I first saw William Blake’s painting, The Spiritual Form of Nelson Guiding the Leviathon, way back in 2007, on a visit to a workshop in the Tate Britain. The image would not leave me. I saw the writhing bodies squirming in and out of the labyrinthine form of the Leviathon, the sea monster, the nearly naked form of Horatio Nelson standing on the back of a crouching black man. And I thought of all the suffering of these different peoples all around this planet of ours, in order to create wealth. Even the Tate itself, purveyor of art to the masses, would have not existed but for slavery, based in and on the sale of sugar, again based in and on the Slave Trade.
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
“The statement means that in every interaction, there is a pair of forces acting on the two interacting objects. The size of the forces on the first object equals the size of the force on the second object. The direction of the force on the first object is opposite to the direction of the force on the second object. Forces always come in pairs – equal and opposite action-reaction force pairs.”
This is Newton’s Third Law of Motion, and I wonder if this can be applied to actions in political and economic history, such as Slave Trade. I don’t know, but I question it. It somehow feels as if we have built our civilization on moral quicksand, almost as if I had personally murdered someone in order to have the standard of living I now have. William Blake’s tempera painting, with the ‘spiritual form of ‘ Horatio Nelson, the loci of British courage, heroism and valour, standing on the back of a crouching African, reminds us what happened, ‘lest we forget’.
“Firstly you must always implicitly obey orders, without attempting to form any opinion of your own regarding their propriety. Secondly, you must consider every man your enemy who speaks ill of your king; and thirdly you must hate a Frenchman as you hate the devil”
Horatio Nelson to a midshipman aboard the Agamemnon (1793).
I had been thinking about how Great Britain became wealthy in the first place, how this was via the slave trade, and how Horatio Nelson defended this power on the world stage. Slavery created great power and wealth for the powers that were [and are] so, in order to become a world power, to create wealth, someone benefits and someone loses. Slavery, devoid of morality, was a logical means of creating wealth and it was of course morally unsound. To see another human being as a lesser mortal was expedient. Wealth creation on that scale based on logic, rational and expedient thinking – see today’s algorithms which control movement of capital in the stock exchange – but is immoral, as the consequences on the planet and human life and living standards of the ‘ordinary man’ are not part of the equation. Morality is not part of an algorithm.
I love icons, they emanate something directly to my heart. I can deconstruct Christianity, see how it has been and can be used as a tool of politics and control, yet, Christian icons bypass the literature somehow.
I think of the dark side of Christianity and I think of the young girl from Nazareth, who, by a trick of history became a focus of veneration throughout the world, and, imagine that if she actually existed, she might just look on and weep.
I think that this painting is about fear.
This is a ‘What am I?’ painting and is just showing a physicality, and this one wonders what she is doing and where she is going.
Again, she is wondering what to do…
‘Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them?’
I think that the fish represents Christian ethics and values and the snake, knowledge.
I look at the world today, at our cultural values, codes of ethics and the confusion therein. There seems to be a criss-crossing of multitudinous interconnections, inferences, influences, and so very much history and I wonder about it all.