Photo credit: Ranjit Chettur

Between the dawn and the dark of night

Susan Mathews

The title is a line from the song ‘Ripple’ by the Grateful Dead and the result of a magical collusion between Jerry Garcia’s music and Robert Hunter’s lyrics. The song appeared in the album American Beauty released in 1970 and it was my own glorious introduction to the band. Stirring, melodic and haunting, the lyrics embrace paradox, contradiction, and non-duality. This is particularly evident in the refrain, a lovely haiku:

“Ripple in still water
When there is no pebble tossed
Nor wind to blow”

Dark ‘n’ Light was conceived during the pandemic. It is a riddle, a koan, embodying dancing and stillness. Our projects are odes to nature, to the arts, to science, to social justice and to culture. Initially, we wanted to call our collaborations inter or multi-disciplinary, but in the end, we just found the word ‘discipline’ too restrictive and territorial.

For now, Dark ‘n’ Light is best described as a creative space for ‘experimental entanglements,’ a term coined by Des Fitzgerald and Felicity Callard.

‘Experimental entanglements’ is their term for more contingent, unstable, fleeting exchanges and finding spaces between disciplines and fields. They describe it perfectly as, there is strikingly little attention to how methodological novelty, serendipity and contingency might conjure a more constructive space of shared collaboration.

Most of our projects will take their time. We are not a perpetual content machine. A few things will be published consistently — our blog posts and our podcast episodes — but for the rest, it will be slow and fine-tuned. We may get distracted and go down some rabbit holes, and there will be surprises along the way. The artwork in Animal Origami took months to script and draw, but the duration of the film is just over 90 seconds, so you can do the math.

The other word in experimental entanglements is ‘experimental’. The projects will often be bricolage, temporary assemblages, arising from modest, awkward, messy encounters, and excess.

The experiment allows us to peer into those messy spaces before we inevitably impose our own human orders, hierarchies, and organization. There will also be hits and misses, failures, unfinished or incomplete work. We don’t want to waste anything so whatever the form or shape, we will find a place to share it or take things further or in unexpected directions.

We are not looking to tie up everything in a neat bow. The nineteenth-century English poet John Keats introduced the term ‘negative capability’ which really speaks to an open, receptive stance and an acceptance of the unknown. Writing to his brothers, George and Thomas, in December 1817 he describes it as "being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason." Given the uncertainty that now pervades our lives, I would suggest a reading of his famous Ode to a Nightingale, a poem I read in my school days. Keats lost most of his family members to tuberculosis and the disease ultimately took his life in 1820, at the age of 25.

His letters have been preserved and one I really enjoyed was to John Taylor, in February 1818, titled On Axioms and the Surprise of Poetry, where he writes, "I think poetry should surprise by a fine excess and not by singularity". He went on to say, "Touches of beauty should never be halfway thereby making the reader breathless instead of content".

We hope to showcase a lot of poetry in our projects, but I think these axioms also provide a compass for all our endeavours. May they surprise by fine excess and make our audience breathless instead of content.

Calling this space Dark ‘n’ Light was inspired not just by the laws of optics and different traditions of visual consciousness. Darkness, light, shade, and its play lend themselves to rich symbolism and metaphorical meaning, something we will reflect on in our projects.

While light is viewed as illuminating, revealing, purifying, and enlightening, it is darkness that holds the potential for all form and creation, a matrix of infinite possibilities. As Rainer Maria Rilke said in You Darkness (translated by David Whyte):

“But darkness holds it all:
the shape and the flame
the animal and myself,
how it holds them
all powers-all sight”

Our journey is just beginning with Dark ‘n’ Light and the only way to go down this path is to walk it. So let me end this post with a few more lines from ‘Ripple’.

“There is a road, no simple highway
Between the dawn and the dark of night
And if you go, no one may follow
That path is for your steps alone.”