Friday, 10 January 2014

Heart of Darkness

I've been immersed in Heart of Darkness over the past months, analysing the text and various criticisms, researching African art, learning about Joseph Conrad and his life, filling a sketchbook with drawings and notes...

These are some of the illustrations I made:

This is from a part of the book where the steamboat is described as being like a grimy beetle crawling the floor of a lofty portico. The sense of scale is immense. The Europeans are so small in their little boat and so disconnected from the vast culture and nature around them. Drawn in brush pen, mapping pen, rapidograph, and ink wash sprinkled with salt (while listening to an Alan Watts lecture).
I really wanted to play more with different viewpoints...this illustration is from the part where Marlow wanders into the "grove of death" where the exhausted slaves are dying under the trees. He notices a piece of white worsted tied around the neck of one of the slaves, and wonders what on earth this piece of material from European shores is doing in the Congo, and what it means for it to be around his neck.

Conrad describes the knitter's dress in Chapter 1 as being made from a plain fabric like umbrella my illustration I've taken a few liberties and given it a "rained on" quality. I think the idea is that they are impervious; nothing can stop the progress of their knitting. They are the Fates, possessing power over everyone who passes through their chamber, measuring out their lives in black wool.

Conrad imagined the universe as an infernal knitting machine:

“There is a – let us say – a machine. It evolved itself (I am severely scientific) out of a chaos of scraps of iron and behold! – it knits. I am horrified at the horrible work and stand appalled. I feel it ought to embroider – but it goes on knitting. You come and say: “this is all right; it’s only a question of the right kind of oil. Let us use this – for instance – celestial oil and the machine shall embroider a most beautiful design in purple and gold”. Will it? Alas no. You cannot by any special lubrication make embroidery with a knitting machine. And the most withering thought is that the infamous thing has made itself; made itself without thought, without conscience, without foresight, without eyes, without heart. It is a tragic accident – and it has happened. You can’t interfere with it. The last drop of bitterness is in the suspicion that you can’t even smash it. In virtue of that truth one and immortal which lurks in the force that made it spring into existence it is what it is – and it is indestructible!
It knits us in and it knits us out. It has knitted time space, pain, death, corruption, despair and all the illusions – and nothing matters. I’ll admit however that to look at the remorseless process is sometimes amusing.”  
                                                                              - Joseph Conrad

(speculative cover design based on the character of the Harlequin and a colonial map of Africa)

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