that it is Bikram that has enhanced their performance, should be enough to fuse athleticism and yoga in our minds. Yoga, especially Bikram, seems tailor-made to suit the needs of athletes, as it promotes increased detoxing, lung capacity, endurance, and flexibility. It is especially good for restorative work of all the numerous injuries to muscles, joints and hamstrings that athletes, runners and tennis players suffer. Years ago, I had intense sciatic pain in the hips- and that was some serious pain- and it was only my attention to yoga that helped me gradually overcome that. It is also true for dancers, and it should be no surprise that pop stars like Madonna, Beyonce and Lady Gaga choose Bikram yoga to tone up their bodies for their intensive dance routines. 

Budokan is an example of yoga which fuses with martial art ( kind of sporty?) based originally around karate. Cameron Shayne, the founder at Budokan University, defines himself as an ‘artist’ and 'guru killer' rather than a yogi pushing the boundaries of how that is defined.
Jared McCann in Full Bow
This is what yoga as a sport does, pushes boundaries. So now we have a blend of  sport and art and 
let's not forget that it is also an ancient Vedic science of the neuro-physiological. It seems yoga is not so easily locked in the 'sacred' box - exactly because we are thinking outside that box here. Acro Yoga, also works along similar lines combining yoga, with Thai massage, and partner acrobatics, yet no one seems to question the ethics of that particular cocktail. So now we have yoga-asana as sport, as art,and even science. So yoga is and can happily be all of these forms of expression, because it has all these possibilities for expansion into all these activities.

Yet some still argue that yoga is this or that, or not this and not that, yada yada, as if it would somehow be defiled or contaminated by the spirit of competition. I personally do not find it so difficult to accept, but I am not about to take part in any competition anytime soon and I can handle a fair share of paradoxes. But I do know that it can be utterly breathtaking and inspirational to watch and if you do practise, watching great practitioners can help you visualise the alignment of poses much better in order to realise any improvement. What it must do for the contestants is really increase control of focus,  sharpen the precision of movement and access
Tiger Scorpion Pose
to stillness. It can be quite mesmerising.

The rules are simple: practise hard, state the choice of pose before beginning, perform it to the best of your ability, keep an even pace, keep breathing silent and finish within 3 minutes. Total silence must accompany a session, and I was mini-policeman in charge of keeping people out at the door, to avoid causing distractions to the athletes, which mostly come from mobile phone ring tones. Points are awarded by the judges, who check for well-paced timing, regular quiet breathing, precision of alignment, stillness, and whether the hand grip is fully on the ankle in standing bow pose. It all amounts to a graceful performance. The judges, often ex-world champions themselves, use their expertise as teachers to assess the performances often down to fine degrees of different points. Anyone having the skill to compete should be congratulated, but to get into the international top ten as Alessandro Mauro Vanegas (UK) did, is an achievement indeed. 

As the last day came to a close, with contestants from the USA sweeping the board, it became clear that these yogathletes have developed to an extremely high standard. But they are not unbeatable, as Eric Persson from Sweden, caught up, getting into the top three. But it would
Jared McCann
suggest that there is better, or more frequent coaching and/or funding for Bikram yoga training in the USA than in the UK or other countries.

The event brought mostly aficionados, yoga lovers, but I talked to a lady from Sheffield, who I could have sworn looked like the writer, Karen Armstrong. She had come to see her daughter compete. She said it is amazing to see how all the competitors are such great friends. Most likely there is a respect rather than rivalry in the green room where Mary Jarvis prepared the athletes for their moment on stage. Yogathletes will happily share the top positions if they happen to be in the top ten. A healthy form of rivalry may be necessary to give contestants an edge, but everyone who does Bikram knows how hard it is to be really exceptional; so they are more inclined to stand back and admire those who have put in the work. 

Zeb Homison
This year it was Zeb Homison's (USA) turn to be number one, and Jared McCann (USA) obliged to take second place. But only by one point. Eric Persson (Sweden) came third. A few people mentioned that Michael Eley, the reigning UK champion, did not take part due to an injury, otherwise he might have ruffled feathers in the top three. Among the women, Gloria Suen (USA) won, with Gianna Purcell (USA) second, and Anna Cadkova (Czech Republic) demonstrated a perfected skill. In the youth division,  Danton Lee Delchuk (Canada) took first place for the boys and Jana Sougata (India) for the girls.  

