Marja-Leena Rathje
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Vaseaux Lake pictographs


My own art work is keeping me preoccupied these days, especially with the exhibition coming up in November, so today I'm being a lazy blogger. May I point you to a link provided once again by reader Bill Knight in a recent comment. Have a look at the pictographs of Vaseux Lake in the southern interior of British Columbia. They are beautiful examples of the rock paintings of the native peoples of these areas dating back about 1800 to 2000 years.

Best of all, I love what Bill wrote about his thoughts about ancient rock art:

"I would like to edge closer to this mystery, communion and communication practice. To write upon the earth itself, that act is a focus for contemplation. It is to submit to the relative permanence of great stone mountains and bluffs, while facing how brief and transient a human life is. Painful perhaps, but sustaining as well.

I believe even contemporary stone sculpture carving disregards the rock's age and connection to the great vast ages and spaces, favoring an involvement with distractions of process, illusion and conceit of design. Sculpture is worked out of quarry-stone with predictable and regular physical characteristics. The rock becomes stone; a material, a sort of plastic substance.

[...] There is an interesting difference, though between "rock" and "stone". I had never heard of the term "rock art" before coming to your site."

Thank you, Bill, for expressing a feeling that I've long had about my strange attraction for rock art. (Oh, and the "rock art" term isn't mine of course - it's generally used by most people to speak about ancient petroglyphs, pictographs, petroforms, standing stones or megaliths, etc.)

(Edited Sept.22)

Marja-Leena | 21/09/2005 | 12 comments
themes: Canada and BC, Rock Art & Archaeology


oh dear I need editing!

In the second paragraph I mean to say (correction capitolized):

I believe even contemporary stone sculpture carving disregards the rock's age and connection to the great vast ages and spaces, favoring an involvement with distractions of process, illusion and conceit of design. SCULPTURE IS [instead of "good rock art"] worked out of quarry-stone with predictable and regular physical characteristics. The rock becomes stone; a material, a sort of plastic substance.

So much more could be said about this...and doubtless as been. To make art that serves as a guide in the spirit world certainly strikes me as a refreshing challenge.

The civilations that created rock art have vanished, perhaps giving the surviving rock art undue prominence. At the time of their creation, in the midst of a flourishing society, these markings might have seemed more a secondary characteristic. A living breathing Clovis society would quickly turn the archeologist's head away from cliff paintings.

Correction made, Bill, with thanks again.

I don't think the art of the old civilizations is given undue prominence at all. Certainly we can't know everything about the thoughts of these artists, but much has been written about the likely shamanistic connections.These are not mere scribbles or graffiti, and some sites around the world are still considered sacred to today's indigineous people.

Oh Dear! Marja-Leena, the "sacred" is a very difficult and contentious subject. It would seem to involve group identity and values with a good dollop of strife.

Strife seems to be a strong word, Bill, and I imagine that occurred between competing tribes or nations, especially when the whites moved in on the natives in the Americas. But within an individual group, it would a part of life, living with, respecting, praying for and blessing nature for its source of food and shelter. The shaman or healer facilitated this, sometimes resorting to various herbs and hallucinogenics. The practise of blessing nature still exists among some native groups that have revived the old traditions.

I wish I had some quick links to share right now on the subject of the spiritual in ancient art. But I have the Spirit in the Stone book before me and Joy Inglis writes about this in the first part of the book. I don't have the time and speed to type out long passages, but this might cover it in part: "Deep within the Paleolithic caves of France, at least 30,000 years ago, engraved and painted herds of animals of huge dimensions were drawn on the walls, possibly as art for art's sake. It is more likely that they were drawn for ritual purposes by shamans. While it is not possible to determind the function of these[,,,], they are accepted as the work of shamans."

I think most of, if not all, archaeologists agree on this, though it's an inexact science for sure.

Oh Dear (for the third time)

Thanks Marja-Leena. I just don't know what to make of hunter/gatherer values as they are not my own. The idea of my own survival as sacred, elusive quarry is just so far removed from my pampered pet existence. I wonder what this says about my soul! The plains have been turned into a food factory, the forests grow toilet paper.

Here the image a Jimmie Durham pelting a refrigerator with stone comes to mind.
He is trying to destroy my food supply! Can I unplug my feeder tube? I don't really think so.

From the convenience of my well fed comfort pocket all creation theories, or food acquisition stratagems have no rigor or consequence and, while they might have an exciting tinge of primacy, are still quite the stuff only of entertainment and fancy. Maybe even a little "arty" at that...

Oh dear...surely I don't want to get up off of this warm spot on my couch.

The great success story of contemporary European culture based art in dealing with rock is Ulrich Rueckriem. He is very well represented in a google image search. He brings the wild rock into the modern setting. He keeps the rock intact and modifies it vastly, but minimally. Bringing nature to the city dweller.

I take this work as exemplary:

A deep gallery collection:

Goolge image search has five good pages at least:

I don't think too many of us are hunter-gatherers these days, and would not know how, even if our survival depended on it, eh, Bill?! Nevertheless I'm quite drawn to the traces they've left behind in their art.

Rueckriem's sculptures are quite interesting, with that mysterious feeling of a circle of stones. I like the rough textured pieces the most, but don't care for the smooth boxes, at least from the pictures which I'm sure don't do justice.


sorry to have my INTRA-personal turmoil boil out on your pages. I am a battleground. The contest rages. In no way do I wish to belittle the wonder of pigment on rock, and I am thankful again for your use of it in you work and your generosity in sharing your interest in it. My interest and fascination continues.

What am I to do, though, with my inner Warhol, I must ask myself, and search the answer within.

Maybe Dave Bonta and his Wendell Berry observations will be enlightening to me.

Some quotes from Wes Jackson and Wendell Berry (sorry about lack of context.

Acknowledging that we are fundamentally ignorant, we now can ask a question that goes beyond the available answers, and that's going to force knowledge out of its categories.

We would be fundamentally respectful of our original relationship with the universe. There might even be a more joyful participation in our engagement with the world.

This respecting of mystery obviously has something or other to do with religion, and we moderns have defended ourselves against it by turning it over to religion specialists, who take advantage of our indifference by claiming to know a lot about it.

Thank you, Bill, I do appreciate your comments about my work and everything you say here. Unfortunately I'm not very good at philosphical discussions, not being widely read on the subject though it interests me. In a way, I work out my spiritual questions (whatever they may be, I'm not always sure) in my artmaking, with images instead of words. As I've often said in the past, I think visually, and struggle to put certain "pictures" into words. I admire writers/bloggers like Dave Bonta for their skill with wrods.

I am vulnerable to these machinations of schema and catagory but I make an embaressing, terrible smear of all of it. Rather a pathetic imitation that trails quickly into incoherence. I spent part of the morning studying a lecture on shamanism and modern culture. I found it evocotive yet beyond my comprehension. I hope to create meaning directly in some stonework soon. Yes Dave is very interesting. My encounter with him through his writing and comments has stirred the rather thin vapours of my intellect. Dave seems very humble in these matters. I have no gift for understanding faith and the human condition yet I always seem to tart myself about as someone who might yet have a clue. Odd tendency that I have and I thank you for your forbearance! I do so wish to sratch my chin knowingly, but I will never have read and understood the necessary Hegel, Focault, Baudrillard. Oh Whatever!

It all makes for an interesting journey, doesn't it? Look forward to seeing your stonework, Bill.