Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Perception: Victoria Topping, Fantasia and Kandinsky

Cosmic Elements II - Victoria Topping
In an extensive interview with Crack Magazine not long ago, Victoria Topping, a Hackney-based illustrator and graphic designer (who spent a number of years in Bristol - you may recognise her graphic design work for Love Saves the Day and In:Motion) discusses, amongst other things, the influences that shaped her. One of these is the Russian painter Kandinsky, famed for trying to recreate his own synaesthesia in his artwork. Kandinsky found that seeing colours and painted marks triggered musical notes and sounds, and vice versa. One in 2,000 experience this fascinating condition. a number far greater than I would have predicted. As a child, Kandinsky found mixing colours in his paintboxes triggered a sort of hissing sound. Not only was he to become one of the most famous artists of all time, but he was also an accomplished cellist (which he believed represented the deepest blue of all instruments). It seems obvious really, that he was a synaesthete, as many of his works are titled as if a piece of music: "Fugue", "Improvisation IV", "Composition VII".

"The deeper the blue becomes, the more strongly it calls man towards the infinite, awakening in him a desire for the pure and, finally, for the supernatural… The brighter it becomes, the more it loses its sound, until it turns into silent stillness and becomes white."

Composition VII - Wassily Kandinsky
The crossover between any form of art with music is wonderfully tangible and always a source of intrigue for me. How the senses shape your own perception is itself wonderful, and the cross-wiring in the brain that causes synaesthesia is one particularly remarkable manifestation of this. Rare neurological conditions aside, here's a visualization of sound from a classic from childhood - Disney's Fantasia.

But I'd better stop there as I've suddenly begun to suspect I'm rehashing a Year 7 art lesson. (But might I say the entire film is always worth a watch.)
Finally, a few more words from Kandinsky:

"Lend your ears to music, open your eyes to painting, and… stop thinking! Just ask yourself whether the work has enabled you to 'walk about' into a hitherto unknown world. If the answer is yes, what more do you want?"

And on a far less relevant note - though still on the theme of perception, a book that's recently rocked my world is  Haruki Murakami's 1Q84. A literary aficionado I am not (although I try to read whenever the mood takes me), but I was still blown away. One part in particularly that haunted me was the short story the main character reads in Book 2, featured in an excerpt from the novel on The New Yorker's website, Town of Cats. Truly recommended reading.


Monday, 25 February 2013


John Kahrs' 'Paperman' won  an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film at last night's Academy Awards. It tells the story of an endearing office workers plight trying to seek the attention of an enigmatic woman he met on the train platform on his morning commute to work. Poignant and nostalgic in it's black and white colouring, the film reinstates the belief that sometimes life is best just left to a series of coincidences. A.P



How can we examine the conundrum that is 'perception', without recourse to the undeniable master of perception (of moreover, confounding perception): Salvador Dali. Here are a mere few of his works, what can you see, what can't you see - the combinations and possibilities are infinite and mutable.


Perception in narrative ~ Stream of Consciousness

If the narrative of a book is formed to reflect the protagonist's perception of the world, then we can see how the introduction of stream of consciousness into literature reflects the writer's aim to return to the very basic roots of the way we experience. Loosely defined as being the written equivalent of the character's thought processes, the stream of consciousness narrative style comes to mimic the way humans think and verbally respond to external stimuli. It toys with the idea that humans do not think in a linear manner as previously suggested by the straightforward narrative development of previous novels, but that instead we are subject to the endless repetitions, developments, retractions and hesitations which occur in our minds. 

