Elmo's House
Artist Residency

Batan, Aklan
Philippines

 
History of the principle direction

History of the principle direction

Entry by Kuh Del Rosario
09 Jun 2018

 

Thousands of years from now, far beyond this lifetime, Vega will be the new north star, by way of the earth's axis that will eventually point from Polaris to Vega. To ponder the vastness of space and time is overwhelming but can intercept the feeling of being lost. No matter what challenges there are, it cannot rival the significant forces of the universe in perpetual motion, despite our disconnection from it all. 

North is our principal direction, which determines our east, west, and south. For now, Polaris will continue to serve as our north, the point from which the northern sky revolves. Shining 4000 times brighter than the sun, so that even from over 300 light years away, she will be perceptible, if only as a small white dot in the evening sky. 

Since becoming our North Star in 300 BC, Polaris’ brightness has only increased for reasons still unclear. Scientists estimate that the Polaris we know is almost five times brighter than the Polaris of ancient times. Even more, she is inching closer to our magnetic north; to its most northern position, reaching her final destination by the year 2100. Is the universe responding to the collective prayer for direction?

To see Polaris in the canopy of the night now is something special. Circumstances have to align just so as if to summon a higher power to wake. Far from city lights, away from buildings or mountains that may obstruct the view, on a clear night and open heart, the compass will appear. But this and other similar rituals happen far less frequently, as more and more rely on technologies so easily accessible from our fingertips. Apps and smart devices are the modern beacons now, and just like the earth's axis, we too are shifting. 

But even with these modes of finding ones' way, toward whatever you deem to be your purpose is not easy. It is a full life's work that might never conclude. And so, I write to you about my way-finding journey pockmarked with self-doubt and insecurity toward what is still uncertain. Well then, what of this compass in the sky? 

Often I question why I am still here; why haven't I gone back to the place I call home? I fear the meaning of home is becoming less clear with each day, and this fence-sitting has left me feeling confused as to which side I belong. As a result, I continue living here, but reluctant to drop too many anchors. My heart is split; no matter where I go, I am in a perpetual state of otherness. Polaris, are you still there?

 
 
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For the last two years, I have been living in my father's hometown in the house he left behind, in a small barrio between the Panay mountain and the Sibuyan Sea. I do not speak the native language, nor understand the customs, nor find comfort in the dominant religion. I fill my waking hours with simple tasks and most days I talk only to my trusty mutt whose life mirrors the monotony of my own. I read and write, cook and eat, sleep and rise to the bells of the church across the way. 

It is easy to feel stuck, and usually, I do. I think about my studio on the second floor of the house, the paints laid and grouped by colour. The materials I've collected are stacked just so on the shelves, and my tools are all in place. Every so often, I get Nancy to dust my workstation, so that it is ready for use. When the day comes, I will resume my studio practice. But until then, the sculptures and paintings will continue its incubation in my thoughts. 

These days, I write. I write a lot about the life in my head and the emotions I have no other way to unload. I have a sketchbook to plot ideas, in preparation for studio work, and I have an agenda to list the minutiae of each week. I have another unlined notebook to jot random thoughts and sentences that currently have no home. I also write about the dreams that stay with me until the first hours of the morning. Yellow stickies form paper scales on my desk; they flap against the fan, as reminders of the books I should read. Then there are the documents in my laptop of writings in-progress that I go to from time to time. There are the dozens of emails I've sent to an address I created so at least there is a place to deposit the words too personal for anyone else to read.  

 
 
 
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I have come to observe a habit I've developed since living here. When stuck in a thought, I walk toward the back of the house where I light a cigarette and look up to the point just above the tops of the mango trees growing in my neighbour's yard. I stand in place or sit on the stool precarious from the legs half-eaten by termites happily nestled in their life supply of nourishment. No matter where I might rest I look toward that patch of sky framed by the odd structure of the house. My chin tilts upwards, and I look at the ever-changing blue until I've reached the butt of my smoke. Instinctively my body faces north, perhaps searching for Polaris for the answers I seek. It is not unusual to complete my private ceremony without any answers. Most often, I resume my activity no more insightful than before but the moment rejuvenates me just enough to continue. 

