A Mail Art Collaboration
DRAGONS poems by Guido Vermeulen story and images by Martha Aitchison with an introduccion by Gianni Simone
GUIDO VERMEULEN Belgian poet. Creator of Friour Network Magazine which started as a reaction against the war in Iraq. Friour is ‘the result of crossovers between different networks and a shared zine, meaning that several editors from these different network environments could make an issue around a theme’, he explains. The Dragon poems were written for issue 3, ‘Finding Myths for a Lost Time’ co-edited with Marisa Antonaya, a Spanish artist at present living in Thailand. MARTHA AITCHISON Artist, born in Argentina now living in London. Curator of the Shopping Trolley Gallery, a display of artwork on the trolley that carries the family shopping from the supermarket to her home. The purpose of this mobile installation-cum-performance is to open Mail Art to the public or , as she puts it, ‘to inflict Mail Art on innocent bystanders’. She wrote the story of Drac just for fun, an activity in which she indulges occasionally as antidote for the sorry state of this world. The Dragon images in this book were her contribution to Friour 3, in homage to all the Gods that lay forgotten in the collective unconscious of humanity. GIANNI SIMONE Italian artist living and working in Japan. Editor of Kairan, an open format magazine dedicated to the discussion of Mail Art topics. Kairan, that is ‘read and pass on’ in Japanese, means exactly that but also it means that it can be freely photocopied and redistributed. It is the successor of Numero, the Mail Art zine that was edited by Wilfried Nold for many years. A very outspoken editor, contributing at times somewhat explosive arguments, Gianni joins actively in the discussions in every issue. After all, as he says, the privilege of being editor is that ‘this way nobody will be able to tell me to shut up’
random notes on home-made mythology
I am a Dragon. I mean, I was born in 1964, which according to the Chinese zodiac is the Year of the Dragon. It’s a pretty good sign: differently from European mythology, which likes to picture dragons as evil monsters that eventually must succumb to some righteous Christian hero, Eastern Asians consider them as good fellows, and have imbued them with a number of positive values. Unfortunately I’ve never seen a dragon myself, and I’ve never found any evidence of their existence, apart from the Land of the Heavenly Dragon (LaHD), that was briefly a member of the International Mail Art Council of Virtual Lands (IMACOVL) before being overthrown by a revolution (the Lord of LaHD was not exactly a democratic ruler). That’s why I was very surprised and envious when I heard that Martha Aitchison had a dragon living in her frog pond. I wonder why these things always happen to other people It’s not that Martha doesn’t deserve it, mind you. After all, her Buddhist faith probably makes her the right person to be blessed with such a gift. In her own words, Buddhism is “an eminently logical system to make sense of life”. Therefore I guess that only someone who embraces “religious logic” – and a “good”, peaceful religion like Buddhism - is able to see dragons… Of course when I say ‘religion’, I do not necessarily mean the commonly accepted, organised cults. Everybody can have his or her personal approach to this subject. Take, for example, Guido Vermeulen. He is constantly playing with signs, stones, snakes, tur-
So it was just natural for Martha and Guido to collaborate on this book, originally thought as a contribution to a project on New Myths (part of Guido’s activities with his Friour Network Magazine). I wanted to comment on these poems and graphics, but then I realized that explaining or judging religion, mythology, or whatever you want to call this (I’d say ‘poetry’), would be like rationalising on something that must be felt more than understood. The only thing I want to stress is the lesson that Martha and Guido are trying to teach us: do not try to change things according f course when I say ‘religion’, I do not necessarily mean the commonly accepted, organised cults. Everybody can have his or her personal approach to this subject. Take, for example, Guido Vermeulen. He is constantly playing with signs, stones, snakes, turtles, what have you, always stressing the humorous side of things (burping Buddhas, anyone?), always avoiding the pompousness of the holier-than-thou defenders of orthodoxy. So it was just natural for Martha and Guido to collaborate on this book, originally thought as a contribution to a project on New Myths (part of Guido’s activities with his Friour Network Magazine). I wanted to comment on these poems and graphics, but then I realized that explaining or judging religion, mythology, or whatever you want to call this (I’d say ‘poetry’), would be like rationalising on something that must be felt more than understood. The only thing I want to stress is the lesson that Martha and Guido are trying to teach us: do not try to change things according to your selfish needs, but rather reduce your ego and try to blend with the world. As for me, unfortunately I’m too rational and materialistic to see dragons. So I guess I should be content with this magical, thoughtprovoking, dream-inspiring collection.
Gianni Simone April 2004
THE STORY OF DRAC or how a Celtic dragon from France came to live in England
Dear Reader; If you are sitting comfortably I shall tell you the story of St. Enimie as it was related in a long 13th century poem by the French troubadour Bertrand de Marseille and of its outcome in our times by the intervention of Martha the First of Artsnalia *, Protector of Everything that Crawls, as told to me by Herself. Once upon a time Clotaire the Third, King of the Francs, lived happily with his son, Dagobert, later famous as a king because of his pants, and his daughter, Enimie. The Princess like all princesses was very beautiful, so much so that men just would not leave her a moment alone; we know how she felt, we had the same trouble when we were a young princess. Anyhow she got so tired of her suitors that she began to pray for some relief from all this unwanted attention. An angel appeared in answer to her prayer and immediately solved her problem by giving her leprosy. The ungrateful girl was not happy with this solution, neat as it was, and decided to try the waters of a spring renown for its health giving properties, far away South, near the river Tarn. Accompanied by a few courtiers she travelled for days on horseback, completely covered up not to frighten the horses, until she reached the village where the miraculous spring was. Here she rested and bathed and immediately her skin was healed and she was as beautiful as she had always been.