I first came across this when reading Virginia Woolf, whose novels play with the blurry boundary between past and present, the pain and pleasure of nostalgia. Yet we see how, essentially, her subject matter is language itself, and the way in which we strive to find a narrative in our lives in order to impose a certain comprehensible order upon it.
As she writes in 'The Waves':

“Let us again pretend that life is a solid substance, shaped like a globe, which we turn about in our fingers. Let us pretend that we can make out a plain and logical story, so that when one matter is despatched—love for instance—we go on, in an orderly manner, to the next. ” 

For life to be something that we can take hold of and control, we must be able to examine it and thus order it into a 'plain and logical story'. Stories become symbolic of order, as it is through telling stories that we have the ability to neatly arrange complex matters ('love for instance') in a way that lets us understand it. Yet it proves increasingly difficult to do so, as the aim to find the one 'true story' becomes increasingly obscure. With a vocabulary that hints at its religious undertones (considering how many live a life which follows the 'one story' found in a religious text), Woolf writes:

“I have made up thousands of stories; I have filled innumerable notebooks with phrases to be used when I have found the true story, the one story to which all these phrases refer. But I have never yet found the story. And I begin to ask, Are there stories?” 

Instead, we see how everything is subject to external perception:

“I am made and remade continually. Different people draw different words from me.” 

for each individual has the ability to 'draw' different meanings from what they experience.

~ M. D.


Words of the week #6


Remember how we picked the daffodils?
Nobody else remembers, but I remember.
Your daughter came with her armfuls, eager and happy,
Helping the harvest. She has forgotten.
She cannot even remember you. And we sold them.
It sounds like sacrilege, but we sold them.
Were we so poor? Old Stoneman, the grocer,
Boss-eyed, his blood-pressure purpling to beetroot
(It was his last chance,
He would die in the same great freeze as you) ,
He persuaded us. Every Spring
He always bought them, sevenpence a dozen,
'A custom of the house'.

Besides, we still weren't sure we wanted to own
Anything. Mainly we were hungry
To convert everything to profit.
Still nomads-still strangers
To our whole possession. The daffodils
Were incidental gilding of the deeds,
Treasure trove. They simply came,
And they kept on coming.
As if not from the sod but falling from heaven.
Our lives were still a raid on our own good luck.
We knew we'd live forever. We had not learned
What a fleeting glance of the everlasting
Daffodils are. Never identified
The nuptial flight of the rarest epherma-
Our own days!
We thought they were a windfall.
Never guessed they were a last blessing.
So we sold them. We worked at selling them
As if employed on somebody else's
Flower-farm. You bent at it
In the rain of that April-your last April.
We bent there together, among the soft shrieks
Of their jostled stems, the wet shocks shaken
Of their girlish dance-frocks-
Fresh-opened dragonflies, wet and flimsy,
Opened too early.

We piled their frailty lights on a carpenter's bench,
Distributed leaves among the dozens-
Buckling blade-leaves, limber, groping for air, zinc-silvered-
Propped their raw butts in bucket water,
Their oval, meaty butts,
And sold them, sevenpence a bunch-

Wind-wounds, spasms from the dark earth,
With their odourless metals,
A flamy purification of the deep grave's stony cold
As if ice had a breath-

We sold them, to wither.
The crop thickened faster than we could thin it.
Finally, we were overwhelmed
And we lost our wedding-present scissors.

Every March since they have lifted again
Out of the same bulbs, the same
Baby-cries from the thaw,
Ballerinas too early for music, shiverers
In the draughty wings of the year.
On that same groundswell of memory, fluttering
They return to forget you stooping there
Behind the rainy curtains of a dark April,
Snipping their stems.

But somewhere your scissors remember. Wherever they are.
Here somewhere, blades wide open,
April by April
Sinking deeper
Through the sod-an anchor, a cross of rust.

Ted Hughes.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Random International: The Rain Room

Rain Room is the latest in a series of projects that specifically explore the behaviour of the viewer and viewers: pushing people outside their comfort zones, extracting their base auto-responses and playing with intuition. Observing how these unpredictable outcomes will manifest themselves, and the experimentation with this world of often barely perceptible behaviour and its simulation is our main driving force." - Random International

This exhibition from art collective Random International at Curve at the Barbican Centre is just another of their unique experimental artworks that truly rely on interaction from the viewer. Rain Room is a precisely timed downpour that instantly parts as you walk through it. The exhibition's formidable popularity means that the Barbican has seen queues of up to 4 hours at peak times on weekends - so if you're in London any time between now and the 3rd of March, I suggest you get down and see it.

