How would you describe your painting process and your associative relationship between concepts, events, or mental states of the subconscious? Is there a link between self-hypnosis and inspiration?
Artists, writers, and poets such as Garcia Lorca, Roberto Matta, Henri Michaux, and even Anais Nin have inspired me to paint. Language, for me, comes first, but the visual can support the verbal. I paint as if I’m composing poetry.
Automatism or improvisation is the starting point – bebop – but I’ve realized that the contours of a, often dismembered and re-stitched, female body appears repetitively in my mind’s eye: think Mary Shelly. This flickering of fragmented body parts leaves deposits on the canvas/my mind. There’s something about the human body that truly fascinates me. This fascination isn’t deliberate, and it’s also strange because I’m more cerebral than a physical person: in my view, the body exists only in the mind. This also solves, at least for me, the century-old dualism: the body-mind split. Or, as William Blake said: “the body is a portion of the soul.”
Man is a machine, and a woman is a sublime machine. If you compare the human and the animal body, the human body is clearly synthetic and artificial. It blurs the boundaries between what’s considered natural and what’s considered artificial. I find that thrilling. There’s nothing natural about us humans. We aren’t becoming robots or cyborgs, we already are. We can’t rely on our instincts anymore as non-synthetic creatures can. There are vehicles in the making that’ll be able to reproduce themselves with whatever material they can find on Mars.
How’s that different from us? You could say that humans think and feel, but do we really? Aren’t we just parroting the words, stories, and belief systems that we’ve been fed? When was the last time you heard a new idea? Something you hadn’t heard before, something that stimulated an innovative thought. We’re the protein by-product of language. Perhaps when there’s trance, a moment of silence, or jazz, an intelligent intuition can unfold in the nerve domain. Painting or poetry can help it develop, transmit and circulate. Possibly it can be fertilized by critical reading or meditation.
Is painting a technique that represents a body disconnected from words? a sort of ‘transmuting neurology’
Transmuting neurology, I love this phrasing. Probably our neurology is in constant a state of desire for perpetual transmutation, but the culture must allow for it. Studying the history of painting, I was excited to learn that the Impressionists had “discovered” different shades in snow, something that nobody had “seen” before them. Isn’t that intriguing? I guess they contributed to an alteration of the general perception and experience of what’s “white.” They are also depicted as the very first in the history of Western painting of social situations such as people dancing or swimming. Nobody had done that before them. That’s why the establishment was so scandalized.
Of course, it didn’t help that the women they painted often were what today we’d call sex workers. Can you imagine that in the second part of the 19th century? Later with expressionism and surrealism, painters gave expression to the ebb and flow of what’s inside the mind’s eye. An interesting artist is Francis Bacon. He claimed that he depicted people as they “really” are. Perhaps some of us are polished yet monstrous or disfigured? Or even, maybe the human condition is one of perpetual disfigurement? Whether we can see without words is something I keep on mulling over. I feel tempted to believe that as humans we need some sort of narrative or linguistic frame of intelligibility to see things. Perhaps we can only perceive objects contextually. Painters should be called pioneers or even anarchists of perception.
Can you elaborate on how language shapes us by a Languaged body, cultured intuition by sound, and language as a living intelligence?
I’d like to emphasize that I constantly toy with intuitions and ideas, not with truths. The truth for me often is a reductionist and particularly violent concept. Think of all the wars that have been fought over some sort of revelatory divine truth, or in later centuries, the so-called scientific truth. The Nazis had their ideology backed up by scientists’ assertion that theirs was the most evolved race (so-called Social Darwinism), and that certain other races were particularly parasitic and had to be exterminated the same way as rats or cockroaches. So, circling back to the central ideas informing my practices such as the “languaged body” which is a neologism, and the idea that language is a living intelligence, I don’t consider them to be truths. These are frames of intelligibility that have grown under my skin over the years of study, reflection, practice, and meditation. I have no problem admitting that these concepts are nothing more than my obsessions. I’m not a missionary.
