Must One Kiss
The Sleeping Beauty Woke,
The spit began to turn,
The Woodmen cleared the brake,
The Gardener mowed the lawn,
Woe’s me! And must one kiss,
Revoke the silent house,
The birdsong wilderness?
Sylvia Townsend Warner
Warner’s interpretation of Sleeping Beauty, as described further in Ursula le Guin’s short essay The Wilderness Within feels refreshing and relevant. So different from the traditional reading of the Prince as saviour, as the only happy ending; the return to normality; the full sway of a busy household and a princess happily married, humans progressing in their daily endeavours.
This contemplation of the value of the pause, the beauty in ‘the silent house, the birdsong wilderness’, resonates with the time we find ourselves in. The pandemic has forced a global pause, and although there are devastating effects of Covid-19, both on humans and the environment, the reduction in movement and activity has given wilderness a chance to revive.
Contemplating this pause, the value of allowing wilderness to possess some time of its own, ‘Must One Kiss’ sees a bronze cast chess set made of plants placed within an abandoned and overgrown stone quarry. Plants have sprung up across the vast pits, and the trace of human activity is slowly giving in to wild undergrowth. The chess game is a poetic suggestion of time passing and the perception of varying time scales, the pace of the Universal unfolding far slower than that which we relate to in our own life times; the interconnectedness of material through process and elemental transformation; the relationship between humans with each other and with their environment, through the tactile appreciation of the bronze pieces and the engagement with the disused quarry; and the choices we make as time progresses, reflected through the simple narrative and each move made in the game, and asking the viewer to consider the alternative choices we have in the remobilisation of life as we knew it.
The slow enactment of a game takes place, neither player present simultaneously, hesitant to interact, connected by the object and yet separated by time and space. These sentiments are prevalent in the time we are living through, our communication continuous and yet stilted through social media and technology, and our desires to connect as strong as ever and yet suspended by a forced separation imposed by the fears of the virus.
The chess set was made by the artist during the first 2020 lockdown, from foraged local plants, the modelling of the pieces using natural beeswax, to the bronze casting using the lost-wax process, executed using the same principles employed since over 4000 years ago.
The entanglement through material manipulation and time scale is vividly present. The interconnectedness of Earthly elements and life is captured in the casting process-plants, bees, wax, water, ceramic, gas, fire, rock, copper, etc provided by the Earth are combined by humans.
There a tension presented by the bronze pieces, a tension in the desire for wilderness to hold its living freedom and yet cast at the will of the human into immortal and lifeless metal.