The Art of Maury van Loon / Fall~

Written by Alexander Greco

June 29, 2020

The more I delved into the artwork of Maury van Loon (artist name, Fall~), the more I was reminded of two books: An Eternal Golden Braid, by Douglas Hofstadter, and House of Leaves, by Mark Danielewski; and I was reminded of two specific concepts from those books: consciousness as a feedback loop of infinite, mirrored reflections, and unconsciousness as a labyrinth, with our conscious egos/identities as the trapped Icarus.

Maury’s artwork really clicked for me when I saw in them these mirrors and this labyrinth.

And Then the Bubble Burst
Summer 2019
A5 paper. Pen and ink.

Making almost exclusively black and white ink art, though with a few notable pieces that include color, Maury mixes elements of surrealism and abstraction with influences from anime and similar art styles. Her artwork has wide range of content and subject, but the primary focus seems to be on identity: our identity in relation to others, and our identity in relation to ourselves. Maury does this with portrayals of faceless or featureless individuals, depictions of bodies disassociated from their faces, mirrored counterparts of either twin-like or dualistic individuals, and of people falling into vast or disintegrating spaces.

However, as Maury discussed more and more about her creative life, I discovered her interests and skills to be far broader than only visual art. In addition to surreal ink-work, Maury is active in music—including work on film scores—currently studies Japanese Language and Culture, and has worked off and on for a few years on a fantasy story. Though our interview focused on Maury’s artwork and the underlying themes of the artwork, our overlapping interests opened up a number of topics we only scratched the surface of.

“[…] I would currently describe my endeavors as an artist as ‘illustrator’, but I have a degree in music composition, and I’m currently studying Japanese which sometimes makes me feel a bit in Japanese I would say barabara, which means ‘in pieces’, as if I’m holding a handful of different identities and I am not just one person.”

Still, though Fall~ has a wide range of interests, art has been and remains a central part of their life.

Us
April 2020
A4 paper. Pen, ink, gel pen.

“I have been drawing since as long as I can remember. It has always been a form of expression, as I had (and to a certain degree still have) trouble grasping the meaning and reality of my being. I think I started with illustrating, since it’s a very low-key form of art. Basically I can draw whenever I want, wherever I want, because I only need a pen and paper.

“I do believe all different forms of art have their own ‘language’ of expression – music or film can take you on a whole different emotional journey – and I am more than only an illustrator, as I have done a degree in music composition with a specialization in film and I’m currently doing a degree in Japanese Language and Culture with a specialization in Japanese film and animation. But making art is the one that seems most consistent throughout my life.”

Here, I completely agree with the idea that every form of art has its own sort of language, but I would also go on from that and say that every artist has their own variation of that language, with Maury being no exception to this. So, what is the language she speaks with her art?

We Live Inside a Bubble
Summer 2019
A5 paper. Pen and ink.

Maury speaks with sharp contrasts of black and white, swarming lines like black static, and blurred clouds of grey. Maury’s syntax is the human form, floating or falling into teeming mouths of the abyss, or into the vast emptiness of space. Faces especially are key in this language, whether they are emotional, blank, expressionless, hollow, or replaced with disconnected, celestial objects.

Many of Maury’s pieces depict twisting, knotting throngs of arms reaching out to or out from the piece’s subject, or other similar serpentine forms. In many pieces, there is a symmetry to them, either a mirroring of images or some other geometric translation, and many pieces also possess a yin-yang type of duality, strongly influenced by the black and white contrasts. In others, there is an almost anti-symmetry, a chaos of lines or ink static.

Circles are a consistent motif, some being the subject’s head, some being in or through the subject’s head, others being in the subject’s chest or abdomen, and others surround an individual or individuals. These circles—often comprised of circles within circles (sometimes within even more circles); and often ringed with jagged lines or objects, or with twisting, looping, knotting forms—recall the forms of the labyrinth, particularly the Classical Cretan labyrinth and the Medieval Chartres pattern.

However, the best example of this Labyrinth is not in any of the pieces with primarily circular patterns, but in “Lost in Thought”, which really shows this maze-like nature of the mind.

Lost in Thought
June 2020
A4 paper. Pen.

