Rebuilding roads from ruins: a search for creative freedom in lockdown
Finding the usual forms of escapism within my own four walls — writing, reading, cinema — harder to concentrate on, I found a creative outlet from the anxieties of lockdown and social distancing in the form of collaging
Welcome to Westworld (Greekworld, too)
From being transfixed by Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns as a teenager — wishing to be the Man with No Name — to trying to unravel the nests of stories found in Greek myths, the grand narratives, array of characters and iconic locations of both subjects have long held a personal interest.
These are two themes I knew I wanted to incorporate into a new creative project during this period of lockdown. But I just didn’t know at first what the project would be.
I have been finding it harder to read and write; my concentration levels nowhere near as strong as they usually are. I didn’t want to push myself to do something, just for the act of doing something.
I didn’t want to go through the motions of trying to be creative because a proportion of social media is saying that is what I should be doing. I wanted to do something I could enjoy.
And neither did I have the inclination to learn something completely new. I just wanted something to do for the odd hour here and there, in between cooking meals, picking up clothes off the floor and putting them into the washing machine again, overseeing homeschool, entertaining my daughter, doing usual work tasks, and taking increasingly stealthy evening walks, evading people like clumps of nightshade.
This something I realised, while sat at a table with a blank piece of paper, thinking what to do, came in the simple form of collaging: some paper shapes, scissors and glue is all it takes.
A simple form of magic
Once I knew I wanted to create a collage, I realised that ruins and temples from Greek mythology and history, with scenes and signifiers from the Old West — the lonely frontier, scrubland and cowboys and cowgirls dotted across the horizon — were going to form the centre of my new world.
Lonely gunslingers alongside Hera, Poseidon, Narcissus, the Minotaur, Orpheus and Eurydice can all be found in the collages I have done during the past week.
I grew-up watching these characters from mythology on TV, from Harry Hamlin’s Perseus battling Medusa and the Kraken in Clash of the Titans (1981), to Jason’s search for the Golden Fleece in stop-motion animation master Ray Harryhausen’s Jason and the Argonauts (1963). Later, finding Ovid’s transformation of characters, such as Europe, Jupiter and Bacchus, in the epic poem Metamorphoses intriguing.
While very recently having the pleasure to watch Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019), has rejuvenated my interest in the sad plight of Orpheus and his attempt to rescue his true love from Hades.
I quickly realised that blending these worlds is a very simple form of magic, where age is timeless. Mirroring our current social situation, where time has taken on a different, unusual currency: bending, retracing, blurring, getting stuck. It has been a month of Sundays for us all, but a whole load of Sundays where we still have to work and homeschool our children and try to do as much as we used to do, but now confined within our own four walls.
We have had to try to push forwards as if business is normal, when it’s clearly not. We know that, our children know that. Almost everybody knows that.
Our main aim is to do our best to take each day as it comes. To do what it takes to get us through this period with the least damage to our physical and mental health as possible. That’s all we have to try to do.
While we applaud and thank a million times over and over the thousands of heroes working miracles day upon days— our doctors and nurses, every single NHS worker, every single keyworker, our teachers and caregivers, every single person putting themselves on the line to save another.
Appreciating a timeless universe
Through my collage work I have been able to navigate this timeless quicksand and create new micronarratives from existing stories. I have found great satisfaction in taking disparate materials and making something new.
These collages have given me licence to make alternate realities of freedom while stuck in isolation. I’ve been able to take eras and figures from parts of history, myth and culture, which interest me, and reshape them, forming new-old worlds brought together through bricolage and intertextuality. And all it has taken is some source ideas, some patience and getting reacquainted with scissors and glue again.
It’s not very hard for me to fathom why I have been drawn to the mountains and deserts — to landscapes — because I am missing the outdoors. Missing being beneath trees and clouds.
These collages have given me the ability to cling on to a certain form of freedom while trekking through my imagination.
It didn’t take too long until my Old West–Greek crossover began to morph with other facets from history and across genres. This happened as I began to try to visually represent my anxieties through the works of poets, authors and musicians.
Beginning with David Berman’s poetry anthology Actual Air (1999), across the course of the week I have been inspired by passages from novelists Julian Barnes (Levels of Life, 2013) and Agustín Fernández Mallo (The Nocilla Trilogy, 2017–2019), Mark Z. Danielewski (House of Leaves, 2000), plus musicians such as Nick Cave (The Lyre of Orpheus, 2004), Stephen Malkmus (Pavement’s Range Life, 1994) and Modest Mouse (Tundra/Desert, 1996), as well as philosophers like Heraclitus.
I have found a great joy in recycling my interests into microworlds of my own crafting. Not only has it meant I have revisited, by re-reading and listening, to greatly admired texts, it has also made me look at them and appreciate them in new light. It has made my admiration for artists and creators of art soar even more than I thought possible.
And it is during these hard times we should celebrate and support our artists and musicians even more than usual, now that they are no longer able to travel to tour and feel, like so many others, the financial, as well as the mental strain, of self isolation.
Looking towards the horizon
I’ve long held an interest in the road movie genre — the search for freedom somewhere upon the horizon, wishing to escape normality and the traps of everyday life. This is a feeling I have felt strongly over the past month and I suspect most others have felt exactly the same.
We need to keep on to this hope. Keep on looking towards the horizon, because one day — and although it might still be months away — we will have our freedom again.
And now as I return to work, and homeschooling, after a few days off around Easter (do we really know now when we are really on and off the clock?) my time and attention will be drawn to other less dream-friendly outlets. But I hope I continue to forge new-old wolds from collages for as long as the enjoyment continues.
At the very least it has made me feel happier creating something. And as with many things the process has always been the most fun part. Taking time away from other worries, especially late in the night, has also been a blessing and the fact it has brought me back to writing is also a bonus.
Whatever it is — how little or large — finding that creative something to distract during this period of lockdown is a valuable commodity hard to come by.
Listening to birdsong, taking photos of flowers and trees, drawing the view from your window, re-reading your favourite book or watching comfort TV— whatever helps in the moment, and is safe and in your home, should be encouraged.
Too mentally exhausted by thoughts of undertaking any of my usual creative outlets, I’m glad I was able to take some pleasure in collaging. I hope you are able to find your outlet too.
You can find all my collages on my Instagram.