In Between the Silence by Simon Withers

A black and white close-up image of the face of a swan.

In between silence

“How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot! The world forgetting, by the world forgot. Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind! Each prayer accepted, and each wish resigned.”*

The film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind features an advanced technology (The Lacuna Process) that allows individuals to have their negative thoughts or traumatic memories erased...if it can be done for sea slugs then maybe it can be used...(1)

How dreadful it would be to feel that out of some necessity one would choose to have memories lanced from ones mind? Over the past year I have frequently wished for such a thing...if not by some science fiction made fact but through dramatic methods...I wondered if I should have acted the Roman part? (2)...As Mary said in the film, “Blessed are the forgetful, for they get the better even of their blunders.”(3)...would this at least have been a preferable character trait?

In September 2019 by the banks of the River Trent one neglected swan found another. For delicate reasons I shall not go into too much detail forthwith. Suffice to say that one sunny morning returning from a counseling session I encountered a swan resting on the concrete steps along part of Nottingham’s River Trent. I sat down by the swan, gave it some birdseed, then I lay on my front and proceeded to photograph the swan for nearly three hours until my two batteries became exhausted. I sat up, and the swan came closer to me. I thanked the swan and continued on my journey home. At some point I recalled a idea. I have been an artist for over 30 years and four-years previous I spectacularly stopped making work. I deliberated...if for the first time since taking up art might I have found a method of using creativity as a way of healing myself? Subsequently I have been photographing swans and through which whilst being out in nature I have begun to look at the world...and even to raise my head, to see the sun and to feel its warmth...some days this is just enough. For me my recovery remains fragile...the psychological anniversaries do not seem to lessen, the anxiety, flashbacks, the grief, the sadness, the fear, the guilt and shame remain...will each of the seventy thousand or so photographs of swans help alleviate the scars and the wounds? (4)

My jury remains absent and if art is to be a therapy for currently it appears to be for countless millions. As I write this blog I only have to look various Face Book pages dedicated the recreation of artworks by members of the public. On the television, Britain’s favourite potter Grayson Perry is asking the public to unleash the Nations collective creativity. Creativity acts as a distraction, one can escape into a world in which you are in control...through the power of art one can explore emotions, feelings and break away from from intensely difficult and lonely times. One can certainly see how art and creativity can and does help individuals question to myself is, how can I, a high functioning artist find the means within art to be able to do the same...for the moment I continue to blow raspberries. (5)


1. Neuroscientists from the Columbia University Medical Centre and McGill University have disclosed they have successfully erased certain memories from sea slug neurons...I can not think what the sea slugs make of this.

The principal application for the technology, if it can be shown to be safe for humans, is for the erasing of memories that trigger anxiety and or trauma.

Our memories are essential for self-perception and are part of personal identity...I have questioned and tried to take apart the very idea of my personality. Given my circumstances in which I raise this one hundred times a very existence on the earth is sometimes precariously close to zero. Through this adversity what do I need to do to change so that situations will not to be repeated ad nauseam?

I can fully comprehend the quandary of wanting to change from within, whilst acknowledging that things are made imaginable by experiences coming to you that are both external and positive. Without the external presence all the hope, needs and wants are little more than whispers in the vacuum of space. One aspect of pragmatic erasure could be that one shall encounter bliss; or on the other hand, will I be locked into some dystopian nightmare?

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) is a touching and heart-breaking depiction of a love story of an estranged couple. It exposes the lengths the two people are willing to go just to move on from heartbreak...I use the film here as a metaphor for many distressing compatibles.

* The quotation in the film is spoken by Mary Svevo (played by Kirsten Dunst) and is taken from the Alexander Pope poem, Eloisa and Abelard (1717) and to which amorous melancholia reigns...and to Cawthorne** I yield to thee; to be surrounded by shadows once more...the dark, cheerless, solitary caves with wild images of woe and night-born horrors brooding o’er my bed.

**James Cawthorn Poet (1719-1761) Eloisa and Abelard (1747)

The etymology of Lacuna is borrowed from the Latin for ditch or a gap...a depression, a blank space. I have on occasions used titles in my work that evoke something of this non-place...the space in-between things, the silence, the margins and the peripheries.

2. I tried to turn every thing off and to be dissolved.

3. (Mary Svevo) - Friedrich Nietzsche Beyond Good & Evil located in Part VII – Aphorism 217 and underlined in blue biro in my copy from 1990. I wish to be present in this different camp! One in which I don’t remember events as they were. I feel in this state it would be so much easier to alter everything to suit those momentary biases and without any emotional can act without has been written that memory manipulation and to forget is easier in such a person...where as In retrospection and in rumination, one is held fast and time is no great healer.

4. ‘You show me yours and I’ll show you mine’. The wound is a central theme in the work of Joseph Beuys. ‘And when I say: “Show it! Show the wound that we have inflicted upon ourselves during the course of our development”, it is because the only way to progress and become aware of it is to show it. Beuys’s work reflects the concept of art as a therapy, as a means for personal healing and as a medicinal remedy. I found that art+life are both problematic and traumatic when the coexistence becomes fractured; both are placed under stress within the poll (me) and silence can no longer be an option.

As Rancière and Foster theorized on the subject of trauma within art, ‘In silence one has to take the is not coping with the past and the present and the future’...the opening up of Pandora’s Jar is fraught with adversity.

Hal Foster – American art critic / See The Return of the Real (1996)

Jacques Rancière – French philosopher / See ‘The Aesthetic Revolution and Its Outcomes. Emplotments of Autonomy and Heteronomy’ (2002)

5. The blowing of raspberries is a way of disengaging the head from the internal chatter of the brain. I have also heard of the term blowing a strawberry...I would like to add into this nomenclature, the blackberry in reference to the basal knobs on swans. The exact purpose of basal knobs is unknown; they are certainly indicators of gender and the male swan, the cob has a much more prominent bump at the base of the birds bill.

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