Keep those submissions for Perception coming in! Not long now until the deadline.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013


For inspiration, click here

Friday, 8 February 2013

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

'If the doors of perception were cleansed, every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite'

The theme for our next issue is ‘Perception’, a theme which I feel is paradoxically very easy, yet frustratingly difficult to respond to (in written form). Really, any and every piece of creative writing ever composed is about perception; of the author, the protagonist, the world. Concurrently, it can be extremely difficult to know where to start (how does one even begin to tackle such an expansive and fundamental thing). Here I have tried to narrow the scope slightly, and included some examples from some well-known novels that tackle the tricky issue of ‘perception’ with flair, ingenuity, and originality. 

The excerpts I have chosen, largely, discuss heightened or troubled perceptions, respectively; a story-book tale of reality turned upside-down by a little girls day-dreaming fantasies; a strange and alienating picture of a dystopian landscape; the documentation of a heady trip full of trips (of the drug-induced variety); two - first-hand - accounts of the effects of mind-altering substances; the mental-meandering of a protagonist with a remarkably keen sensual-perception; and finally, the musings of a mind troubled by the paradoxically liberating and oppressive power of synesthesia.  In each of these novels, the ‘uncanny’ plays a significant role; the selected authors focusing on that which is simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar, of this world and outside of it, factual and fictional. You may also notice that all the excerpts I have chosen have a strong focus on the senses (taste, touch, hearing, sight, smell), accompanied with and manifested by; richly imagery, extreme metaphors, palpable contrasts, antithetical juxtaposition, dripping adjectival detail, pointed alliteration, multitudinous tongues, fusing of dialects and languages: everything in these passages works to exaggerate, to draw our attention to the out-of-the-ordinary within the ordinary. 

So, without further ado, here's some inspiration to get your creative juices flowing: read, absorb, enjoy... 

Carroll’s Alice visits a topsy-turvy wonderland filled with inexplicable happenings and strange encounters -

Presently [Alice] began again. 'I wonder if I shall fall right through the earth! How funny it'll seem to come out among the people that walk with their heads downward! The Antipathies, I think--' (she was rather glad there WAS no one listening, this time, as it didn't sound at all the right word) '--but I shall have to ask them what the name of the country is, you know. Please, Ma'am, is this New Zealand or Australia?' (and she tried to curtsey as she spoke--fancy curtseying as you're falling through the air! Do you think you could manage it?).

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll. 

Huxley imagines a strange, distorted future - 
The Director opened a door. They were in a large bare room, very bright and sunny; for the whole of the southern wall was a single window. Half a dozen nurses, trousered and jacketed in the regulation white viscose-linen uniform, their hair aseptically hidden under white caps, were engaged in setting out bowls of roses in a long row across the floor. Big bowls, packed tight with blossom. Thousands of petals, ripe-blown and silkily smooth, like the cheeks of innumerable little cherubs, but of cherubs, in that bright light, not exclusively pink and Aryan, but also luminously Chinese, also Mexican, also apoplectic with too much blowing of celestial trumpets, also pale as death, pale with the posthumous whiteness of marble.

Brave New World - Aldous Huxley. 

