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Surfing Mantis

Stillness and menacing

by Hugo Ticciati

Surfing Mantis

While I was browsing the O/Modernt archive of images I came across the Surfing Mantis by former festival photographer Jose Pesquero Gomez.

In ancient Greece the mantis had the power to restore lost travellers to their homeward paths, while in ancient Egypt this amazing insect was a minor deity, charged with leading the souls of the dead to the underworld. Today the mantis has a double-edged significance: on the one hand it is a symbol for stillness and intuitive patience; on the other, it is a menacing, alien-like creature with famed sexual habits. The exotic combination of welcome guide, self-aware observer and gorgeously fearsome alien may be just what we need to help us to navigate our way back to the cultural activities that have for the most part lain dormant these past months. Perhaps it can teach us how not to get lost in the social noise that will inevitably begin its crescendo, but instead to remain constant to the still, small voice within us that has been heard with greater clarity in recent times.

The interface between that enveloping clamour and the crafted sounds of music is the subject of an intriguing study by Jacques Attali: Noise … The Political Economy of Music (1985). Attali analyses the way the particular forms that music takes at any moment in history are due in large part to the special pressures imposed by the society in which that music is created. From the very outset, a principal concern for O/Modernt has been to cut through temporal and geographical barriers in order to reinvent such particularity through imaginative programming. Like the guiding mantis, O/Modernt’s artistic juxtapositions are intended to promote active, even co-creative listening and to reawaken in us the stillness that is the ‘already and always’ present.

Music is born from the silence to which it returns – a point made most eloquently by Arvo Pärt, who patiently waited a decade for the birth of his tintinnabular style, and once commented that his music was brought into being in order to surround the silence which is at its heart. The power of silence has been unexpectedly revealed in the past few months, after the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has placed live musical performance into a state of silent suspended animation. It’s been a difficult period for everyone. The widespread illness and loss of life has been terribly painful, and our hearts go out to all those who have suffered. A degree of stoicism has been needed to help us get through these challenging months, and like the mantis, who never makes a move until it is certain that the time is right, we must quietly wait and watch before we can again spring forward. When public creativity eventually returns to our lives, however, it will be fascinating to see what kinds of new artistic forms the particular circumstances of recent times will bring into being, and how audiences and performers will respond to the resumption of musical life – another homeward journey, but also another mantis-like leap!

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