I see language as something external to human beings, possibly an organism. In the process of language learning, humans are inserted into this external thing we frivolously call language. There are linguists in Switzerland who’ve developed a theory in which language is a symbiont. So not necessarily a virus as William S Burroughs famously claimed, or that it can turn parasitic in case of psychosis as French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan suggested. I see our brain + nervous system as a receptor-like radio, tv, or computer, capable of receiving signals and building narrative. In some way, it’s a form of telepathy. By producing sounds, we invoke a whole shared world that has been forged across thousands of generations. Also, we invest our lifeworld, including our bodies, with words, with a story. If our bodies weren’t invested with language, we’d constantly experience ourselves and others as walking talking meat, protein bags, or water bags on legs. When we buy meat at the butcher’s or supermarket, we don’t think of that red stuff as chopped-up dead animal cadavers. We say it’s a New York strip or whatever. Something similar is going on with our bodies. We have names.
This name is somehow “written” on our skin, on our face. I’ve never met anyone without a name, though I’m curious how that’d be. When we feel attracted to someone, we don’t think “that’s a tasty animal.” Some of us might, however. A whole story about someone is activated within us when we fall in love, a concept of what a human being is, of what beauty is, etc. while we all know that a few millimeters under the skin there’s blood and a skull. But who, except a cannibal or a serial killer, thinks about that? The way language has contextualized humans prevents us from seeing the meatiness of a person. But this experience isn’t fixed. There are cultures in which not everyone has human status. Think of the Dalits in India. In Central Africa the so-called pygmy is being hunted and eaten, most probably because their appearance doesn’t conform to the hunter’s concept of what constitutes a human. It’s also interesting to read the private diaries of people who worked in concentration camps, and how they thought about the people they helped butcher or exterminate. Some agreed that Jews, homosexuals, communists, etc. had to be put to death, but they felt it should happen in a kinder way, pretty much how some activists think about animal rights in our era.
Language protects us by feeding us optical illusions. As humans, we’re trapped in a theater of distorted thoughts. It’s as if we need to drive on a busy freeway wearing glasses deforming everything coming our way. All this is extremely disorienting and frightening. I think maybe that’s why there’re so many ideologies and why religion is such a sensitive matter. These “grand narratives” offer the illusion of certainty and direction: how one should lead one’s life, where one should be headed, and where to invest one’s life force. The artist, I think, has been for whatever reason cast out of the Eden of ideology or religion, and is forced to constantly mold and remold her internalized worldviews, knowing often very well that this is a futile endeavor that must be repeated endlessly. But, at least, there’s some motion within. The alternative would be catatonia.
Artists, writers, and poets who helped contribute and inform your process?
I sound like a broken record when I keep on mentioning Will Alexander. But there’s no denying that his oeuvre provided me with the missing link in my thinking. I have always had an interest in ritual, animism, and shamanism, but with the latter term, we need to be extremely careful. I adhere to academic concepts of shamanism, such as Mircea Eliade’s. When younger I participated extensively in groups believing that they were engaged in shamanic practices. Perhaps some of those did. I don’t want to claim that I have the capacity to say what’s authentic and what isn’t. What I inherited from these experiences is the sensation of trance. Will’s work transfuses both language and animism/shamanism, especially in his The Combustion Cycle.
Without trance, there’s no writing nor painting for me. Writing prose is different. Poetry and painting for me fall in the same domain as glossolalia, speaking in tongues or trance-speaking. Freudian associating on the couch. Will’s concept of language as a living, possibly alchemical intelligence, makes a lot of sense to me. It connects my interest in shamanism and animism with my obsession with language in a no-nonsense way. WA’s poetics is a conscious journey into the imagination. To truly feel this, you need to understand that the imagination isn’t just “fugazi” or fantasy. The Jungians know very well that the imaginal world is a tangible environment, in which one can move around and travel in. There are beings dwelling there. You can develop a bond with these inorganic characters. Jungian practitioners are aware of this possibility.
