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Watermana Thesis

This is an edited form of the Thesis that was presented with Watermana the video. It is a representation of a shamanic journey and an introduction to the shamanic process. It can be found on Youtube at
(crappy compressed quality and shitty sound, unfortunately)

Watermana the poem

Watermana is a concept, the title of this thesis and the title of the work produced in conjunction with this thesis.

i. The Concept.

Mana is a concept derived from Polynesian shamanism. It loosely translates as a form of spiritual power. In the form of Water Mana, it specifically means spiritual empowerment of feelings or emotions. This is further documented in sections 1 and 3.

ii. The Thesis

This work is closely entwined with the video, “Watermana”. The research documented here both led to the work and arose from its process. It reflects my concerns with:

• finding connection with Celtic shamanistic practices
• utilising them in a modern urban context
• poetry and its relationship to shamanism
• poetry and its possible structural relationships to film Thus the format in which the work is presented:

1. Related historical and spiritual issues

2. Theoretical aspects of the structure of film and poetry

3. Process Documentation

iii. The Work

The ritual involved is essential Shamanistic. It means embarking on a spiritual journey in a deep trance state induced by meditation to a constant drum beat of 4-6 beats a second. Shaman is a Russian/Tungusic word, now used as an umbrella term to describe a particular form of ancient spiritual practice. Whether it is the Siberian Shaman, the Aboriginal Man of High Degree, the North American Indian Medicine Man, the European Witch, the Polynesian Kahuna, or the African Witch Doctor, the practice and experience is so uncannily similar as to suggest a universal spiritual truth.

Typically Shamans use drumbeat, dancing and sometimes drugs to induce a trance state wherein they either fly or travel underground to another world. There the spirits, often in animal form, give them aid in knowledge, healing and power.
It has been suggested by Michael Harner that Shamanistic trance is the predecessor of Bhuddist and other forms of silent meditation. That as human communities expanded beyond tribal forms, into towns and cities the drumming may have disturbed the neighbours, hence quieter forms of meditation were developed. Unfortunately these usually produce only an "alpha" brainwave experience, not the highly visionary "theta" experience.

It follows that one emerging from the shamanic state and describing the experience would naturally fall into a deeply rhythmic style of speech. This was very possibly the first poetry. It became clear that this rhythmic speech was also a valuable mnemonic aid and so poetry became the basis for passing on knowledge and telling memorable or moral stories. This becomes highly significant in examining the methods and purposes of film today since it could be argued that film has supplanted the place of poetry in telling stories and passing on moral lessons.

In his essay On the Relation of Analytical Psychology to Poetry, Jung says:
The unborn work in the psyche of the artist is a force of nature that achieves its end either with tyrannical might or with the subtle cunning of nature herself, quite regardless of the personal fate of the man who is its vehicle. The creative urge lives and grows in him like a tree in the earth from which it draws nourishment. We would do well, therefore, to think of the creative process as a living thing implanted in the human psyche. In the language of analytical psychology this living thing is an autonomous complex.

In the language of Karma this living thing is a karmic elemental, an actual living entity that seeks to find expression through the life or works of its creator and is a manifestation from the collective unconscious, higher self or whatever spiritual term one cares to apply to it, some might even say god. David Malouf put it nicely in “An Imaginary Life”:
We give the gods a name and they quicken in us, they rise in their glory and power and majesty out of minds, they move forth to act in the world beyond, changing us and it. So it is that the beings we are in the process of becoming will be drawn out of us. We have only to find the name and let its illumination fill us. Beginning as always with what is simple.

There are a great many difficulties in attempting to present the spiritual in a work of art:

It is terribly difficult to present one’s contemporaries
with spiritual gifts

Spirituality is such a personal and precious mode that attempts to present or share one artists view or experience can easily be interpreted as arrogance or evangelism. The purpose of the video “Watermana” is to share one artists experience in an affective manner, not to convert or change anyone else’s beliefs.

