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Picturing a World

Art, activism, and mythic fiction

Yesterday, I attended a meeting about changes to a Massachusetts program to promote solar energy in the Commonwealth and then came home to read Terri Windling's blog post on Art and Activism. The post is illustrated by absorbing gouache and watercolor paintings by the wonderful artist, Kristin Bjornerud.  Her pictures can inspire writers, maybe by literally suggesting a story line, maybe by leading to idiosyncratic explorations of what she calls "dream logic."
Windling quotes Bjonerud as saying, "My aim is to create contemporary fairy tales that act as a medium through which we may consider our ethical obligations to the natural world and to each other. Retelling and reshaping stories helps us to understand how we are entangled, where we meet, and how our differences may be viewed as disguises of our sameness."

Her image Making the Land, reminded slantwise me of a quotation I ran across, which opens the Introduction to Else Østergård's scholarly study, Woven into the Earth: Textiles from Norse Greenland. From time to time over the centuries the permafrost of Greenland thawed briefly, "so much that crowberry and dwarf willow could grow. The roots of these plants grew like thin strands through the coffins and costumes" in graves being excavated and archeologists discovered they "had literally 'stitched' the finds to the soil." A palimpsest of women's work, roots, and soil—the words gave me such a shiver that I ordered the book.
In answer to the question whether writers should blend activism and art, my answer is do what feels right. I'll be submitting a written comment to the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources on its proposed solar energy program—a pretty straightforward activist use of words. In the fantasy world I'm working on now, there is no such overt message; but creating a place where awareness extends beyond the human and the manmade out to other aspects of the natural world feels true. If an image in it gives some reader a shiver or a catch of the breath like Bjornerud's pictures, then the fiction will have worked. And if it is mythic enough, it just might lead to the right sort of entanglement.

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