A STREAM OF (UN)CONSCIOUSNESS: ON BLACK
Essay co-authored by a colour. The manifesto of the Black Phase...
Black is the colour of obliteration. It represents absence, the deep blank - but also the depths from which every thing emerges. It’s the colour of the underground phase, the mini death of nature. If black was a colour therapy, you'd definitely need to give up your day job to undertake it (pun intended) and with the idea that you would likely never return, and definitely want a different occupation at the end.
It’s a crude oil bathing pool, a tar self-repair kit. If you surrender, it will get better.
Black materials in the natural world occur as a result of great compression and/or decomposition - oil, peat, coal. Or fire and catastrophe - tar, basalt, ash. And always with the assistance of the greatest compressor of all, time - ruled by Chronos/Saturn, the god assigned to necessity and limitation, to both time and gravity, skin and bones - the forces which keep us in our bodies, within the framework of being a human, within the body of a society. Black materials carry enormous kinetic potential as a result of their transformation - the power to feed, fuel and fertilise. They have rejoined the cycle, this time around richer. Carbon - the only black element in the periodic table, is at once the great ally of life and present in most everything - its four square electrons making it a great friend and stabiliser of the build - and in its modern mass-manufactured super abundant bi-product form, the main player in its down fall. A generate degenerate, the Kali of elements - the black one, creator and destroyer of worlds. Google her – it’s perfect. The ancients knew all about physics.
Black is trans-human, a meta-colour. Black is the permanent marker of the liminal.
All black things carry this energy coding - a reminder of the original void. Once you start thinking about it, black quickly forms a sense within you - a vacuum of inevitable it-ness, of peculiar gravity and un-presence. Black can be defined as the visual impression experienced when no visible light reaches the eye. Space itself is composed mostly of dark matter – can we call it black? It cannot be seen, just mathematically reckoned on by its un-visible pull on other objects, by its affects, its not there-ness.
In the digital world black is identified by the hexadecimal #000000. A chromatic nil point.
In physics, a black body is considered both the perfect absorber of light, and thermodynamically the best emitter of energy. Black is both a surfeit of all colours and an absence of any. A minus and a plus. The yin to power yang, and vice versa. The unknowable centre of the perfect zero.
Black is the colour of possibly the original marker-out, charcoal (wood, post catastrophe of fire). It’s the trail of a burnt stick drawing on a cave wall. We must all leave our mark. This mark will erase the distance of time between the maker and the witness of the mark. Then too, in this neat compacted history, the colour of the next messenger medium – ink. Originally created with cruel alchemy from soot and animal glue to cling to a surface and signify. We use the polarities of black to communicate the anti of our thesis, examine our synthesis. A black board with white chalk, black ink on white paper. We use the polarities of black, full stop, when we try to create meaning and structure. To contain.
Black attracts, draws us in, induces attention. Instructs in absolutes. Signs - I was here.
Black ink is traditionally used to denote positive value in accounting – to be in credit is to be ‘in the black’. To be of positive net worth. Can also be used adverbially, it says. But I am not sure how to do that.
On a spring day during my sabbatical I took some gold I found in my cupboard to Hatton Garden to sell. I noticed nearly everyone on the bus was wearing black clothes – dirt black, washed-out dark survivalist casual wear. Varying degrees of elegance and expense. Varying strengths of signal, reference. Only the initiate will know the origin, cost and level of this black branding. Rick Owens maybe. An obscure cult Japanese label? Distressed Italian Street denim - trying too hard, dating quickly because of it. When I returned to my house the floor is covered in little black ants. I look up Ant Medicine: ‘Ant People are learning to trust Natural Law and that reward is just over the horizon. Patience is of the utmost importance right now so that you have more time and notice opportunities to prepare for your ultimate success. Ant People typically have a lot of weight riding on their back’. I find out the gold had increased in value by 400% since I had bought and then forgotten about it. I took this as a sign. It was an alchemical journey, the bus my alembic – the vessel for my transformation. The first part of the Black Phase. I made notes. This is them.
Where to start looking for that which brings value to your life and that of others?
Black identifies the nocturnal, an absence of (sun) light. Pure black animals camouflage into their natural environment of dense forest or deep shade, and evoke particular awe in us because they are designed to remain hidden in and occupy a realm that requires a different kind of sense and vision to survive and in which our routine daytime abilities leave us vulnerable. Pure black coloured creatures are more prone to mythologies, as creatures from another place – totems and tools of the gods, beings from an underworld – a place we cannot live. A dog to guard the gates of Hades, a Crow to bring you messages from it. One of my animal totems is Black Panther - but that is a secret, so I cannot tell you.
When adopted by humans as clothing in the day-lit world, Black is inverted. It becomes a distinct and very particular outline - garment as punctuation, concentration, event - a power uniform of null, an anti-colour - an us-shaped hole in the vista. Black is the go-to chosen un-colour frequency of the law, religion, politics and other cults. It signifies both a strong individual identity and an individual’s surrender of their own to its cause – whether vocational or recreational. It is employed as both conformist and oppositional to the status quo - a binary ID switch that only black can perform. An indicator of power - of choice, decision, position, allegiance or deviation, or simply of money - of being in severe credit (it takes a lot of pigment to get that deep shade). Black has been a very modern choice for garments since around 1500.
