You are a mystery I promise I will never try to solve
Her light went out though it looped in rays from a silver cup,
as she drank from the river with the deer of the burning ghost.
A willow tongue will snap in a leaden throat
to be golden as hawthorn that is of the body.
In the morning the room stank of deer, but its flesh, newly cleansed from the bone, had been mixed with soil and water from the hill so that I had, from the beginning, what I thought of as the waste of the alchemist, and this was the fire in the bodies of the deer of the burning ghost. When I found her, the doe had lain amongst long grass beneath the willow trees for many weeks (or this was my guess) so that much of her spoilt body had decayed or been scavenged and all that remained were her rib cage, her skull and hair. These last were to become for the figures their locus and talisman, and I have since thought of them as fulfilling a rite or pledge, as if I have made a kind of personal votum, aligned as the work is to the sympathetic magic of ritual objects.
These singular and chance encounters with wild animals will always be leaven for my thinking, to the point that a life - what we can draw from it for our personal enrichment - can be enduring and inexhaustible, and so it was for me in communion with the winter doe. Over time, all things became attracted to her light, as if it were a wholly validating substance, and in death she seemed to become an axis around which the world and my particular preoccupations organised their value and meaning.
Although I felt a kind of exhortation to serve as an advocate on behalf of the doe - as if her future was the prize and mattered supremely - I regarded my work as a prayer for all animals, for the return of what I think of as their inviolable mystery. They suffer, are diminished and persecuted, and I would that I gave voice to their plea for liberation. The story of a maquette (which begins often as witness to suffering) can be lucid, mute or obscure, according to the nature of that original encounter in the wild. With right method and intention, personality disappears within the collective animal, in league with the tenor of its deprived and possible futures. You look to salvage what value remains from the tragic and the lost, and the creature - in this case, the mother that was the cow, the vixen, the woman and the doe - becomes representative of the body of the world, interrupted.
I look to each animal as a cynosure that influences human understanding and behaviour, but petition, too, for transcendence for its own sake - to wish for the doe to be unknown and ineffable beyond this measure of a man and the transient stories he has given her. There is mystery and anguish within the flesh never to be resolved, but we have made for the creatures a new experience that is as a burden to their already apportioned suffering. Watching the cattle move in their herds through the fields, I glimpsed a binary world in which the lamps of the calves had been stymied by man who sees only in life a commodified body. I could not countenance that the wild mother, whom we encounter only rarely behind the veil, is exposed by a death we deprive the domestic animal. Nor could I think to exorcise their wounds by way of these images, beholden as I may be to raise the ghosts from ashes of forgotten generations. So it is not, I think, to devalue the work to say, collectively. it is a compensatory image, for the animal body is the true icon. On that day, some trees in the forest were still green at their highest point, though the fires of the doe were alight in orange and gold. Her land seemed fit for superstition, for the flower of a thought that is sourced from the gut and the black blood of brute agency. I felt perhaps the old beliefs would give her sanctuary, suggest at least a placatory magic. But the doe was never quite the deviant thought with which we immure the winter calf. She cedes to a world that brings a noise and harsh light upon her body, and in this we feel the insatiate force for deconsecration. Perhaps if we denied the head its centre of spiritual power, attributing the gut an oracular function, then, by virtue of self-sacrifice, we might know ourselves spelt and sung and cut from an animal matrix.
I was on the hill, in a channel full of briar and agricultural waste, when I found the jaw of the sheep which forms a part of work. I broke her teeth, as I had the legs of the doe, and in so doing, as with the filth of dirt and flesh, the violent beginning took on a shamanic quality. For the figures are a portrait of the abyss; it imagines a new fate for animal life, allied to a woman wounded too by fire on a winter journey. I thought of the rite, originating in antiquity, called the nekyia, in which the seeker communes with the dead and which, in general understanding, includes a night passage through an underworld. Human blood, married to the tissue and bone of the animal, granted me a vision of a forest kingdom where beasts gave augur of a returning sacrament. The land they attended suffered in discord, not yet meeting, but through tumult they spoke the name of her god. They clamoured for succour, the queens and the martyrs, accenting the freedoms of their own kind. If their private rites seemed alive no more to human service, I laboured nonetheless to work organic matter into a prayer of the crudest power; a primal index, rooted in deep feeling, that sought to preserve them as consorts of her fate.