A real highlight of the event is the performance of last year's champions with Jared McCann really showing his level-best sustaining a one-handed peacock pose for well over two minutes, and even laughing casually in the middle of poses, showing his innate sense of control and confidence. Chaukai Stefanie Ngai, last year's winner in the women's division, gave a beautiful, highly polished demonstration of some seriously advanced poses. It is not just the athleticism that amazes us when someone nails a pose with technical precision, but the art inherent in the balance required to sustain the
Jared McCann
silhouette the pose creates. It’s a combination of physical prowess, mental focus and mind-body coordination, plus an understanding of how it looks visually from outside for people observing. All of these build strength, poise and technical skill which combined, comprise the beauty of the pose.  Craig Villani's droll commentary throughout kept it fairly light and breezy.

Before the awards were issued, Rajashree Choudhury spoke at the point of tears about how valuable these competitions are. She first started in yoga through local competitions in villages, which was how she met Bikram. She mentioned the struggles and challenges of getting the championship rolling, and sustaining it with proper funding and countering all the attacks, which yoga even helps you to endure. These words came from the heart. That's where it's best to leave it - in the heart centre. 

She said "We all belong to one big yoga family," but like all families, there are disagreements. The point is that the prestige of yoga has grown enormously in the West, perhaps even
The Winners
because of difficult, transitional  times. Yoga has the power to be a catalyst to personal change and development. It can help marry the body to the  mind and spirit, where those may have been split off. Yoga can help you to be able to overcome the odds, and feel released and strong through practice, ready to take on more challenges.

The Yoga Sports Federation competition is just one of many forms of the expression of this great shift to a deeper understanding of the impact of yoga. Roll on next year to see who else can show the world they've pulled it all together. 

"Your hand opens and closes and opens and closes. 
If it were always a fist or always stretched open, you would be paralysed. 
Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding, 
the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated as bird wings."


Watch a video slide show of the Competition here:


© Kieron Devlin, 2014
all rights reserved

May 05, 2014

Frank Spragg remembered, Artwork for Charity

Frank Spragg was an artful speaker: he nailed bon mots for breakfast, coined witty tourneurs des phrases before lunch, told hilarious stories at dinner. People wanted to hear him speak again and again. He was an artist too in his spare time and in the gallery of his work you can see his roving eye at play.

Interval Drinks: Frank Spragg
One might say he was very Frank. Being Frank was his nature. Yet he really disclosed very little about himself.  He was more of an entertainer, the  centre of attention in any room. He was contradictory, and totally irascible. There never was a sharper tongue, or a haughtier look down the nose through glasses in the teachers’ room. The effect was either stitches or tears. Nor was there one more capable of getting already super fluent diplomat's daughters happily through their Proficiency English tests, giving them the impression that they’d learned something new and vital. 

He was a good mimic, so could accurately satirise anyone’s walk, pet phrase or accent so his Indian landlady came in for a drubbing, with hilarious consequences. But she took that well. He had a series of Spraggianisms for which he became famous. One he'd say was ‘Abbysinia, instead of 'I'll be seeing you'- as he left you at the station, and his listing of Italian girls names "Pamela, Carlotta, Maria, Laura, Federica, Giulia...Cinderella,"  in a class provoked mirth. It was just the way he did it with a kindly, but waspish edge. His aim was to entertain people, so he loved nothing
Lady in Mauve: Frank Spragg
more than to have those who listened attentively - and did not interrupt - around him, to delight them with crackpot anecdotes. These were drawn from scrapes he’d been in, with bosses and colleagues, or meetings with locals, of his adventures and travels across in Iran - he was there during the coup - in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and in Libya and all over Europe.

He devoured books but only toyed with food which he dribbled across the plate like a footballer in training. He loathed onions, green peppers, and could eat only bland foods, like omelettes, and poached eggs, but was overly fond of tea and cake, and Italian ice cream. He read shelf loads of biographies, novels, histories, but had a special fondness for Stendhal. He adored glamourous femme fatales from the 30s and 40s Hollywood period and had even written a biography of Barbara Stanwyck, whom he said was the greatest noir vamp. He could remember every line from every film she made: "I need him like the axe needs a turkey" from 'The Lady Eve' (1941). Stanwyck was most likely his obsession, possibly even his alter ego, but the manuscript was lost in all his moonlight flits from flat to flat. 