Authentically spiritual (abstract) art does not so much “communicate” as induce an attitude of communion and contemplation

Meyer Shapiro

Sitting on my computer is a cast pewter figurine of a magician, replete with robe, amulet, pointy hat and dragonet familiar curled around his feet. Resting on his outstretched right arm and leaning against his head is a huge (in scale about 1.5 m) circular frame encrusted with seashells, starfish and rings and containing a hologram of an eye. The figurine is a kitsch object, the thing also evokes a certain sense of wonder and magic as holograms are still capable of doing. It is a mass-marketed trivialisation of a concept than can be taken very seriously. Similarly in any bookshop, card-shop, or gift-shop it is hard to turn without seeing images of little girls with wings supposing to be fairies. In any New Age shop you can purchase “pre-cast” spells for wealth or love or happiness or whatever, alongside some serious and scholarly texts on comparative religion, spirituality and personal growth. The following poem by John Masefield demonstrates some of the difficulties encountered here.

In June time once, as I was going
Up Happen Hill, by Lob's Pound,
I saw Them, many as snow snowing,
Hymning their Queen and dancing round.
In glitter and sparkle they were turning,
Scattering dewdrops in the green,
Their jewels shone, their eyes were burning,
And O the Beauty of their Queen.
And O the beauty of their singing,
It was as beautiful as She,
Perfect in tune, in time, and bringing
A deathlessness to mortal me.
So life I knew has this for kernel,
This marvel to which man is blind:
We make a blur round an Eternal
For ever shaming humankind.
They streamed away, away, before me,
With chimes like little silver bells,
They opened doors of glory for me,
And now I think of nothing else.

The poem is hugely courageous. No attempt is made to disguise the experience as symbol or metaphor, it is merely described. In terms of my own aspirations I would regard it as having failed, not through a lack of ability in the poet himself, Masefield was an acknowledged master of poetic narrative, Poet Laureate and “there is never any moment when integrity does not shine through his verse” (Leonard Clark). It fails through attempting to tackle the eternal, the Visionary in ordinary poetic language, perhaps in language at all. And yet the poem is deeply affecting: it is a shared experience. It is an experience many wish to share, that is shareable through unabashedly spiritual art. One does not necessarily mean specifically the experience of encountering the Eldritch, but a glimpse of whatever any individual may find in “the hinterland of man’s mind”. The risks here are obvious. To be labelled mad or deluded is nothing to the shame of being labelled New Age.

2. Theoretical aspects of the structure of film and poetry

For my own purposes art is best appreciated, described and understood in terms of the following 5 elements :
Epiphany, Redemption, Ostrananie, Wit and Craft.

I. Epiphany A function that art can aspire to. It is when art evokes an encounter with the numinous. And by its nature it is impossible to define its elements in any particular work. It goes beyond Christian connotations of the word, it means any experience of the numinous. It is highly subjective, and different works can evoke entirely opposite reactions from different viewers.

2. Redemption Depicts that which needs changing, in humanity, politics or the individual. At its best empowers or shows a way to move forward, emotionally intellectually or politically

3. Ostrananie Making the ordinary strange. Or perhaps perceiving the strangeness of the ordinary.

4. Wit Also cleverness, not necessarily funny. This includes referencing other works and works which rely on the viewers knowledge of art theory and history.

5. Craft Uses the medium skillfully to any of the above aims or as an end in itself.
This is not intended to be a definitive statement about art, but a personal interpretation or manifesto. It is the basis from which I approach all media. This section deals mainly with aspects of “Craft”, how it informs, or indeed determines, the structure of a kinetic visual work, especially in relation to poetic forms or “prosody”. The most easily recognisable prosodic structures are rhythm, rhyme and stanzas.
Eisenstein, in A Dialectic Approach to Film Form, describes rhythm as a “conflict between the metric measure employed and the distribution of accents over-riding this measure”. In Methods of Montage he states that only the simplest of metric forms can be employed visually by variation of shot length in montage. Hence, a metre of identical length shots would be effective or a simple metre such as, in prosodic terms, iambic (da-daa da-daa da-daa) or even anapaestic (da-da-daa da­da-daa da-da-daa) although the latter strikes me as easily lost in all but the simplest visual contexts. Eisenstein adds:

I do not mean to imply that the beat should be recognisable as part of the perceived impression. On the contrary. Though unrecognised, it is nevertheless indispensable for the “organisation” of the sensual impression. Its clarity can bring into unison the “pulsing” of the film and the “pulsing” of the audience. Without such a unison (obtainable by many means) there can be no contact between the two.

