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Exploring the Divided Brain

Finding Blake creator and filmmaker James Murray-White checks in from a four-day retreat in Tewksbury, where he’s been Exploring the Divided Brain with fellow participants and been sharing Finding Blake.


I’ve been lucky to have been invited to come and film this deep immersion into the divided brain with renowned neurosceptic philosopher and noted Blakean Iain McGilchrist.

Organised by powerhouse trainer and facilitator Samantha Field of Field & Field, this retreat has run for the past four years, and participants gather for four days to go on a deep journey with Iain into the thinking and research behind his work looking at our divided brain hemispheres, its relevance to modern life, and the implications of left-hemisphere dominance for our humanity, health, and happiness.

Iain McGilchrist with James Murray-White
Iain McGilchrist with James Murray-White at Exploring the Divided Brain.

Iain has been taking us on a journey through fourteen detailed lectures, ranging from ‘The value and limits of Intuition’, ‘ The value and limits of Imagination’, ‘What is language for?’, ‘Are we becoming machines?’, and so much more. The days are long and intense, and the thirty of us participants roll into bed late in the evening full of stimulation and questions; Iain’s talks are complemented by a range of optional workshops from within the group.

I offered a workshop on the first day, explaining the Finding Blake project, showing a few clips of the film so far, talking about why Blake feels so relevant now, and encouraging the participants to respond creatively to Blake in their own way, using a quote from Iain that very morning: “attention is how you dispose your consciousness into the world”. One participant wrote a magnificent poem about a tree, which she has given permission to share later.

Feedback from James's workshop
Feedback from James’s workshop

I’m delighted to have been invited to come and film and participate in this retreat. It has pushed at the edges and given the tools to see and sense the world in new and exciting ways, ever mindful of this divided way of thinking; and some new tools to heal this split, which clearly manifests in humanity and the external world. Iain is a big believer that the arts stimulate the imagination, and without that we are nothing, hence the relevance of Blake. I’ve been invited to do a few more Blakean workshops across the summer, including one in early July in Nenthead in Cumbria with the noted poet Josephine Dickinson.

The media from the retreat will be available once Samantha and I have had time to work through the images and footage and decide how best to use it to promote the next retreat, next year. But I can give Finding Blake readers one wonderful shot, of Iain discussing Blake’s use of the spiral in his work.

Iain McGilchrist on William Blake
Exploring the Divided Brain: Iain McGilchrist on William Blake

Notes

Iain McGilchrist gave the 2016 Blake Society Lecture, The Infinite Brain and the Narrow Circle. You can explore Iain’s ideas and work at his website — including a download of the introduction to his 2009 book The Master and His Emissary. There is a 2015 interview with Iain McGilchrist at Interalia Magazine. 

Kevin Fischer drew on Iain’s work in his Finding Blake post Imagination, Experience and the Limitations of Reason.

You can find more about the workshop Exploring the Divided Brain at the Field & Field website.

Update: Another participant at the event, Jenny Mackness, has also blogged about her experiences there, including her workshop exploring the implications of Iain’s work for education.

Exhibiting Blake: The Prints of Serge Arnoux

Robert Campbell Henderson — who has already shared his intriguing discovery of an unexpected French connection with the legacy of William Blake in two previous posts for us at Finding Blake — brings us up to date with his project to print the Blakean plates created by Serge Arnoux.


To recap, back in September 2018 Robert was rummaging in a scrap yard in the south of France for metal to make printing plates and stumbled across a bundle of paper-wrapped copper. On opening the first parcel Robert glimpsed what turned out to be a lost body of works by French artist Serge Arnoux. The plates depicted Arnoux’s interpretation of William Blake’s ‘Proverbs of Hell’ from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Finding Blake has been following the progress of the gradual reprinting of the plates and his research to try and establish why and how they were made. Robert has now reprinted all of the plates and has featured the full series of prints on his website along with the corresponding translation of the text.

Box set of The Proverbs of Hell' interprétations by Serge Arnoux
Box set of ‘The Proverbs of Hell’ interprétations by Serge Arnoux

Blakean plates 

Robert explained the technical aspects as follows: “The prints were etched on thick copper plates size 33cm x 24cm. They were made using the intaglio technique of hard ground and acid, whereby the ground is applied to a plate to protect it from the action of the mordant and drawn through with a fine needle. The longer the hard ground plate is exposed to the acid, the deeper and wider the line becomes. Everything has to be done in reverse and there is little room for error. This is particularly the case when working with text. A lot of the engravings contain some very fine lines and Arnoux when printing them actually adopted a technique to ink known as ‘a la poupee’ – a French term literally translated as ‘by the dolly’. It is usually more associated with dabbing and wiping different colours on different parts of a plate. Having now re-printed them, I can see why it could be effective. Based on the pristine condition of the plates, I also think that, for whatever reason, many of them never actually made it to the etching press — that is, until now!”

