Often, while traversing the endless ream of information delivered by Facebooks timeline, something will jump from the screen to invite my curiosity.
Screaming Bird, Singing Dawn, Rainbow Mountain; a film essay and exhibition by Ben Jeans Houghton at Newcastle's Baltic 39, caught my attention and drew me in with such magnetic resonance it was impossible to ignore.
I had no idea what to expect from the exhibition and knew nothing about the exhibitor. Save for a few vague words on the events description, all I had to guide me was a deeply familiar pull towards the experience that I couldn't explain.
Sense of place
Walking into the event space brought a flood of remembrance to me. Although well attended, every person melted away as I was transported to a distant memory from my childhood. Catapulted to my first remembrance of the exquisite interplay between vulnerability and power in my youth, I stood in silence as the archaic force washed over me.
The memory in question was from a time of desperately searching for a sense of place in the world around me. In my primary years I would experience periods of joy and happiness outside the family home, only to have them ripped from me back at my homestead. The following is a record of the memory that came flooding back.
"My happiness evaporated amidst a torrent of shouting which culminated in a few sharp slaps as I was sent to my room. I remember slamming the door—disgruntled at the stinging pain which was gathering heat to the side of my head—and throwing myself to the floor at the foot of my bed crying. I wished so hard that I could be back in the school playground, binoculars at the ready to catch the next bird as it showed me its characteristic warble and flight.
At this point I became acutely aware of my breathing. Crying so hard had brought about a heaving type breath that I could feel coming from deep inside my chest. My hands, curled tightly into balled fists, had begun to throb with the strength my little body was using to keep them closed. It felt as though my heaving breath pulled at my core in time to the throb which had travelled up my arms and into my chest. I could feel another deep wracking sob coming upon me and I closed my eyes fearing it would pull me apart if I let it escape from my mouth.
It was then that I felt it… the entire room had begun vibrating to the throbbing in my body. I allowed the sob to come from me and, as I threw my arms out to my sides, the walls of the room blew outwards as though my energy had flung them away. I was lifted from where I sat and carried out past the house and over my old familiar wood.
Looking down I had a sense I was flying like my beloved birds high above the trees, and a calmness came to me like I’d never known. The wood pigeons lifted from the branches of the trees and joined me in my flight. “Trust the wind” they said, “it will carry you; feel the sun, it will warm you”. The pigeons seemed much larger than I and it felt that I must be a much smaller bird, possibly a Wren, as I flew with them."
Lay a table for it and magic will find you
As I walked around the exhibit, listening to Ben explain the rationale behind his pieces, I understood my remembrance more and more. The journey he had taken laid the table for magic to express itself to and through him in raw and beautiful ways.
The colourful collections of plates along the walls seemed as doorways between the seen and unseen, between reality and hidden truths yet to be discovered. They struck me as invitations to look beyond this realm of physical experience into the cosmic opportunities that await all seekers on their mystical journey.
His collection had allowed me to do just that. It had reopened a doorway I had once walked through in my youth. A doorway of connection with unseen universal energy that had given me a sense of peace and wonder when I was most wanting.
Trusting the terrain of internal truth
As Ben's narrative walked us through the room I could feel the rawness and vulnerability of his work. The openness of his discourse in the present moment borne from years of learning to trust the terrain of his inner truth.
As his journey unfolded before us we were treated to the certainty of his belief that magic is alive and well. Its expression can be felt in the simplest of forms and multiple ways if we care to see beyond the illusory nature of reality around us. Our ability to connect lies in our willingness to accept and trust the underlying movement of immaterial consciousness.
This work speaks to the magic of animism through which every object in our physical reality has something to offer in the subjective realm. It speaks to open vulnerability and raw truth in the process of our primitive learning and growing. In short, it speaks beautifully and eloquently of our potential as material beings to embrace our immaterial adventures.