* The Queendom of Artsnalia eventually conquered
Cloudcuckooland, populated by dreamers, to form what is now the United Queendom of Retailia.
The next day the Royal party began the journey back but as soon as they left the village the leprosy took again hold of the Princess and they had to return for Enimie to have another wash. This happened three times as is traditional in these stories after which everybody got tired of the washing and drying, the packing and unpacking, the saddling and unsaddling and decided to stay put. The Princess realised that she should better make a virtue of necessity and, not wanting to appear ungrateful after her previous experience, decided to build a monastery and live there for the rest of her life, which would solve the problem of the suitors as well. Princess and courtiers started on this task with great enthusiasm drafting in as well the local labour force and even a hermit by the name of Hilaire who lived in a cave on the rocky canyon cut by the Tarn. It came to pass that the resident Dragon of that river used to sleep soundly all day long on the river bed until the evening, tired from working night after night at making rain to water the crops. As the sun set he would stretch and yawn getting ready for his nightly duties and it was then that the flick of his tail would catch on the construction work. So, as fast as the building went up by day, just as fast it was destroyed by night. We know the Tarn very well because we row there in the Royal Canoe and the particular spot Enimie had chosen for her monastery nests in a tight curve of the river, where it narrows into fast rapids difficult to negotiate in a canoe, Royal or otherwise, we would say a feat quite impossible to do if we had a tail.
Drac, which was the name of the Dragon in the local occitane language, did apologise when he realised what was happening and moved up the Tarn where conditions were better for take off and landing, but the harm was done. Enimie was very angry and asked Hilaire the Hermit to deal with Drac. Hilaire was convinced that the Dragon was the devil himself sent to torment him. One day the combat between the two took place and was long and bloody. It all finished with the Dragon buried under a stone, the hermit becoming St Hilaire and the Princess becoming St Enimie. As to the moral of this tale, well, we leave it for you to figure out. We decided it was our royal duty to set out to liberate the misunderstood Drac, the old Celtic water spirit. On September 12th, 2002, the final stage of the campaign started. We found the rock under which Drac was buried and recited an ancient incantation passed down from Merlin to certain members of our Royal family, just to loosen the stone. That evening, also chanting the incantation, we entered the Tarn and collected some water in a bottle, which was subsequently placed, open, on a table by the window of the Royal chamber at the Manor where our Royal party was staying. During the night a mighty storm broke up, with much lighting and
thunder, as Drac condensed himself into an invisible mass and entered the bottle. Dragons can turn themselves very small or expand to fill the sky, the universe, even your mind, if you are lucky. In the morning, with the bottled Dragon safely secreted in the Royal luggage, we left to return home. In the way we stopped at the village where it all happened. There we announced to Saint Enemie that we had bestowed on Drac the official status of refugee in our Queendom, with the option of becoming a naturalised artsnailian in due time, to which she said she had forgiven him a long time ago and hoped he would be happy ever after. Enimie added she wished Drac would send her a postcard.
Back in our Realm of Artsnalia in a beautiful ceremony in the rain, Drac was installed in the frog pond to which he took like a dragon to water, and he lives there now, happily ever after as they say.
He has given up eating virgins, as they are in rather short supply anyway, and has become a vegetarian. Frogs, foxes, snails, hedgehogs and all our faithful subjects, including cats, have accepted him without reservations. This is what Her Majesty told me, dear Reader, and then it came to pass that a troubadour, Martrand of Beckenham, chanced to arrive in her Queendom and learned of this tale, so he made a revised edition of Bertrandâ€™s poem finishing on a more optimistic note. Out of Artsnalia came Martha the Bold And with an incantation from Merlin old The wronged Drac she did set free To abide in her Realm in mirth and glee.
Martha Aitchison April 2004
I'm burning all the letters I never wrote while waiting at a bus stop where no bus came. It was past midnight & the owls were on the loose. Don't come any closer, said the shadow to the tree. You are already there but you don't know it yet. Driving was never an option for me. I preferred walking on thin air, asking the same old questions to the next dragon that became visible when I touched the sky. Just rub the skin to restore the wonders frozen in a cloud. Are you still Are you still hiding Are you still hiding your secret treasure? my running shoes were stuttering madly. You mean the fertility of peace, laughed REDTAIL wild. Do people still look for that like little kids for candy? They better stop hunting ghosts in caves and water holes. It's just lurking around the corner of their lonely hearts. The foxes can guide them but of course they target larks. Well, war is a warrior that dies slowly. It's in the hard to handle genes of habits and habitats. Oh war is only a word, my friend, explained GREENWING. You can destroy its vowels & syllables so easily, just whisper "piece" to any Jill or Jack you meet.
