Labyrinths fascinate me. To the purist, labyrinths are different from mazes. Mazes have multi-paths within them and dead ends, which can create fear, frustration and confusion, a bit like being lost without a map. Labyrinths, on the other hand, have one pathway, and therein for me, lies their beauty, intrigue, intimacy and metaphor. You cannot get lost within a labyrinth. You may fear the next twist and turn in the route, and take a moment to decide whether to follow, but you cannot get lost. The way in is the way out, a birthing process. A unique route with the still small centre at its heart, a breathing space. The labyrinth has recently been used as the inspiration for an ‘Art on the Underground’ commission by artist Mark Wallinger.
‘Art on the Underground labyrinths’ by Mark Wallinger, photos taken by me.
You could maybe accuse the labyrinth of being the serious cousin of the more playful maze…
Westbury comments in, Labyrinths; Ancient Paths of Wisdom and Peace, that ‘the only truth about labyrinths is that they contain no one truth….’.[i]
That there is no one truth is the labyrinth’s endless fascination, which draws me into its centre every time. In lieu of reliable dating, there are many theories, stories, and myths surrounding this ancient form and how and why it came to be. Some say labyrinths were celebratory. Others that they have spiritual and religious connotations. Others that they are associated with ritual and the powerful rites of passage that mark our human journey through this world – birth, sex, coupling, fertility and death. Others that they were early calendars or even sundials.
‘Labirinto do Outeiro do Cribo, A Armenteira, Meis, Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain. Possibly dating from as early as the Bronze Age (though rock carvings are notoriously difficult to date with certainty).’ Image from Wikipedia.
Part of the mystery enshrouding the oldest labyrinths is that they share a commonality of design across most of the continents of the world. This same ancient universal pattern has been found carved into rocks in Europe, Russia, the Middle East, North Africa, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and the North and South Americas. How did this same design traverse the ancient world? Was it through trading routes? Or by some other means? There are no answers, as yet, to this mystery that goes to the heart of the labyrinth.
Labyrinths are also linked to the feminine – the goddess within the labyrinth with its womblike centre. Its curved and sensuous lines perhaps evoking more feminine forms.
So, it seemed fitting to use the labyrinthine form as a starting point for this exhibition inspired by my mother and my grandmother. The labyrinth was a way of putting pen to paper, a way of beginning to draw. I played around with ideas of two labyrinths next to one another and then inside one another, independent of one another, and yet encapsulated together, like the matryoshka herself.
Pulling together the two forms of the labyrinth and the nesting doll, I settled on this design as a motif for the exhibition.
[i] Westbury, V., Labyrinths; Ancient Paths of Wisdom and Peace, Aurum Press Ltd, 2001