Tuesday, 25 October 2011

more oppenheim

"Oppenheim’s verbal ”Self- portrait from 50.000 BC to X” (1980), the last of her published poems, maybe to be considered as her final stance. The poem starts with the feet. In a stalactite cave, naked feet washed by the warm currents of a prehistoric sea stand on stone, worn down by many steps. The poem then proceeds upwards until it reaches a stomach full of bear’s meat, and goes on towards her breasts and arms, covered with scales of leather armour. It ends with her hands, holding a white turtle, made of marble. 11 The person in the poem looks on red walls surrounding a distant city. Finally, the poem reaches the head, where thoughts buzz as in a beehive. The thoughts are shut in, whereas the thinking person is shut out, looking at the promised city from afar. All this can be understood as a comment on the position of women in the surrealist group or the world of art, and so far the poem deals with identity and self. From then on the focus shifts towards ideas in history, and the passing of time. The person in the poem writes her thoughts down, but the fire of the library of Alexandria consumes the written text, and a black serpent with a white head, kept at a museum in Paris, is also lost in a fire. The apocalyptic atmosphere is enhanced in the last stanzas where all the thoughts of the world circle the earth in a colossal sphere of ideas. The earth explodes, the sphere is shattered, and the thoughts are spread out into the universe, continuing to exist on other planets. 12

This poem travels from toes to thoughts, and encounter many of the elements often used in Oppenheim’s artistic work to explore the relation between touch and ideas. The sense of womb-warm water against skin and stone reappears in Steinfrau (Stone Woman, 1938), an oil-painting of some boulders in the form of a woman resting on the shore with her feet in a passing stream; strange and abundant food, but sea-food rather than bear-meat, forms an essential part of her Frühlingsfest (Spring Banquet, 1959); and the protective clothing borrowed or robbed from animals––made of fur, hide or feathers––returns in various items, often masks and ornaments, of fur or feather, and the serpent, preferably the simultaneously black and white snake, is another powerful symbol in her artistic work.13"

"Fingertip Knowledge" Elizabeth Mansen

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