I think I can say that Occidental culture at this point in history is in a state of coma or autophagy: it’s eating itself up. The criteria for personhood are so one-sided and reductionist that it is extremely easy to descend into a state of being a non-person. Maybe the only option when that happens for some people is to die and, in the process, drag along as many corpses as possible. Ours is a high-risk society. Having said that, I’ve lived in India for three years the comfortable life of an adult literature student. Life in India is no bargain either. Perhaps I have taken shelter in the written word and painted images because I’ve experienced that it isn’t possible to change your own culture with another. Every culture has its own cruelties, sacrifices, and gains, but they aren’t commodities. The difference, maybe, between Western cultures and the rest of the planet is that, as French novelist Michel Houellebecq suggests, the West has sacrificed almost everything for the sake of rationalism and technocracy.
There are also other artists and poets besides WA that have influenced me. I’m thinking of the “Grand Jeu” poets such as Rene Daumal and Gilbert-LeComte but also Antonin Artaud, Joyce Mansour, and Roberto Matta. Regarding US artists and poets, there’s, of course, Philip Lamantia, whose thinking and work is like a direct mind-injection into my mind: picture a metaphysical phone call without ever hanging up. Other important people would be Bob Kaufman, John Hoffman, Laurence Weisberg, but also someone like Mina Loy, and some beats, in particular William S Burroughs. I feel a deep affection for a lot of artists and writers: William Baziotes, Arshile Gorky, Thom Burns, Rik Lina, Byron Baker, Emily Dickenson, Edgar Allan Poe, William Blake, Lautreamont, Guiliaume Apollinaire, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Gerard de Nerval, Grace Hartigan, Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo, Juanita Guccione, and many more.
Bill de Kooning deserves special mention, on the one hand, because nobody speaks about him anymore and because of ongoing the “de Kooning-bashing. But also because my paintings are a prolegomenon (not a counter-narrative) to his disfigured depictions of Marilyn Monroe-type of women, in particular the teeth: Where else in the world is the business of smiling taken so seriously as in the USA? My series of chopped-up disfigured ladies, “Mutilated Madonnas,” are homage and homologous to his.
Haunted by the Living, Fed by the Dead
by Giorgia Pavlidou
This is intense work. It’s incandescent. It’ll catch your eyes on fire. Burn your brain down. Giorgia Pavlidou has managed to make anguish appear beautiful. And sexy. Artaud is the tutelary spirit of this work. The anguish is real and the words have the taste and smell of the netherworld in its black gown of sibilant pupa. This is language with a biology; it writhes, hisses, and propagates by glossolalic impregnation. Reading these poems is an immersive experience. Here we find madness, anguish, erotica and Rabelaisian humor welded and wed to a language full of “lexical tentacles” and “fire dressed in fire.” It gets under your skin, this speech. These strangely intelligent & autonomous words, manic as wasps in a vessel of glass.
A pyrotechnics of lingual essence, Giorgia Pavlidou’s “inside the black hornet’s mind-tunnel” yields feeling through the language of the heart creating darkened constellations that rivet the inner eye all the while whirling as an estranged yet organic imaginal terrain.
Giorgia Pavlidou is an American writer and painter intermittently living in Greece and the US. Her work recently appeared or is forthcoming in Caesura, Maintenant Dada Journal, Puerto del Sol, Clockwise Cat, Ocotillo Review, Strukterriss Magazine, Entropy and Sun & Moon Magazine. She’s an editor of SULΦUR. Additionally, Trainwreck Press launched her chapbook ‘inside the black hornet’s mind-tunnel’ in 2021, and Anvil Tongue Books her full length book of poems and paintings, ‘Haunted by the Living – Fed by the Dead’ in May 2022