And, in a different context, but with equally rich detail, he recounts the tumultuous emotions (now despairing, now enlightened) of an experiment with Mescaline in a book (aptly) entitled The Doors of Perception
I continued to look at the flowers, and in their living light I seemed to detect the qualitative equivalent of breathing--but of a breathing without return to a starting point, with no recurrent ebbs but only a repeated flow from beauty to heightened beauty, from deeper to ever deeper meaning. Words like "grace" and "transfigu- ration" came to my mind, and this, of course, was what, among other things, they stood for. My eyes travelled from the rose to the carnation, and from that feathery incandescence to the smooth scrolls of sentient amethyst which were the iris. The Beatific Vision, Sat Chit Ananda, Being-Awareness-Bliss-for the first time I understood, not on the verbal level, not by inchoate hints or at a distance, but precisely and completely what those prodigious syllables referred to. 
The Doors of Perception - Aldous Huxley. 
Thompson’s ‘Fear and Loathing’ is a drug-fuelled whirlwind of a text, which picks the reader up and carries them off in its pages -
Stand in front of this fantastic machine, my friend, and for just 99c your likeness will appear, two hundred feet tall, on a screen above downtown Las Vegas. Ninety-nine cents more for a voice message. "Say whatever you want, fella. They'll hear you, don't worry about that. Remember you'll be two hundred feet tall."
Jesus Christ. I could see myself lying in bed in the Mint Hotel, half-asleep and staring idly out the window, when suddenly a vicious nazi drunkard appears two hundred feet tall in the midnight sky, screaming gibberish at the world: "Woodstock Uber Alles!"
We will close the drapes tonight. A thing like that could send a drug person careening around the room like a ping-pong ball. Hallucinations are bad enough. But after a while you learn to cope with things like seeing your dead grandmother crawling up your leg with a knife in her teeth. 

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas - Hunter S. Thompson.

The Shulgins’ PiHKAL similarly details experiences with drugs; yet their experiences are far more controlled, calculated with a chemist’s precision. However, the literature produced is just as mesmerising and profound - 

There I felt myself at baseline and accepted (unusual for me) a little marijuana. And with the utmost quiet and delicacy, a rather incredible change of state took place. The most memorable event was the awareness of a clarinet playing somewhere, and the sneaky sounds from it actually coming along the carpet out of the dining room and into the hallway and through the door and into the room where I was, and all of them gathering at my feet like docile kittens waiting for me to acknowledge them. I did, non-verbally, and I was amazed at the many additional follow-up sounds that came from the same clarinet along the same twisty path along the floor and through the door and into my space, over what seemed to be the next million hours. I ended up with a marvelous collection of notes and phrases at my feet, and I felt somehow honored. My speech sounded OK to me, but I knew that it would be odd to the ears of others, so I kept quiet. A final measure of the weirdness of the ALEPH-6/LSD/Pot combination was the viewing of the Larkspur ferry at its dock, abandoned for the evening and with no one aboard it, and with all that clean, dry sleeping space going to waste with so many people sleeping on the streets these days. Once home, I slept soundly and for a long while. Incredible experience.

PiHKAL - Dr. Alexander Shulgin and Ann Shulgin. 

Miller’s Tropic of Cancer - obscene, majestically pornographic, extremely hard to follow - achieves an unparallelled quality of graphic description - 
Tania is like Irene. She expects fat letters. But there is another Tania, a Tania like a big seed, who scatters pollen everywhere – or, let us say, a little bit of Tolstoi, a stable scene in which the foetus is dug up. Tania is a fever. too – les votes urinaires. Cafe de la Liberte, Place des Vosges, bright neckties on the Boulevard Montparnasse, dark bathrooms, Porto Sec, Abdullah cigarettes, the adagio sonata pathetique, aural amplificators, anecdotal seances, burnt sienna breasts, heavy garters, what time is it, golden pheasants stuffed with chestnuts, taffeta fingers, vaporish twilights turning to ilex, acromegaly, cancer and delirium, warm veils, poker chips, carpets of blood and soft thighs. 

Tropic of Cancer - Henry Miller. 
Nabokov’s Fyodor is a brilliant young poet, who experiences synesthesia, (the neurological condition in which one or more sensory modalities become strangely linked) - 