Strolling Along: Frank Spragg
He loved classical music, especially Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven. But he was not good on modern authors, loathed TV, nor was he good on computers, or technical gadgetry, even a mobile phone befuddled him. He lived frugally, without a carpet, or minimal luxuries in a tiny flat in Clerkenwell and although if he liked you, he was kind but he was always expect you to pay your way and never offered to pay for anything. Perhaps he was fearful of being exploited. That made going on holiday with him a tad difficult but in a good mood, his greatest talent was for anecdote.

While others struggled to express themselves, Frank had already taken the prize and wandered off with the money. That was the sense of humour that, unless you laughed hard, you could be on the wrong side of. He was a prolific letter writer and artist. After he died I realised I still had the letters he’d sent to me rammed to the margins with  illustrations. I’m not very good at throwing things away. The artworks were distributed among friends, but I was given some of them.

Frank had only one exhibition in a small hotel in Paris. The manageress had invited him to display his work. I don't think he sold any but it marked a new height in his confidence. He used crayons a lot, and while the drawings are simple and direct, his powers of observation are sharp, often getting the character through people’s gestures. He would sit in the park and draw whoever happened to be lounging around or picnicking. Only occasionally, he asked people to pose for portraits, so a lot of them are faceless, as he just wanted to capture the fleeting glance, and observation casually from a distance suited him best. He would work up the drawings later using ink, more intense colours, including a characteristic black outline. There is a series of elegant legs in shoes which owes something to Andy Warhol’s though I’m sure he would have feigned never having seen the Warhol shoe series from the 1950s. Completed mostly in the eighties and nineties, these drawings and sketches bring back Frank to me as if he were still here. They have a unique flourish that is Frank's.
Bearded Man: Frank Spragg

Once I remember his saying that he wanted something of his, to a charity in Africa. Giving money to charity should come with all the usual warnings, since there have been scams. Charity also brings up the question of whether it does not substitute for real justice, it just deals with symptoms and not causes, and that it serves to keep people helpless and codependent, and the whole system is riddles with scams, but the story of the boy with the starfish should settle this score:

Once upon a time, a man walking along a beach saw a boy picking up starfish and throwing them into the sea.

He asked the boy why he was throwing starfish into the sea.

The boy replied, "The tide is going out. If I don't throw them in, they'll dry up and die."

The man smiled patronisingly and said, "But, there are miles of beach and thousands of starfish on every mile. You can't possibly make a difference!"

The boy smiled, bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it into the sea.

"Well," he said, "I made a difference for that one."

These are just some suggestions of where you might send money should the spirit move you:

Get water to African Villages: The Water Project

Sponsor a child or orphan:   Sponsor a Child

Provide basic literacy in places where it is not common:  Room to Read  at

Sponsor children (site is German) African Angel

And of course - why not - Tom Daley's charity efforts Just Giving Page. I feel sure Frank would have approved of Tom Daley.

So little is known about Frank that it might have to be made up, something that would make him smile as long as it was flattering. So what can I make up? He managed to convince everyone that he was 20 years younger than he was even without ever dying his hair- to discover his age when he died was a shock- but he died young at heart, but no one would believe that.

It may seem odd that I'm doing this little homage now ten years after his death, but that's the thing about people who leave this life. They are still around somehow. I get visitations from Frank in dreams and in thoughts since everyday I pass where he used to lived. The flashbacks appear and it will make me laugh out loud again, how irascible was Frank, I
chuckle. He always had the last word and it does not have to be a bad one. The voices of friends who've passed on stay with us, alarmingly to some, but not so alarmingly when you consider that they are part of consciousness, so their wishes are still somehow intimately connected with our own and for this to manifest now only shows that it can take a long time, but it still may bear some fruit. 

© Kieron Devlin, 2014
all rights reserved

April 29, 2014

How to Jeepstart the present using music from the past.