“This piece is about how far you can become separated from your true self, by trying to fit in or please people around you. It’s a recent piece, but it reflects back to a time when I truly lost myself and now I regularly evaluate my choices and how far I stand from things that matter for me, instead of trying to become the ideal of society (or rather, how I think society would like me to be). The further you get, the harder it becomes, so the line between body and brain becomes this maze-like thing and at some point, you will get stuck and lose (like in the Nokia 3310 snake-game).”

So much of Maury’s artwork relates to identity: either finding or rediscovering oneself.

How is it that the most difficult thing to find on this planet is yourself?

How is it that so many of our own thoughts can be so much harder to understand than the endlessly complex machinations of the external world?

How is it that our own minds—the place we ought to feel most at home, the place we ought to know better than any other landscape, the place we ought to feel safest can be the most frightening and cruel of landscapes; can possess the deepest jungles of the uncanny and unfamiliar; and, in times of great uncertainty, in moments of overwhelming depravity and in the darkest architectures of our Dreams’ wild cinemas, can our own minds be venues of such tremendous violence, disorientation and disassociation?

Let Us Catch You
February 2020
A4 paper. Pen, ink, gel pen.

There is also a recurrent theme of falling, though the movement of many subjects is ambivalent (in many pieces, individuals could potentially be perceived either as falling or rising). Paired with this theme of falling/rising, there is often an impalement or explosion from the abdomen, and in a few, there is another body emerging from the abdomen, implying something like a birth or a rebirth (similar in some ways to the emergence from a cocoon or chrysalis). This also carries on the ambivalence of rising/falling, as one body seems limp and lifeless, while another living body reaches up above it.

On this theme, Maury explained:

“It contains this sense of loss and despair, living in a world that doesn’t feel quite right. A world where you don’t seem to belong. When you long for something, someone, anyone, and reach out, but you can never really grasp it. Is it just an illusion meant for someone else? Are you not worthy?

“It’s a sense of the fear of not being in control yet at the same time it’s the realization and acceptance you’re not in control and that it’s completely fine. Maybe it’s not falling, but letting go.”

A number of pieces possess the motif of a wave-like object/figure which seems to be just about to crash onto the subject of the piece like crashing water of an ocean. This might be the internal ocean of the unconsciousness crashing down on the conscious ego, but this might also be the minotaur stalking that unconsciousness, overpowering the conscious mind.

The piece “Shadowself” puts a face to this crashing wave or cave minotaur, and Maury gives it a name.

Shadowself
March 2020
A4 paper. Pen and ink.

“My official artist name is Fall~ and the right character in this piece is the visualization of Fall~. It represents the unexplainable core of feelings and thoughts that want to break out.”

Does this make the figure on the left Maury?

Is this Maury studying Fall~?

And Fall~ studying Maury?

And if Fall~, as depicted here, is the “Shadowself”, the unexplainable core of feelings and thoughts attempting to break out, does that mean the Minotaur stalking Maury’s mind is Maury’s own creativity? Is the Shadowself (Fall~) a rejection and repression of creativity—of ideas, talents and expressions not welcomed by society—and the projection of negative attributes onto oneself?

A loathing of something you love—of something that makes you unique—until it becomes a monster you must reconcile with?

But Maury, rather than flee as Icarus did, confronted this minotaur in her artwork, and it became Fall~.

Here, I think I’m actually reminded of Gandalf and the Balrog’s fall in the Mines of Moria, prompted not by the wizard fleeing, but by his confrontation. This fall—this confrontation—not partially parallels the Icarus myth (Moria being the Labyrinth, the Balrog being the minotaur), but also has the ambivalent duality of rising and falling. The two’s fall eventually led to a rise back up from the depths, where the battle finally concluded on top of a mountain peak. This of course led to transformation, metamorphosis and rebirth.

These complexities of identity, self-identity and self-transformation do not end here, however, and Maury had quite a lot more to say about both one’s self and one’s ego, as well as one’s self in relationship to others.

“I think one’s identity is relative and thus continuously changing. Without people around us and memories to mirror who we were, who we are, and who we do or do not want to become, there is no ego. There is a certain human connection to it, whether through a shared experience, a longing, or a realization that you have gone so far from your true self. By exploring these areas through art, I can identify, acknowledge and express things that are blocking me, but also things I couldn’t or wouldn’t say out loud.”

