'our creation is that guru; the duration of our lives is that guru; our trials, illnesses and calamaties is that guru. There is a guru that is nearby and a guru that is beyond the beyond. I humbly make my offering to the guru, the beautiful remover of ignorance, the enlightenment principle that is within me and surrounds me at all times.'
Guru Stotram

Sunday, 24 January 2010

I went to the dentist this morning for the first time in four and a half years. There’s a new one, opposite the yoga centre, so I felt at least I’d be turning up in a positive mental state even if I’m leaving more or less traumatised. Through that rationalising route I was able to chivvy myself into making an appointment. The experience still took some years off my life but compared with previous nightmares it was like a date with the Lord Buddha himself.

Before today it was my belief that nothing could deflect a dentist from the task in hand. You could go into cardiac arrest right there in the chair and they’d just carry on drilling. Not this one. Peroxide plaits and an Eastern European gentleness behind the white surgical mask and the rolling vowels. It’s a curiously intimate situation. You can see every pore and scar on the face of a complete stranger hovering inches from your own, the tiny brown flecks of her blue irises. You’re putting yourself into a position of vulnerability at their hands. You’re trusting them not to hurt you, despite the fact that, of course, you know they will. Not deliberately, but they will hurt you. The thing about this woman was she acknowledged it. She didn’t just put a wall up and pretend it wasn’t there. She acknowledged the pain. Surprising things can come out of dialogue. And it’s not even the words. It’s the connection that’s the balm. Just allowing the connection.

So I suppose I should give the Royal Academy their due for attempting to further the dialogue around our crusade du jour with the exhibition Earth: Art of a Changing World, rather than wondering if they aren’t just jumping on the nearest bandwagon in town with their agenda firmly nailed to the flag post in the shape of the letters GSK – Glaxo Smith Kline that is, if, like me, you’re not up on your TLAs.

I enjoyed quite a lot of the work in the show actually, but I did experience some resistance to the idea of an exhibition about climate change sponsored by a pharmaceuticals company. Quite possibly I’ve been brain-washed by the over active imaginings of John le Carre - but doesn’t this smack slightly of corporate hypocrisy, the auctioning of the grandmother to the bidder in the John Galliano suit? I don’t know, I just suddenly came over all Swampy in front of the Amazonian Field. When is the flu not the flu? When it’s renamed to include some sort of animal life in its title, splashed all over the dailies for months so they can flog a few more copies by aiming their sharpened arrows right into the heart of modern Britain’s unacknowledged existential terror, and simultaneously generating the perfect marketing vehicle for the latest over priced drug only a few of us need but all of us seemingly must buy. It’s safety we’re after. We so want to be safe. I’m not criticising the artists. I’m just saying. It feels like a cynical world some days. Some days.

One of the high points of the show is Yael Bartana’s strangely disturbing Kings of the Hill, a 7 minute anthropology styled film of a bunch of slightly thuggish posh blokes amusing themselves driving huge Big Foot type vehicles up and down preposterously steep mounds of compacted earth next to the sea. The sea, in its vastness, seems poignantly to highlight the tragic futility and utter smallness of the action it foregrounds. What’s all this for? What’s anything for come to that? I don’t know, dominance, I suppose. The impulse to prove to ourselves that we are capable of beating the world into submission before it beats us. Or perhaps that we’re capable of corralling our own demons before they destroy everything we’ve built for ourselves, all the things that tell us who we are and fool us into believing we’re safe. Only, like the looped film, it’s a battle that never ends, because it’s a battle that can’t be won and yet we won’t wave the white flag. We will always be vulnerable and we will always rail against that. As this film - and the whole exhibition and in fact the eco-crusade itself - so eloquently demonstrate, that’s the one thing we’re most afraid of. We can’t stand our own vulnerability. Not for a minute. Which is the sad thing because the vulnerability is the beauty. It’s a big chasm to leap though isn’t it?

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