Jeepster on Fly Records, 1971
Flashback to 1971. The colour’s hazy in my  mind but my memory tells me on one side it was spliced down the middle with one hemisphere an iridescent orange, and the other was salmon pink like the label and sleeve. But apparently it was purple. It was a totally beautiful. I was ready to kiss the plastic it seemed so bright. It was a 45 rpm, a small piece of black vinyl with the Fly logo at the top,ready to be played on the old-style record players with the automatic disc stacker handle and the stylus you clipped in manually, which soon got covered with fluff. A good blow on the needle improved the sound quality.  It cost me £1.10 pence, nearly all my weekly wage for doing the butcher’s round which I did on a clunky old, heavy-framed black bicycle with a basket in front, just like characters in the Beano  and Dandy. I had pounds of beef, brisket, offal, prime cuts, and sausage strings wrapped in grease proof paper, and learned to be wary of salivating dogs lurking behind garden gates. But that didn't matter one jot. When I got home, I could play my records. This one song by T. Rex, Jeepster, was the coolest thing on the planet, until of course  Bowie's Starman landed a few months later. It was the second single I ever bought. The first was  Nathan Jones by the Supremes, with its oddly melancholic stereo phase shifting moments,  but that's another story, leading down the road of Disco music, and that other life of twirling on the seventies dancefloor. Jeepster got me to vamp it up in the bedroom, and swish my head with imaginary corkscrew curls, doing a Bolanesque strum on my air guitar. 'You slide so good,' I pouted to myself in the mirror.

There was only one shop in the entire town that would stock T. Rex, and would know who Marc Bolan was - Malcolm’s. Malcolm, himself, the man who owned the shop, was ace. He knew we would only be satisfied with the very latest records. Amazingly, this shop is still there, 40 years later. Woolworths, the big department store, would be no use since they only stocked middle-of- the-road music, only the popular end of the market. My mother bought her Jim Reeves and Nat King Cole LPs there. Enough said. I would put Jeepster on when no one else was in the house. I’d close my eyes and dream of Marc Bolan’s dark pixie corkscrew curls, pouting lips, satin jackets and spangled face, a flick of the wrist that ejaculated a power chord enough to knock your head off. I had  pictures of him from the pop song magazines, in Jackie which I stole from my sister. She liked David Cassidy, and consequently knew nothing about what was really cool. My younger brother liked Slade which was even worse. 

Unlike John Peel, I didn’t care if Bolan had abandoned acoustic; electric was just fine. But it was the animal squeal that was the dollop of ecstatic icing. ‘Girl I’m just a vampire for your love, n I’m gonna SUCK ya!!!!’ I was not a girl, but I knew that didn’t matter either, as in Bolan's T. Rex world,  he was really singing that to me. It turned me into nothing but a 'raw ramp'. Give me a microphone and I’d swallow it. I was that hub-cabbed diamond star halo he talked about in Get it On.   Bolan's  screech in the coda was enough to shock my mum. That made it rank highly for me. The big pleasure was to tell my friends at school. Have you heard Jeepster? Are you a Jeepster? Can you talk the Jeepster talk? Can you be a schoolboy Jeepster? I don’t think I ever realized until this day that I had no idea what a Jeepster was, but I was one when I was thirteen. No one in my home town had ever owned such a funky vehicle.

So what has all this to do with my life now? A whole lot. By invoking this memory, by reliving it, unpacking it in its sensory detail, sound, colour, movement, even taste, even down to the exact sequence, I can feel that energy  all over again, and funnel it to anything today that I'm procrastinating about. This gives it that badly needed kickstart. Plus, I can just feel the love, and gratitude to Bolan for making it possible. Feeling love and gratitude again in this day and age is almost a miraculous achievement. The odds are stacked against us, with a whole list of modern and technological frustrations bleeding away this energy and sapping our life force. Fusing love, gratitude, excitement and enthusiasm for an aural peak experience from a time before the internet, before downloads and streaming, is therefore a triumph. It is a magnificent tool to play with and one that we can call on to give us strength when we most need it.

Your mind is a vast storehouse of items, which can be drawn on like a long forgotten bank account. All it takes is a bit of time to reflect back. This can help access the riches that already exist just lying about in the attics and basements of our experience. I usually say to clients in hypnotherapy sessions, 'just scan through the
Jeepster Cover
Rolodex of memories' to find a moment when you felt excited, or in love, or  successful, or calm and at peace.It is these feelings we need to loop back to the present wherever they are deficient. This phrase is very effective because the image of a Rolodex means we can flick through a multiple store,  our much undervalued inner archives, just as computers do. This way we find we have much more than we thought, and the number of memories is staggering. Such visual flourishes embedded in metaphors are shorthand for complex psychological processes of sifting, sorting, collating and assigning meaning, whether negative or positive. All that can be turned around by a few actions. It is well known as the NLP technique of 'firing an anchor.' All that means is using a gesture to re-trigger a memory in a certain direction by repeatedly connecting the senses to a strong memory.