It is astounding to me that so very few people have looked into this field. In working film-makers there is only, arguably, Jim Jarmusch seemingly consciously working with elements of prosody in his constructions. “Stranger Than Paradise”, his first film, uses one-take scenes (or stanzas) and cut to black edits to produce a very daunting ultra slow rhythm. Later, in the introductory scene of “Dead Man”, he produces another visual rhythm around the motion of a train. The passengers stare ahead, expressionlessly, fixedly, providing a strong counterpoint to their rhythmic swaying, lighting changes that pulse slowly, montage rhythm employed between shots of passengers, the rhythmic mechanisms of the trains drive mechanisms and exterior shots, all stanzarised by cuts to black. The whole structure of “Dead Man” continues with strong prosodic elements, again the use of “cut to black” to delineate stanzas, the poetic/prosodic context emphasized by the character. “Nobody”, identifying Johnny Depp’s character, “William Blake”, with the English poet of the same name.

Another work of film which achieves a strong prosodic structure, although in this case conscious intent is questionable, is the “Coming of the Sun” sequence at the end of the 1973 surf documentary “Crystal Voyager”. This powerfully beautiful and haunting sequence derives its form from the movement in frame, only stanzarised through montage. The sequence starts with underwater footage taken from the bow of a boat. Glimpses of the surface light flash through with increasing frequency. Then begins a series of shots where the camera is mounted on the surfer’s back, going through waves, underwater, within the waves, and finally riding the waves, but only wave, water and sky are ever in. shot. Here the oceans own rhythms, counterpointing the rhythmic cyclic of day/night produce a swirling, compelling structure within the frame itself.

Kandinsky, who was well studied in Shamanism, equated his own visionary illnesses with the visionary death and rebirth of Shamanic initiation, from which point his work “emerged to a new plane of expression characterized by broad colour fields and linear rhythms set into a complex but unified compositional whole”7. However Kandinsky sought to pursue silence, purification of abstraction as a means to “spiritual atmosphere”. Water Mana rather aspires to recreate the spiritual experience in all its complexity

In other media there is some very exciting work being done in this field. Of particular note is Anja Wiese’s “Trance Machine”. This is a CD-ROM interactive piece. The screen consists of 32 “tape reels” arranged in 8 groups of 4 around a blank central space. As you click on each one it plays an audio of part of a phrase, these layer and overlap as you keep clicking, until they have all been played when they assemble themselves into one coherent phrase. Then the cycle repeats, with different phrases. The rhythms are a combination of the tempo of the phrases themselves and the rate of clicking. Stanza-ed by the cycle of resolution. The effect/affect is indeed trance inducing, or at least mesmerising.

For the purposes of “Watermana”, a simple regular metre is very heavily stated via the drumming sound track and verse, and more complex rhythms and visual rhymes are derived by use of colour, shape and movement within frame. In only one sequence, “the water pouring in” are montage methods used. In this case an

accelerating tempo, seldom found in poetry, where shots decrease in length in groups, or lines of four. The combination of these techniques results in conjunctive, phasic and quasi-subliminal tempos that facilitates the willing viewer to enter the deep theta-brain wave state of consciousness conducive to the visionary experience.

