Lament by Michael Cousin
'There is a threshold or liminal space, which must be crossed, where one world blends into another by degrees.'
Cynddylanís hall is dark tonight,
without a fire, without a bed.
I will weep for a while; afterwards I will fall silent.
The otherworld is described as Ďa world of delights and eternal youth, where disease is absent and food is ever abundantí. This earthbound paradise that runs parallel to ours is hidden in plain view, its borders are invisible or blurred. Legend has it that you can cross those borders unwittingly, stay only a short time and on returning to your own world, many years have passed. Your loved ones in this world have died and you are stranded in a strange world, never really belonging to this or the otherworld again.
This mythical realm is in the bedrock of our psyche, from Eden, Mount Olympus, Asgard, and Shangri-La to Narnia, Brigadoon, Oz, and the world of the Matrix. Passage from our world into these Ďotherí worlds is rarely a choice, but usually a chance encounter with forces beyond our understanding. There is a threshold or liminal space, which must be crossed, where one world blends into another by degrees. This transition can be almost instantaneous or a drawn out rite of passage. But once we are over the threshold and we venture deeper into the otherworld, the further we are from our own reality. And then it becomes harder to return, even if we wanted to. The landscape of this Otherworld becomes familiarly strange rather than strangely familiar.
In Lament, Sean Vicary has created a narrative conflict between belonging and longing. Through the course of the short film we find ourselves travelling from our world across the threshold into the otherworld several times. The thresholds are found in remote areas; a hillside shrouded in mist, forests or abandoned buildings and this is where the film locates us. We are sent up on the Stiperstones ridge which is the location of a formation known as the Devilís Chair. When this chair is shrouded in mist or heavy rain, that is when the Devil takes his seat, and that is when people who stray too close can vanish. A threshold to hell.
We are allowed to peer through the cobwebbed window of the crumbling studio belonging to Seanís father. We arenít allowed to enter, as Sean wasnít allowed to enter whilst his father was alive and working within. A threshold to another time.
In these living and dying landscapes are evidence of that cycle; decaying apples, fallen leaves, the detritus of life. But when we cross over, that detritus becomes iconic, an archetypal myth in a magical realm. It hasnít been made anew or resurrected, the dancing frogs are still in death, the decayed apples hover like monstrous cancers, and the feather stays separated from the bird that lost it. Bones reassemble and dance, but this is no revenant come to scare or devour, this otherworld is not yet heaven or hell, it is the place between.
Lament brings to mind the death of my own father early in my life. I have no real memories of him and he automatically became part of my own mythology. He existed beyond reality or history, becoming a person of my creation and imagining. Inhabiting an otherworld where I would desire to be but never be able to follow. Lament is as much about separation from something as it is about loss. Knowing that the object of our desire is close at hand in some form, but unobtainable unless certain specific circumstances fall into alignment.
The otherworld is separated from us by time, by death, by loss, by thought, by forgetting. It can only be entered if desire for it is in your heart, and if your eyes are turned from looking for it. But the seeker must know that, for what you gain in the otherworld, you must lose of equal value in this world. There is always a price to pay.
Lament is a poem about longing and belonging, having a foot in both worlds, desiring both worlds equally, but neither providing fully the succour we need to be at peace. Both worlds are caught in a cycle of life and death and each moment experienced in either world lies somewhere in that cycle. Itís just that the dead in the Otherworld wonít keep still.
Translated as Annwn in Welsh mythology.
Transition from one to the other is often achieved by the passing of a guardian or crossing a river.
Apples are also a significant symbol of the otherworld.
Michael Cousin is the Founder and curator of Outcasting an online moving image gallery and is currently Freelance Curator at g39 in Cardiff.