The rain forest is a impious Mass whose chords have nothing to do with human music.
Standing at the easel studying the landscape, I realize that converting this visual cacophony into an “artistic composition” requires willful incomprehension. There is no subject here, only a density of detail. Dynamic lines and suggestive forms abound, but to comb clarity from the tangle, to make the impure immaculate, is to misconstrue. People like to differentiate and rank to make order; it is said to be an ancient need to differentiate prey from camouflage or a modern need to build the ego by distinguishing it from everything else. But these evolutionary strategies and psychological accommodations do not separate fact from fiction. The truth about art is here in the rainforest; the world is competitive chaos and artworks that represent the world as a series of discreet and understandable moments are lies. And artists are nothing more than agents of denial and perpetrators of delusion!
It would be treachery to represent this in the traditional manner, and isolate a few forms from the morass and enshrine them in layers of smoothly unfolding space. No, the truth is that there is little middle ground or deep space in the jungle. All is compressed into a block of foreground which is itself sliced into infinite parallel planes, each with it’s own drama.
It’s deceitful to separate the mist…
from the leaf,
or the leaf from the butterfly,
or the butterfly from the light,
or the light from the water,
or the water from the root,
or the root from the tree,
or the tree from the owl,
or the owl from the prey. Making a comprehensive picture of this anarchy is impossible. This is all too much. I’m overwhelmed. I’m going to lunch. Damn, I stepped on the grasshopper.
This morning a million red-bottomed ants hurry to the forest floor via the highway. The opposing 4 lanes of this 8 lane intrastate are not side by side, but superimposed, so on-coming traffic is either dodged or mounted. Dead leaves, whose empty veins are the last to rot, pave the road in slippery shades. A finger sized stick, stripped and smooth on one end and flowering with mold on the other, is easily traversed by this living stream of air breathing invertebrates, who hook and climb in unison to make a knobby ribbon of thoraxes and abdomens that arc over the cylinder on six-times-a-million legs.
Upon arrival they spread out to recover the dead and pillage the living. A squad reconnoiters a lace-winged grasshopper crushed by a careless human step. Since the carcass is too large to recover whole, a division of labor is imposed and an artful dismemberment is commenced. The juice of the head is already being sucked by a dozen small beetles, so labor is focused on removing the legs and sectioning the abdomen for transport. Within an hour nothing but a little stain is left and the red-assed squad is headed to base carrying a hind leg. Since the limb is awkwardly long and the serrations along its length catch easily, the load is assigned to three ants who enter traffic carrying the leg like a telephone pole on an eighteen-wheeler. Up to speed in the cruising lane, the leg-transport team is passed by a speeding group of eight who carry a whole millipede raised like the Madonna in a holy day procession. All march safely home and the forest floor is swept clear for the next bit of protein to fall.