On Circles, Lines and Spirals, the work of Claire Burbridge

written by Tod Davies
Once upon a time, somewhere around the end of the almost certainly somnolent Neolithic age, human beings got restless. Life seemed to be a closed circle, going ‘round and ‘round with nothing new appearing on the horizon. Then something new did happen. The Heroic Path appeared. And it was good. It was dynamic. It led somewhere, not just in the seemingly endless round of village life, a life, it must have seemed, that was Life in Death. It was a straight line aimed at a goal, and that goal was to conquer Death.

But this was an illusion, that this was the final road. Generations followed generations, and after many centuries, some began to note that the Heroic Path involved problems of its own. Heading so straight ahead started to look like heading into a dead end. For life of any kind doesn’t follow a circle or a straight line: it circles up. A spiral. DNA spirals. Cycles spiral. Our world changes. Our needs change. Our visions change to suit the change in our needs. And always, at the forefront, sending messages back, is the art and literature of the time, sending code, sending new symbols, new maps, sending out—for those with eyes to see—new ways of being. New worlds. For new worlds are possible. Not just possible…inevitable. New paths appear. And new worlds spiral up out of the old.

You look at Claire Burbridge’s work, and it may be at first glance you think these pieces too delicate, exquisite almost, too emotional…too (let’s be frank) female to be able to carry on its patient shoulders a knapsack stuffed with maps of the secret spirals up to a possible new world. But look a little closer. There’s an old world there at the bottom of these images, a very old world sculpted with some very old pathways. There’s the secret: the roads to the new branch out of the old. These are paths reaching out from very old roads indeed.

These new roads are not those of the heroic journey, though they branch from it naturally, on their way spiraling up. They are byways of an every day life that humans have traveled for millennia. A life that is too often overlooked in that straight ahead mad freeway rush hour that hurtles toward a yearned-for novelty, extreme innovation and, yes, for an unattainable immortality. For new life passes through death on its way spiraling up from the old: the life contained in fairy tales, in legends, in myths, in all the circular rooms spiraling in the collective unconscious, containing the innermost desires of the human race.

The desire for unity with Nature. The wish for harmony. The need for connection, of subject with object, and of subject with subject. The pleasure of feasting with fellows. The beauty of the imperfect. The beauty of ends that lead to beginnings.

Community. Connection. The Life that comes out of Death and returns to it, only to return again.

Nature, wordless, lifting us in a spiral cycle of suffering and joy.

The good life, which is the human life. To try to escape that human life is no longer the heroic quest, but the path that leads nowhere, to nothing, to the Dead Wood that never reanimates. To the Wasteland.

And what do we have here? We have images of an eternal return accepted, of a life bursting out vibrant in those smallest parts that make the ever-moving larger whole. The suffering that leads to joy and back again. The connection between all things, between all fellows. The life that comes from death. The sprouting of green with the healing of the king.

Look again, you’ll see that what I say is true. All there, drawn with the kind of delicate strokes made by a meditative and precise mind. More than a mind: made by a discipline rooted in the feeling of love for a beautiful imperfect world. Which is the root of a true art. For while perfection is an end, imperfection renews. And leads to the future.

If we’re to have a future, we’ll be needing some renewal. I think we’re all agreed on that.

If we’re to have a future, we need artists who are in love with the world to draw the paths to our goal. Those paths spiral up through suffering, the kind of unavoidable suffering that we humans in our blindness think it heroic to attempt to defeat. But other routes may show us a way past those terrible wastelands of avoidable suffering, those cul de sacs of mistaken attempts at transcendence, of dominance born sluggish from pride, a false sense of being above the natural world, the delusion of being able to escape from its dynamic spiral, from a pattern we cannot control.

If we cannot control, these images by Claire Burbridge insist, we can certainly join. We can join in the dance going on around us, every day. We can partner with Nature, dancing.

We can join in the energy, dancing. We can be part of William Blake’s Eternal Delight. For there is (it’s there if you look) a transcendence in the every day, if we will only open ourselves to see. Open ourselves to agree with the poet, “Even asleep we partake in the becoming of the world.” That takes some courage for our still restless Western selves. Art, sly, can give us this courage, to waltz with Being, then Becoming, then Being again. To join in the eternal spiral, agreeing with it, living it. Living in a world with Life and with Death, a world, in short, where human beings can humanly dwell.

And these pieces by Claire Burbridge reveal a part of that lovely world and invite us again to dance.