Foliage and suffering.
The Roman Empire, as a continuous act of military invasion, might well be associated with rape and plunder, and laurel tree becomes merchandise of a colonised land, yet here we also see empire draping itself with this ambiguous sign of that which has escaped from it. So the stone laurel wreathes on gateposts; do they mean that one may escape through them or that, like an offering to a lingam, this post denotes a secure, phallic victory? Again, the laurel leaf is most often depicted in the form of a wreath, apt for mourning as well as victory; it is removed from the tree and shaped into a sign for absence, ‘0’, yet crowns the presence of those who have won as if they themselves were a tree.
Does not the protest and refusal of Daphne reverberate throughout this series of reversals? Has the mute ornament begun to speak of its sexual presence and a terrifying rush of passion that even a god-figure could not contain? Nonetheless, apparently such emotion can be stored within an innocuous formal pattern. A holding pattern. So a wreath of laurel would seem to be prime apotropaic material. The coiling and the diversion of sexual energy, the wreath as ‘0’, blank return, the statement of power (for the victor’s brow), and its placement at thresholds (foreheads and lintels), all find resonance with those amulets whose function it is to fend off curses and protect against the evil eye.
Such, let us say, instinctual urges to defend one’s property, family, livelihood, may be typified in the white, bright glossy white, ornamental lamppost standing at the end of the driveway, at the edge of the garden, a few steps away from the front door. Although the lamp itself operates, triggered by a movement sensor, so why do we call it ornamental? Because palmette line up around its base and from its cross bar (cruciform?), cast as a piece with the post itself, a laurel wreath. And it is all lined up so as to reflect and reject any envious, destructive, invasive eyes. A holding pattern. And, yes, ghastly object but ghastly upon more than one register. It echoes Moses’ use of the apotropaic to counter the venomous scourging of his people, a bronze snake lifted up in the desert, which is in turn amplified in John’s gospel as Jesus anticipates the low (snake, sin, bitten body) lifted high (crucifixion) and higher still (resurrection) as his own supreme gesture against fear and death.
A holding pattern; such as those passenger jets are put into once over their destinations, disaster and safe landings both anticipated in a combination of tense geometry and languid loops, fear subsumed to control. At this point any excess aviation fuel is jettisoned so as to minimise the risks of its ignition. I am reminded of ‘Meditations in Green‘, in which during the Vietnamese War an American character, Griffin, plots where and how Agent Orange should be distributed:
In a meeting with Le Corbusier, Piet Mondrian chose to sit at a table looking away from the window so as to avoid contemplating nature for which, apparently, he had an intense dislike. Is Mondrian’s art therefore an extended effort of not painting rotting fruit? And as such is it a descendant of the Dutch still life tradition?
An intensely aerial imagination.
The grid marked ground of intensive agriculture; flat repetitions. The corn dolly laid to rest as Daphne’s sublimation is chased still further, from the sublime to Rothko’s suicide chapel of which Egar Allen Poe might write approvingly:
It is a process, an experience.
It holds… And it releases.
It moves along… and holds.
To be blatant and latent, hidden, concealed, existing but not developed or manifest. Which means that to view a pattern there must be an inversion of one’s usual habits of perception; to see the frame, not the framed; to mark a rhythm, not the motif; to study a motif, not the image.
Although the motif is an image, does an image repeated in sufficient quantity and rhythm eventually bring about its destruction as image? Not the withering of aura, as Walter Benjamin postulated, but aura’s tainting, mutation and, perhaps, sublimation. Unlike the work of art, ornament was never expected to occupy an “unique existence at the place where it happens to be“ for, although it does occupy unique space and time, the expectation given to its role allows an escape. Escape, that is, from the scrutiny afforded art. As its authority as object is already undermined, its auric presence does not come into direct conflict with reproduction. This not so much because of taboo borders but because it moves toward a state without borders. It, in effect, becomes unapproachable:
Yet always, we must touch. We must try to touch. A metaphor may stand for the world but will it stand as the world stands? It has been said that true symbolism contains the reality it symbolises, yet how to grasp that? Yve-Alain Bois meanwhile denotes a symbol “in semiotic terms” as
Reading Charles Barr’s account of this film, checking up on Scottie’s improbably benign name, I rediscover the vertiginous sinking into the eye, the swirling petals, the posy, the spiral stairwell, but also as if for the first time see the blood red restaurant decor, voluptuous flowering repeat pattern, and a bronze ornamental plate hung on Scottie’s wall. The technical name for the pattern on this plate is a paterae, derived from Greek temple ornamentation. It originally represented the plate used to capture sacrificial blood. As Madeleine steps before it, dressed in a blood red robe, she is the sacrificial, the tormented; yet the wheel turns and it is next Scottie’s blood (sweat of dementia) it has to catch. Another reel and, by film end, it is Judy, transformed once more into Madeleine, who pays the ultimate price. The paterae when repeated along a cornice is called a money pattern. Blood money. And in the sleek utilitarian form of the modern car the hub cap becomes one of the few places on which decorative expression is allowed. Again, a motorised demand for blood sacrifice seems apt, given the hub cap’s resemblance to paterae.