But some are tone deaf or they are unable to hear the beating of the sounds. Unplug their ears and if that does not help put them all together on an isle & let them fight it out with broomsticks and phoenix feathers or let them organize a silly tune contest, BLUEWORM was suggesting.
What about the clocks & locks? Smash them, smash them all. Burn all timetables, just like those letters you never wrote, hissed GREYHOUND & throw away your keys. Use instead the windows as doors. A poem is a window, dear Dragons. A window in a window in a window, the foursome corrected me. Guido Vermeulen May 2003
A body drops from reminiscence to earth when the crow barks black away of a sundial without conscience. The birdman leaves the robbed nest. The last dragon's egg lies hidden under a burned rock. Looking for the vanished garden became a stumbling-block through the window with view on lonely sand. Once we were neighbours, the volcano claims. Congealed lava is the grey proof that even an ending ends.
The letter never reached its destiny. The feathers were only mailed. The rent of stuffed savagery was cancelled. Tame bullets never died of hunger But became ill of gluttony in the kitchen of the white house where unusually usual & cleverly clumsy served the umpteenth plate of dead as a necessity for fake freedom.
Cruelly disturbed its shadow perishes in agony. Shrieking with laughter the lunatic asks for a single name. Peace blows Lazarus and this is not his last breath. If history repeats itself it's only in the concatenation of my underestimation in the dragon's reservation. Where go we go from here, whistled incognito. I'm building an egg incubator in the mountains of my desires, a real incubus for cluster bombs and buster shelters. Patience is the shell of heroes with wildfire visions. Patience is the flame of stones. Guido Vermeulen May 2003
DRAGON IN A BOTTLE (our hope lies in the inner core of the sun) to Martha & Mariko
I go MAD! Viewing the reliability of the mountain ridge tears start falling from the moon making a bridge to my eyes seeing the frozen dragon in the landscape. Dragon, dragon lost, dragon loose, let me caress the mourning-band of your dorsal mornings, let me count the rings of trees and swallow rocks to modulate my voice, let me talk to little owl fooling men it only rains because the roof is leaking. The truth of course according to the sun is that there is NO ROOF. Dragons have a tendency to blend in with home gardens, Buddha's belly burped. Follow the example: reduce your size so much it becomes that small it becomes invisible so invulnerable.
Do we really need more protection? It's not what we need, it's what they need! Don't try to be Apollo, be like the planets for once in your life. How? Learn from the foxes in Martha's garden. They will lead you to the open place where we all can drink Kanaloa's water. Sure, this could kill us but sometimes you have to die to be reborn. Mariko nodded & poured Kane's water in a bottle, threw the cap towards Selene, waiting for the waves to wash the war-dance out. Silence told her that the tiny dragon had entered the bottle by dawn. She picked it up, felt the heath & tossed it to the sky as lucky coin. The bottle capsule was growing wings & making music from escaping air. The levitation did not imitate Icarus.
The slow approach only intended to melt the glass cell. Freed again laughter exploded till it chased the atoms in the cover of the stones supplying sleep inside the circles of the grass. Daily rituals: Listen to the songs of stones born from dragon's breath. Walk with stones in your pockets. Introduce them to the aliens. Wear stones around your neck. Throw one in a pond to save the witches. They float so one witch will be able to save you all. The edge now has become so near we need to clear the earth from fire's absence. (oh yes, our hope lies in the inner core of the sun) Guido Vermeulen May 2003
Motionless the green imitates a standstill. In no hurry it lets the will of the wind play with insects so shadow ready sunspots can cheat my eyes. While the fountain rhymes antics between the breasts of the dancer at the edge I tumble over my erased page. Almost invisible she passes by but not entirely epic. The tangent plane of unintentional being is an air bike against the sadness of our mummified existence. Gum-resin decomposes in a quiet corner & discolors hope, beckons to towers of empty churches purple deep. Oh yes, the bells still are terrible liars these days. The duck swims imperturbably to the plate of displeasure in the pubs across the ocean, an invitation to feel different in the tossing of just another scorched earth. The mask of the leaf falls economically from the lips. I'm gasping - She screams - We became orphans once the dragons were expelled at the footprints of the tree.
The mask of the leaf falls economically from the lips. I'm gasping - She screams - We became orphans once the dragons were expelled at the footprints of the tree. The original value is a child that grumbles when you blow fire bubbles on her belly.
She runs away, the little girl, while she blinks roguishly with her demon eyes. Only I don't know yet if that means it is time to freeze or to bring wings to the homeless roots on which I chewed already before my parents were born in the forced condition of total silence. I challenged them with my appearance pledge when they died beyond the snow-line. Still daily I greet their hill grave and go to sleep at their lover's bed. Their deathlike hush cracks so loud it becomes audible from Brussels to London to Baghdad. Guido Vermeulen May 2003
Book Designed by MailArtMartha March 2012
A Mail Art collaboration with poems by Guido Vermeulen and a fairy story by MailArtMartha, with an introduction by Gianni Simone.