Detail of the copper plates with engravings by Arnoux.
Detail of the copper plates with engravings by Arnoux.

You can also see the prints until June 29th as part of the exhibition ‘Temporal Traces – Magical Manuscripts’ at L’Atelier Melusine, La Trimouille 86290, France.

'Resurrection' 25 prints based of 'The Proverbs of Hell' William Blake engravings by Serge Arnoux. Salvaged, re-printed and hand coloured by Robert Campbell Henderson
‘Resurrection’ 25 prints based of ‘The Proverbs of Hell’ William Blake engravings by Serge Arnoux. Salvaged, re-printed and hand coloured by Robert Campbell Henderson

Temporal Traces – Magical Manuscripts

Below is an extract from the press release for the exhibition:

“The exhibition is replete with history and magic, and follows an elegantly traced timeline spanning two millennia, and comprises a rich mix of visual and sound-based works which include tracings of original ancient Coptic and Greek papyri made by The Coptic Magical Papyri (University of Wurzburg) and Raquel Martín Hernández, alongside the original copper etchings made in the mid-twentieth century by Serge Arnoux, inspired by William Blake’s Proverbs of Hell, and re-printed by Robert Campbell Henderson in 2019.

These prints and tracings occupy the first two floors of L’atelier Melusine, alongside an antique colour catalogue of plates by William Blake, in an eerie dialogue which demonstrates the similarity of the images despite the enormous temporal breach between their creation dates ……. “

Poster for the exhibition
Poster for the exhibition

You can view the prints and read more about the exhibition on Robert’s website at www.photokennel.com.

He tells us that the story still has a long way to run with connections to America and further exhibitions planned. He has also used the plates as the basis of some new work, creating a series of colour interpretations of all the engravings using computer painting techniques. Finding Blake plans to cover the development of the project in future posts.


Notes

Robert Campbell Henderson is involved in printmaking and photography, just for the fun of it. Before 2000 he never really made any art as he was, in his own words, busy with the “day job.” At the age of fifty he did an MA Photography, followed by a burst of activity participating in exhibitions and setting up an art gallery in Norwich, UK. He retired to the South of France in 2006 where he taught himself printmaking and set up his own darkroom and print studio. You can explore his work at www.photokennel.com.

You can read Robert’s previous posts for Finding Blake: Serge Arnoux, Surrealism and William Blake and William Blake and Serge Arnoux.

Blake in the Midst of Rebellion!

Finding Blake creator and filmmaker James Murray-White takes us to the ongoing International Rebellion of people in London and other cities around the world, organising against ecological and climate emergency — and finds Blake there.


Most readers will be aware there is an International Rebellion in progress, headed by climate change activists Extinction Rebellion. Here in London, five key sites are being successfully held and blockaded to stop traffic and to show society that we need to change our habits, we need to act as a community, and we need to do it now!

Extinction Rebellion
Extinction Rebellion

Stephen Micalef and the William Blake Congregation have been part of the action in Oxford Circus.

Stephen Micalef holding quotes in Oxford Circus
Stephen Micalef & …

In the midst of a lively continuous party at the Oxford Circus the other evening, and just yards from the house in South Molton Street where William and Catherine lived for many years — Blake was in the middle of the crowd! Of course he was; he would be: Blake advocated for a complete revolution of the mind, the human soul and consciousness, and of the capitalist destructive system that has befallen us. Blake’s visionary spirit came out of the unrest of his age, when the Industrial Revolution was really hotting up and emissions of carbon were starting the damage to our ecosystem that we are living with now, and which threatens all of our species and the entire planet.

... the William Blake Congregation holding quotes in Oxford Circus
… the William Blake Congregation holding quotes in Oxford Circus

So, of course, Blake is right there in the midst of this partying Rebellion: he is stirring us all on for change!

Rebellion

 


Notes

There is more information about the International Rebellion at the Extinction Rebellion site; the action started on Monday 15th April — taking place on the streets of cities all over the world, from Auckland to Accra, Mexico City to Vancouver — to demand that governments take necessary action on the global Climate and Ecological Emergency.

In her poem and post for Finding Blake, Modest Things, poet Salli Hipkiss brings her own life-long love of William Blake to her growing concern with the problems of climate change and other environmental threats to human and other life