After this I would voyage for more than an hour through the dark of my bed, arching the bedclothes over myself, so as to form a cavern, at whose distant exit I glimpsed a bit of oblique bluish light that had nothing in common with my bedroom, with the neva night, with the rich, darkly translucent flounces of the window curtains. the cave I was exploring held in its folds and fissures such a dreamy reality, brimmed with such oppressive mystery, that a throbbing, as of a muted drum, would begin in my chest and in my ears; in there, in its depths, where my father had discovered a new species of bat, I could make out the high cheekbones of an idol hewn from the rock; and, when I finally dozed off, a dozen strong hands would overturn me and, with an awful silk-ripping sound, someone would unstitch me from top to bottom, after which an agile hand would slip inside me and powerfully squeeze my heart. or else I would be turned into a horse, screaming in a mongolian voice: shamans yanked at its hocks and lassos, so that its legs would break with a crunch and collapse at right angles to the body – my body – which lay with its chest pressed against the yellow ground, and, as a sign of extreme agony, the horse’s tail would rise fountain-like; it dropped back, and I awoke.
the glistening facings
of the stove to determine
if the fire has grown to the top.
it has. and to its hot hum
the morning responds with the silence of snow,
pink-shaded azure,
and immaculate whiteness.
time to get up. the stove-heater pats

Vladimir Nabokov - The Gift. 

Of course, a piece of writing about ‘perception’ need not be about such extreme topics (or involve as many drugs), as the ones I have mentioned. However, I hope to have highlighted how all of these writers share a remarkable sensitivity to the various modes of human perception, and translate them into beautiful and disturbing verse. A good writer on ‘perception’ is expertly attuned to the minute fluxes of the mind, the power of the senses, and, most importantly - the way in which these factors influence and transform our perception of the world in which we live. 

(Title quotation is from William Blake 'The Marriage of Heaven and Hell' - "If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro' narrow chinks of his cavern".) 


Monday, 4 February 2013

Saturday, 2 February 2013


Colourful, graffiti-esque, modern yet antiquated, sinister and playful, Richter's vibrant paintings have somewhat of a 'contemporary Bristol' air; with euphoric scenes that are reminiscent of a rave at Motion, or a meander down Nelson street....

Rave or mob? The indecision is delicious... 


New theme: Perception


This term we're asking you to explore the theme of perception. This can be interpreted in any way and in any creative medium. Send your poetry, creative writing, art, photography or any creative idea to helicon.magazine@gmail.com before Sunday 24th February to be considered for publication in our next issue.

And here's a dose of creative inspiration to get the ideas flowing...

Optical illusions can alter the way we perceive things. The brain can hide things from us, transform shapes, make us see the same thing in multiple ways... 

The five senses are our only means of perceiving the world around us. Are we right in thinking that through these senses we can perceive reality? What is it like to live without one of these senses?

What about self-perception and our perception of others? What influences our perception of beauty, love, religion, living a good life, and how do those perceptions influence us?

William Gropper - Good and Evil

How does memory, emotion or mental illness alter perception? 


The night is only a sort of carbon paper,
Blueblack, with the much-poked periods of stars
Letting in the light, peephole after peephole . . .
A bonewhite light, like death, behind all things.
Under the eyes of the stars and the moon's rictus
He suffers his desert pillow, sleeplessness
Stretching its fine, irritating sand in all directions.

Over and over the old, granular movie
Exposes embarrassments--the mizzling days
Of childhood and adolescence, sticky with dreams,
Parental faces on tall stalks, alternately stern and tearful,
A garden of buggy rose that made him cry.
His forehead is bumpy as a sack of rocks.
Memories jostle each other for face-room like obsolete film stars.

He is immune to pills: red, purple, blue . . .
How they lit the tedium of the protracted evening!
Those sugary planets whose influence won for him
A life baptized in no-life for a while,
And the sweet, drugged waking of a forgetful baby.
Now the pills are worn-out and silly, like classical gods.
Their poppy-sleepy colors do him no good.

His head is a little interior of grey mirrors.
Each gesture flees immediately down an alley
Of diminishing perspectives, and its significance
Drains like water out the hole at the far end.
He lives without privacy in a lidless room,
The bald slots of his eyes stiffened wide-open
On the incessant heat-lightning flicker of situations.

Nightlong, in the granite yard, invisible cats
Have been howling like women, or damaged instruments.
Already he can feel daylight, his white disease,
Creeping up with her hatful of trivial repetitions.
The city is a map of cheerful twitters now,
And everywhere people, eyes mica-silver and blank,
Are riding to work in rows, as if recently brainwashed.
Sylvia Plath

Van Gogh - Old Man in Sorrow