Greenberg has stressed the incompatibilities between most aesthetic concepts relating to the plastic arts and the temporal. The medium can not be successfully foregrounded in film or poetry as it, arguably, can be in sculpture or painting. Attempts to do so in film resulted in the indescribable boredom of the “Foregrounding the Apparatus” experiments of the sixties and in poetry inaccessible and effectively nonsensical random text works. These films can be likened to pointing a camera at a mirror and letting it run for ninety minutes. In poetry, such as Lyn Heyjinian’s My Life, a series of very long collections of randomly assembled phrases and words, the attempt is to make the word “the thing”.8 Meaning can be imbued by the reader but only words are inherent in the text. However Greenberg, writing on poetry has provided some theoretical gems. In Towards a Newer Laocoon, on content:

The poet writes, not so much to express, as to create a thing that will operate upon the readers’ consciousness to produce the emotion of poetry. The content of the poem is what it does to the reader, not what It communicates.

The intensity of the spiritual base for “Watermana” precludes evoking the artistic/poetic emotion through association or description and necessitates evoking or even provoking the experience itself within the viewer.

The above indicates the conscious decision to exploit the variety of both prosodic and film-poetic techniques, in conjunction with theta brain-wave technology, used in “Watermana” to achieve the required goals.
3. Process
The process associated with this work began in 1985 when I heard Wim Wenders say in a lecture at the Sydney Film Festival that he believed nothing serious could be said in film in less than two hours. Or possibly in ‘84 when I produced a short film, “Justra” in the form of a sonnet. Or maybe it was 1968 when I first read, and was enthralled by, Judith Wright’s poem “Legend” and fell in love with poetry. Or just possibly it is more to do with riding on the backs of strange flying beasts to be taken to magical worlds peopled with elves when I was three.

The process of this research involves a series of Shamanic journeys which were to provide the content for the piece. Journeying involves meditation techniques utilised while listening to a specific, regular drum beat of around 5 beats per second. Typically the journey starts with a visually an entrance to a cave, or tree and descending via a series of tunnels before emerging in the “lowerworld”. Here the shaman encounters beings, animals or has experiences that teach or empower. I encountered severe difficulties performing this kind of journey with regards to my art because journeying is not just sightseeing, it requires a clear and altruistic purpose. For example, in my first work of this nature, “Journey” was undertaken as a gift for a friend’s marriage. I was just about despairing of finding a way to focus the journey when I found in my researches in Polynesian Shamanism the concept of “mana”.9 (cf. part 1)

Mana loosely translates as power, and is related to the concept of “chi” in Eastern martial arts, but is clearly differentiated into four parts: water mana for empowerment of emotions or feelings, air mana for empowerment of the mind, earth mana for empowerment of the body and fire mana for empowerment of the spirit. These clearly correspond to the four alchemical elements and the four suits of the Tarot, both elementally and in interpretation. I was tremendously excited by this discovery also in terms of its spiritual anthropology, as part of my purpose in this is to rediscover or reinvent or construct a personal shamanic tradition which can be related to my own Celtic roots.

I chose to quest specifically for water mana for my viewer and the results were spectacular. Again, after journeying, I wrote “Water Mana” in one sitting. It also became clear to me in the process that video would be limiting in that 1 can’t take a camera on my journeys. So I invested in a state-of-the-art computer, and relevant soft-ware. There was a huge learning curve involved here. Working in 3d animation programs requires a new way of thinking, from the “wire-frame” models through to the “virtual camera” and programming its movements. It was also hugely liberating. The beauty, and the task, of 3d modelling and animation is that absolutely everything in frame has to be made and put there. Filmmakers take for granted that if you take a shot of a street, the buildings, cars, people, even the dirt and waste is already there. Organics are notoriously difficult in computer modelling. I achieved the cloud affects using a “morphing” program on still shots of clouds. Water surfaces were hard work, requiring very complicated multi-level animation techniques. But trees defeated me. To achieve anything like realism with any living thing requires the resources of “Industrial Light and Magic”. This was not a problem though, because many aspects of my “lower-world” converge with ordinary reality. Especially in “places of power” like Wollumbin and Protester falls, near Byron Bay and Bongon Heads, south of Swansea, NSW. So I had no quandaries about incorporating live video footage with my animations.

During the process of developing the performance aspects of the work I was forced to confront finding my own voice. After a lot of work-shopping and several live performances, including the performance venue, Brackets and Jam, I have achieved that.


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