I can relive a piece of enthusiasm that only first timers know, first record, first taste of certain food, smell of flowers, first travel abroad, first exotic beach, first kiss, first love. There's a strength to the experience that does not diminish with time. In Private Lives by Noel Coward, there's a line that expresses it so well: 'Strange how potent cheap music is'. Potent indeed- it's the right word. But not necessarily cheap since random and apparently valueless memories can be transformed into wealth. So build your store of riches!

It is part of your heritage to have memories of all your first times encoded into your subconscious which misses nothing, records everything. And its potency is often overlooked in our search to solve our current problems. So tap into your memories and have fun with the flashbacks. 

Turn them into flash forwards and you can jumpstart the electric current needed to fuel some new venture, to restore faith, or energy and get on with boogieing with Bolan- or your favourite golden oldie- if that's what it takes to move your forward.  

© Kieron Devlin, 2014
all rights reserved

April 26, 2014

COSMOS and PSYCHE: Intimations of a New World View ( 2006) Richard Tarnas, Plume edition.
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During key moments of my life, I have often felt the need to acknowledge something momentous and awe-inspiring in astrology, sending messages to us from unseen forces.We just had to decode it, if only we could read the signs. It is hard not to notice that this month, April 2014, we are at a pivotal moment, poised between two eclipses and locked in a Cardinal Grand Cross that people might be feeling the internal tug-of-war, urging dramatic change in our lives.  

Astrology is enigmatic, yet everyday; obvious, yet maddeningly elusive: untouchable, yet at the same time prostituted everywhere as a common superstition. It is not easy to understand in depth, yet is incredibly easy to simplify into a stock set of character types, and ridicule the true riches it has to offer. The debate over the legitimacy of astrology has raged for centuries; it has been labelled 'quackery' by the  so called 'real' custodians of knowledge;  and it has been vilified by the Church as a form of black magic, yet also pursued in secret by more than a few world leaders (Reagan famously consulted an astrologer) seeking to bargain with fate. 

Umberto Stanucci (image)
That a natal birth chart could offer a snapshot of the interplay of archetypes in our character - read ‘personality DNA’ - has long been a source of fascination. How could that be so? Yet, ask yourself how many of your best friends happen to have the same sign, or element? How many of the  events in your life tied in with sextiles, oppositions, squares and transits of the heavyweight planets? Why should any of this even be true once, let alone repeatedly and with a staggering exactitude if there’s no substance to it? The trouble is it takes a lifetime to track such patterns. Yet tracking them really can provide some eye opening insights into the uniqueness of the patterning of a single life. After reading Tarnas' Cosmos and Psyche (2006) I felt prompted to put a few words together on this puzzle written in the stars.

How to begin about this cornucopia of ideas? I'm inclined to agree with a reviewer, Mary Hynes, who said "This is the closest my head has been to exploding while reading a book". It blows the mind open, gently yet relentlessly.  Tarnas’s style is methodical and assured and his range is staggering.By reading it, vast chasms appear to expertly illustrated with new relevance and you cannot but feel more expanded in scale and panoramic breadth of vision. It transports the reader to an elevated, but intricately woven insider’s viewpoint that adroitly illuminates all that we (thought) we knew about  history and culture and then turns all that on its head.  If the Passion of the Western Mind (1991) was Tarnas’ Ulysees then Cosmos and Psyche is most definitely his Finnegan’s Wake; the first, charted the conscious ideas that have shaped the Western world view; the second, is attempted map, no less, of the unconscious mind of the entire universe - at least thus far.

You might think that this book is difficult to read, but just like the multiple and repeated cycles that appear like motifs in a symphony, the writing is expertly controlled. It flows well for 544 pages of dense information, allowing for much previewing, subtle iteration, layering of themes and accumulation of impact, building up to Wagnerian crescendos worthy of 

such a Titanic subject. The wealth of cultural, scientific, historical and literary knowledge in any one person is in itself astonishing- putting aside that Tarnas is a Harvard Professor of Psychology and Philosophy - but in addition to this there is the accumulation of 30 years of careful study of astrology. This is no mere sun-sign coffee table trivia, but the deepest, most profoundly psychological and penetrating set of insights into how planets align with historic processes, leaving their unmistakable stamp upon events. It is rare that such a book comes along and dares to describe the ‘whole’ picture and at the same time revolutionise our previously limited ideas of history and our intimate place within its inexorable, archetypal evolution. 