For the sibyl was never an oblique or whispering oracle. She forgives the apostate and the man, and her supplicants are many, but she is driven by the will of the vernal mother. She addresses the father and transforms the son, and in her the patriarchal forces are challenged, but this is no denigration of men. Her myth, reimagined, struggles for long life and inclusivity; it yearns for cyclic reinvention but in this must concede to a complex ensemble - uncommon powers of uncertain gender who would enter the image in perpetuity. Still, let me be sure of an apotropaic magic, for in this pieces is the Magdalene of my thought and its primal Eve, as well as the woman who wed the eternal doe. They take her story beyond the margins of her natural life, attesting to the innate and divers fables of the maternal animal.
Though I admit to the feminine being here ill-defined, her word assimilated by the scope of my mission, I worked unceasing to learn her intent, and this for as long as she dwelt in the world. I thought especially of Hecate, the tripartite goddess, in my affairs with the spirits of the deer of the burning ghost. For she seemed strange to me and her purpose occult, governed by ways and rules that were scions of many couplings. The doe, the vixen and the cow, they found their likeness in the head and the angles of her flesh, and for them she observed due ceremony. For I wished, from the beginning, to constellate the animals in their primitive distance but with ritual legitimacy. They were pale and vulnerable, but lived still in the forest as torches and incense of human fate. But it was not enough to evoke them from the purest material with no image or measure of the covetous mind that suppressed with its ignorance. So I raised them with iron from the farmer's midden, and dressed them with waste I found on the hill. They felt as vital and trenchant as the soil and the water and by these they had facility for restitution.
I followed the tracks made by cattle, few men, down through woods of bramble and willow till the moon came. In my receding vision, by the light of her candle, I could see that the doe strayed to the banks of a river whose icy waters flowed to an unknown land. Run aground near the path, tethered to a tree, was a boat made of bone and some wood from the forest that would take her, I was sure, through the valley of her god. Where the blood fell from her injured hoof white campion grew and I could see by her light that the other was holding a silver dish made of some stray wood. The dream and boat, the cup and the river, they appeased my desire for symbolic convention when all else seemed made from a wild and independent will.
I felt for the bodies I had loaded with joys and sorrows but which held them, anointed. They had the moon's lustre that came from a mixture of ashes and flesh that renewed nonetheless in verse upon crimson lips. In a very practical way they are a physical medium for a rite or petition - they could be altars for sacrifice, for food or fire - but I knew that their griefs could not be assuaged via the brief inheritance the doe had entrusted. Beyond the turn of the water, in the thickening willow, was the transfigurative act of a private cosmology, but it was not given to me to witness its flowering. It was no matter I had drunk from the philtre of earth, for the god, in the end, had the fate of the doe, possessing its subject outside human experience. In this is the wilderness incorrupt though her shapes and her moods are in the new world still for our absolution.
The maternal animal moves through the work with her times and her seasons; a wind pushes on through the bone and the wood, so that I do not think of her now as fixed in consecrated memory, but that she is lyrical still with the deity that brought her violence and which, in course of time, placed us in contractual relationship. It is there in the bodies, they have such efficacy - all that is oldest and original that is of the mother, inviting the lovers and the votaries into a sentient darkness.
Perhaps in death an opportunity lingers for some final intimacy we neglect in life. The heat and the noise of savage purpose might survive for a time beyond the departing body; a presence mute and dormant until stirred by the spell that is a will for intimacy. For the immortal mother never wakes alone but into a crossing of sun and moon, of duty and anguish, of the man and the doe. Yes, I believe this to be true. Our river is the blood that roars through her night. She is out in the dark of an old empire, but she has her champions.