We wear black routinely now. To signify that we have absorbed the cool of outsider culture - punk, gothic romantic, beatnik, whatever- into the everyday normal. Or that the sexually taboo no longer freaks us out. Or conversely that we are respectful of the formal boundaries of an event, borrowing its established neutrality within stricter social confines. We use black now to hide among the other modern personnel. Its particularity and difference, with the irony of black, have become ubiquitous. Always it performs the switch.
Black is the selected shade of the taboo activity. That which is forbidden, kept hidden, not discussed or acknowledged, practised in the dark – allied to the nocturnal. There is much fear around it.
We naturally enter darkness when the sun goes in, down, when our place on earth rotates out of solar sight. We enter darkness in sleep, in meditation and other forms, or loss of, consciousness. We may imagine we enter darkness when we die. Or we may feel we follow the light. Black signals the end, but also the beginning - the void from which all forms emerge and return. It’s the eight ball in pool, its descent marking the end of one game, the beginning of another - even the number turning in on itself, unendingly going another round. An upright infinity symbol.
Black is the colour of a very particular no-thing doing span of time, when everything re-forms, or lets us know will not return at all. We repair as we sleep, as we are not actively ourselves – when we dream and re-member the world and our bodies. All is re-coded and re-cohered. Without this mini flat-line hyphen of black out between days, things become chaotic. Waking in the night is the time of panic and distortion, fearful amplifications that will diminish in light. We need absolute darkness when we sleep for our endocrine systems to work. Blackness is the signal to re-set the miracle of our hormonal systems, those secretions of life itself - which we maybe only notice when they are out of sync, by their pull on other things.
Black protects us during periods of recovery and repair, covers us when we need to process an experience and become less visible as we do so. We voluntarily enter shade when the daylight world becomes too hot, too bright, too exposing, too critical in its clarity. Or when an event has marked us, obscured us, taken our light. Black is traditionally worn by those spending time in mourning, to communicate a loss – or in contemplation, marking a deliberate choice of renunciation - a dedication of self to that beyond the mortal, the material.
Blackness lets you concentrate on the form itself, or on the interiority of form - is the colour frequency of introspection, introversion.
The Black Phase is the first stage of alchemy. To find true light, illumination, your own solar-ity, your gold, that which is of highest value to you, you first need to cast off externals. Remove that which attaches but is not essential. Minimise, reduce. Or take it further - char and obscure the surface, or let it rot away in order to uncover the truer substance within. As fire is nature’s way of clearing ground – soil’s radical restart – this destruction releases elements from previous forms to birth the new. In Jungian psychological process, the Black Phase - the Nigredo - is the meeting of your shadow - that which has been placed out of forward vision, out of mind, because its presence did not allow for best operation in the day light world of society, or assist your survival operation in the made world. You will not be complete until you meet, assimilate. Entering this shadow place is a shamanic journey into your deep mind, your cellular memory, your ancestral DNA – to see the real patterns and stories we have been told and tell ourselves, the codes that are conducting our lives. Our childhood wallpaper. Assess the cost and reward, its old implications on our now.
The contents of the shadow need not be monstrous, just at odds with conformity, put into the back room because it could not do the high kicks and learned tricks necessary for front of house to keep face and make the sale. Still, you may not want a close inventory: your wounds, your needs, your shamed deeds, your unactioned ideas and unfinished business, your limitations - the habits whose optimum functionality undoes your own, your unseen inheritances – the things your ancestors did, and then maybe hid. Your un/familiars. All sit waiting. All that which is very particular to you but not yet utilised. Previously repressed material, previously discarded material. Your junk DNA. A treasure of as yet unidentified stuff with your current name on. OK Julie, have this – it’s yours.
Can you take the time to re-configure, however uncomfortable and painful, and work out some way to transmute what held you back, weighed you down - was good for no/thing - so that it becomes what it really is – fuel for your life, the very source of everything new? Can you survive during this hiatus, when you are invisible to the world - maybe have no status, nothing to show for yourself?
The big question of the Black Phase - can you transform this material so that it becomes something beautiful? Own what you have done, and chosen, what you want to do - bring it out. And show that it has become lovely from its time in the deep, and is now full of light.
This black essay wouldn’t let me write it how I wanted to. I wrestled with it and it won. This has been how it was since I started working on this project. A transitional momentum has taken over. My time is not my own, and cannot be given over to the normal day to day things. Nothing is on schedule, and everything operating in reverse so that only by the end will the first things will be in place. It will, as it said, be a retrospective of itself. A project 0/Zero. The first outing for the new that only examines the implications of the old. Black got all its codes and meanings into this essay (I think it wanted to say ‘tropes’ to be fashionable, but I put my foot down). It organised a sub-text, drove the narrative in a non-linear way as though it thought I could not organise it properly. It was right. It messed around with me, put in little jokes and insisted I reveal things I had previously not, and in an uncool way. It split my infinitives. I said please can we finish it by my birthday? Spring is already here. But no. It got me to edit it a thousand times, read it back like a mantra. Made me repeat the same thing really, again and again using different words, layer on layer, to try and replicate its depth, emphasise the circularity of its nature. I said it’s too dense – hard to read. And it said yes, exactly.
But it’s not done yet. I am not what I was, and not yet what I am to become.
Can you make a work of art with words? Change a person into something else with a message? These are not my questions, by the way.