It starts by saying we have not been served well by the loss of meaning to the modern era.  Tarnas points to a schism in our understanding of the universe, especially in the modern era. Meaning has become divorced from the world we live in. It often seems random, soulless, impersonal, where we are just cogs in arbitrary mechanical wheels. Shamans however, still understand that we are intimately connected to the ‘anima mundi’ or world soul, and astrology may just provide that vital missing link. Yet, until now it did not seem possible to rejoin ancient hermetic philosophies with a stark, random, god less, postmodernist universe which offers no shape or pattern to our lives. 

Tarnas scrupulously delineates set of correlations and alignments that match
up with not just significant turning points in the lives of great leaders, writers, artists and scientists, but also with eras of  both turmoil and distinctive progress. This process is not bat-hits-ball Newtonian mechanics, with a simplistic, deterministic, linear causal relationship of material, external forces upon events upon the Earth. The key players are the more recently discovered and less visible outer planets: Saturn, Uranus - which Tarnas defines more correctly as Prometheus- Neptune, and Pluto, which is defined by Tarnas more accurately as Dionysus. Rob Brezsny, who was astrologer for the Village Voice, has cited Tarnas’ book as “the definitive  astrology book of the 21st century -  probably the 20th too.” Daniel Pinchbeck  says that Tarnas has "staked his success and academic reputation on this radical thesis," for example on the idea that from 2006 to 2020 we are experiencing a further period of revolutionary/innovative and radical energy, just as in the 1960s, when Uranus (Prometheus) and Pluto (Dionysus) were in alignment, which - surprise, surprise- also happened to be in alignment during 1797-1789- the French revolution. Even Lennon noted that Love and Peace were not just restricted to the 1960s. 

Tarnas is careful to emphasise that it works more subtlely as archetypal and dynamic energies that unfold and express themselves in diverse ways, depending on the circumstances. The same planetary influence  can manifest quite differently, multiplying the possibilities and permutations. C.G. Jung talked of the need to discern ‘symbolic patterning’ in events, which is a skill that requires development for most of us. All 'synchronicity' suggests is that two things occurring together have a meaning, and are not just happenstance. Knowledge of the positions of planets in our natal charts, and of the transits and progressions,the alliance with our own inner archetypes can allow us to have a more creative approach to cyclical shifts and changes occurring now and over the next decade. You can obtain your chart from Cafe Astrology. It is work taking the time to study. 

Tarnas’s grand breathtaking sweep of history/science/events is interlinked with the movements of planets. It underscores the old esoteric proverb ‘as above, so below’ of the Hermetic Philosophers. We ourselves are living out these archetypal patterns. The planets are not stuck out in space somewhere, but are alive in our own psyches as living dramas. He recognised that the extraordinary changes during the 1960s aligned closely with the only conjunction of Uranus (Prometheus) and Pluto (Dionysus) of the 20th century. The precision of these alignments can be mapped across centuries to evidence common traits - e.g for the Pluto Uranus transits, revolution and  radical, cathartic transformation which are associated with those planets. This leads to the sense that a design is at work, awakening new strands in human behaviour, and how these developments work themselves out in history, aligns rather too neatly with the aspects and transits for other explanations to carry weight equal Tarnas' proposition. Our current social and cultural transformations in the second decade of the 21st century are an echo and final fruition of what erupted in the 1960s, and should give us clues into what may continue to develop. This suggests that the predictive power of astrology comes from understanding larger cycles, rather than merely 'seeing' the future. The impulse for radical change is still certainly on the cards, as we have witnessed in the past few years, in the growth of feminism, the overthrow of corrupt governments, the redress of social justice, progress for gay rights, eco-activism and technological advancements that exhibit increased global consciousness.

In short there is a grandeur that inevitably emerges from this new 'world view,' this illuminated understanding that astrology and history are thoroughly enmeshed. We have shifted from the old heliocentric model too, and the spiral dynamic view of the universe is gaining force. The universe can no longer be 'flat' or even 'round' but a vortex, and one of many in a multi-verse. Tarnas' does not touch on that, but his approach is delightfully cross-disciplinary in that it has managed to join quite a few dots across previously divided fields of study, from depth psychology (which was itself considered pseudo science only a hundred years ago) to astrology, from science to art, to make the previously fragmented picture we had of the world ‘whole’ again. 