Sometimes I think about one of the first big fights I had with my father that left us both wounded for many years afterwards. In response to a criticism I had of our lack of communication, he told me he is not much for talking; he needs only to observe me, to know me. That was his way. I mulled over this statement, but I had a tough time understanding what he meant and how this could bridge the gap between us. I thought it was a bit of a cop-out, to do away with the more direct way of conversing. Because I was so hungry to connect with him, I did not realize how this method mirrored my own philosophy in art and life. 

 
 

Observing the world is to contemplate and think deeply of ones' surroundings. It is to find comfort in the quiet details that so often go overlooked.

 
 

Observing the world is to contemplate and think deeply of ones' surroundings. It is to find comfort in the quiet details that so often go overlooked. My father's passing punctuated this sentiment even more. And now, all I can do is observe and regard his life through the things he has left behind. In this way, I continue to learn about who he was and what he valued. I look up at the sky more frequently and ponder about the intangible, death conjures. If not for the art of looking, would I have noticed the north star steadfast in its role as the guiding light?

There is a quote attributed to Sigmund Freud about love and work as essential components to being. It's unverified but widely referenced in many blogs and psychology sites. The citation reads, 'Love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness.' Whoever the true author of this quote might be, did not need Freud to legitimize their idea. It's accurate enough, and most people would agree - love and work drive everything in life. There would be no joy without it. Love gives the reason, and work provides the purpose. But to find the reason and purpose of life is the challenge.

One of the earliest memories I have from when I was very young, took place in the very room I now call my study. Back then, it was my father's bedroom. During summer breaks I would live with him, and we would share the same room. One evening I woke up to a blinding light. My father was asleep; his light snores in rhythm with his breathing. His broad back was the only thing I could see through the flat and endless white. I was scared to move but desperate to wake my father. Making minimal movement, I dug my nails into his skin, but he kept on snoring. My thoughts replayed stories about ghosts and other paranormal beings, and I believed in those moments something had come for me. I dug my nails deeper, but I was alone with the empty white. 

When I think of this night, the story of the giant bird said to have terrorized this town a long time ago also comes to mind. I can no longer remember where I heard this story or from whom, but the images this created has remained vivid in my mind. The bird came down from the mountains and would fly over the houses, its wings spanning the width of the roads. The majestic flaps of its spread can be heard from a great distance, long before it was spotted. The people lived with this menacing presence for many years until some men were able to capture and kill it. Unlike the white light in my father's room, this story of the bird did not frighten me. Instead, I mourned the animal's death. Ending the life of such a rare creature seemed to me, like a portal to another world had been closed forever.

 
 
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The fear of the unpaved road is similar to the fear both stories evoke. Realizing this, I now understand the connection between the two stories and why both go hand in hand in my mind. Both the bird and the bright presence represent something beyond grasp, a crossover from somewhere beyond comprehension. To kill the bird was to conquer fear, not of the bird but of the limitless mysteries of life. The bird disrupted the peace and hinted at something beyond the municipality. My younger self had a more passive approach; I tried to will away the white. I shrunk myself against my father and closed my eyes until I fell into a tormented dream.

In my solitude, my comfort lives in the sky, millions of miles away perceptible only as a soft light on a clear night. Polaris has existed thousands of years before my realization, and it will continue to do so well after. My purpose still alludes me, but the reason to keep the search is clear. With the spinning axis, I humbly contribute to the mortal coil all the small discoveries and the paths I took to get there. I spin with the earth's spindle, along with everything beautiful and grim. Everything is righted in time as sure as death follows life. Throughout centuries, Polaris has been our cardinal spectacle - seeing the world through the ebbs and flow of life: creation and destruction, life and death, conquests and loss. 

To find Polaris, you need first to locate the Ursa Minor (Little Dipper) and Ursa Major (Big Dipper). Near the tip of the Ursa Minor’s handle and directly above the basin of the Ursa Major is Polaris. 

Our ancestors used this same beacon when crossing oceans and land. Moved by the need to know, overriding fear and guided by the principle direction, people were able to find their way. There are moments in life when the ability to use the compass is forgotten. But the compass is there. One only need to regard the evening canvas - know it, map it, understand the great macro, to know one’s position.

 

This text was submitted for inclusion in the second volume of TRAFFIC due for release later this year. TRAFFIC is the joint publication of MIKI LTD. and Project Space Pilipinas (PSP).For more information, please visit: https://www.facebook.com/trafficbooks/

 

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