© Kieron Devlin, 2014
all rights reserved

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April 19, 2014

Street Art in Brick Lane

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Perhaps the fewer words the better about this topic of street art as it speaks for itself and does not require a degree in Art to understand. Street art by definition is for everyone who can see it, not just a few profiteers and collectors that build up value in terms of rarity and exclusivity. It encourages collective viewing.  It has mass appeal because it is so direct. It is not called 'street' art for nothing. That's where people find it, on side streets, broken brick walls, high above doors, or perched on lintels or even as sculpture hidden on lamp posts or as subverted street signs. It is not just stencil and anarchic statement either, as Bansky, Robbo and Blek le Rat have made popular. Nor is it just symbols as signatures of the artist,  but can have a whole range  of styles, from subtle portraiture to more screen-print style Pop art devices using simple blocks of colour, and even pointillist technique of bleeding colour dots.

Bansky's latest work in Bristol
Street art is differentiated from graffiti because it is more than just someone spray painting their name in fat, squidgy lettering as fast as they can, then running away because it is illegal. It requires planning, intelligence, skill and can be surprisingly innovative and thought provoking. It is graffiti that has earned its 'bad boy' reputation. It is not all by guys either. As Bansky says in Wall and Piece "People think that graffiti is ugly, irresponsible and childish....But that's only if it is done properly." It takes it out of the 'trophy cabinet' and delivers it back to the people. In this way, its controversial side is sealed. The debate on whether it is vandalism or the most genuine 'public' art may rage on for a while yet as his new work has proved. Paradoxically, it may even end up being shown in a real gallery since it was removed from the wall it first appeared on. What you think about it, depends  entirely on your point of view, as some people now are taking it apart brick by brick  claiming to preserve it (but later to sell it). Others object to its surreptitious tactics.  

Street art is a very contemporary form of art, and part of a huge movement across the world to challenge what is public property. This has taken it to a new level. A new gallery My Art Invest has just opened in Shoreditch where people can buy and sell shares in famous street art works, inspiring young investors, using a system of co-ownership, creating a kind of alternative art market, but it still remains contradictory and challenging to conventional perceptions of what constitutes valuable art and how that should be displayed.

Just let the variety of styles fill your eyes in these images here, and marvel at its ingenuity. Even the guerilla tactics can be admired for keeping the public on their toes. The artists themselves are too numerous to mention. But I have a few personal favourites. Most of them can be found on and around the walls and streets of Brick Lane. This goes way beyond just Banksy stencils with their anarchistic statements. Bansky is only the most famous name. He has paved the way for others like ROA, famous for huge animals, Louis Masai, Milo Tchais, Bom.K and Liliwen, Otto Schade,  and Ben Slow to also gain acclaim.

Who, for example, could have imagined a huge suspended bow and arrow positioned across from one building to the back of another where you can see the shower of arrows landing into the brick wall. This expertly utilises the public space near the Truman Brewery in a way no art gallery could ever emulate, making the entire street part of the context of the art, and making the viewing experience less exclusive, more inclusive and much more immediate.There are frequent sightings of new sculptures, little moulded pieces on crumbling brick walls, or tiny artworks pinned to the walls for people to take as they please. Also key symbols such as  the credit crunch monster, the pixellated alien face, and other more elaborate paintings, one is even scratched on glass rather than drawn, having a refined etching quality to it. 

The variety is remarkable. Some styles are more sophisticated, like the girl's face and hooded face on Whitby Street by Jimmy C. He uses an 'aerosol pointillist' technique, using dots of colour, and requiring great skill in the placement of each dot, creating overall harmony. Yet it retains the drips, which are the signature of a 'street' artist. Many other works still retaining the signature dripping of paint style to prove it has to be executed at speed like a hit and run car crash. Another Italian artist uses a style similar to Jean-Michel Basquiat's, and goes by the number 108 rather than a name, and Blu also from
Start around Fashion Street and keep looking
Italy is already a favourite, as he makes videos of how his paintings progress across walls and buildings. The flow of invention is evident. 108's Nero's works however are recognisably distinct from Basquiat's. That is what adds to the excitement. 

All of this worth viewing when you are tired of the two Tates. You just have to walk around Brick Lane near Fashion Street to find them. It is a gallery hidden in plain sight that belongs to the whole community of, not just the people who live around there, but everyone who walks through, making the entire area between Aldgate East and Shoreditch stations a kind of free public exhibition space. Each day it changes, and you might be the one to find a brand new artwork.

© Kieron Devlin, 2014
all rights reserved