Here, I asked if this fluidity of identity was something inherent in being human, or if it was a contemporary issue of modernity, and also if there was any way of truly getting to know one’s self. Maury replied:

“It’s probably part of human nature, but I do think modernity has amplified our sense of self and our capability to manipulate our self-image. One reason is that we are now encouraged to become individuals and have our own opinion, and this seems to go hand in hand with a sense or a wish to be unique and different […] On the other hand, there’s social media and textual communication, which allows you to have a big control on how you represent yourself in your use of words, your looks, your identity. With which sub-culture do you associate yourself with?

“Maybe we have become a lot more self-centered, but maybe we also have become a lot more dependent on the approval people around us. We’re more fluid. And because upbringing and environment have such a huge influence on the development of oneself, I don’t think you could ever purely be your true inner self. Maybe if you live in a shack up a mountain in Farawayistan. I try to keep myself in check by really trying to listen to my belly-feeling (inner-universe 🙂 ) to feel if choices I’m making feel right for me and feel right for my moral-compass, and if my moral-compass is still moral enough, so I can keep going without self-doubt or regret.”

How do you go about defining yourself? And where do you plant your flag in saying, “This is ‘I’; this is what ‘I’ am and what ‘I’ believe”?

So many, if not all, of our own ideas and beliefs are ideas have been circulating throughout cultures and societies across history—evolving or adapting with each new age or era and growing into new ideas or spawning new fields of knowledge. So much of what we call our own mind are collections of ideas passed on to us through our parents, through school, through our friends, or through televisions, computers and phones. So much of our behavior is either instinctually or chemically influenced, or they are behaviors we’ve picked up from those around us, people we see on TV, characters in books, comics, movies or shows.

How much of “you” can actually be found amidst this carnival of “not you”? And how much of the “not you” has influenced and altered “you”?

Beyond this, “who we are” can be such a fleeting reality. We’re one person at one moment, then we’re angry or sad or scared the next moment, and suddenly we’re practically a completely different person. We may even change how we act depending on what we wear, who we talk to, where we talk to them. How different of a person are you if you’re having drinks at a bar compared to drinks at a friend’s house, or how different are you when you wear denim jeans and sneakers compared to shorts and flip flops, or when you’re at work compared to when you’re at home?

How different of a person might you be just based on the colors of the walls around you, the smell of the room you’re in, the expressions and body language of the people nearby?

Maury further explores the influences that others have on us and our sense of self, particularly the painful and at times frightening aspects of it, in the piece, “Kings”.

Kings
Summer 2019
A5 paper. Pen, ink, gel pen.

“’Kings’ kind of represents all the people around us that we feel are judging us (often with no good reason). It could be that guy in the train, or the woman in the store. They gang up, stare, judge. Them against us. There is a sense of power and arrogance in it, hence that they are self-proclaimed kings. I think it is also influenced by the growth of the importance of individualism, in which many are prone to believe they themselves are the most important, rather than the wellbeing of the community.

But obviously this judging only happens in my head, because 99% of the people you pass in the streets don’t even notice you, let alone care.”

An often overlooked or undervalued aspect of understanding someone’s creations is understanding where these ideas have grown from—the inspirations and influences of someone’s art, music, writing and so forth.

In addition to anime, Maury mentioned a number of other influences, including film and music.

“I have this peculiar habit of intensely loving only a few artists so much that their work is on repeat rather than exploring a quantitative amount of artists. My current repeat playlist (named “repeat”) consists of #2 by Nils Frahm and a handful of tracks from the Westworld soundtrack by Ramin Djawadi. I especially love films that are thought provoking, or take me on a journey and preferably have an amazing atmospheric original score. Watching the Lord of the Rings Trilogy kind of has become a yearly tradition, and I have become so familiar with the lines that I bought the Japanese dubbed version to use it for my language studies haha. Anime is also a huge influence, especially visual, since the Japanese seem to apply a lot of shots and poses that I find beautiful and my computer is full of screenshots that I use as reference.

“In the end I love the feeling these works give me, this feeling of inspiration, or they maybe even make me feel alive and that I’m allowed to live. That there’s more to life than only living. And that’s what I want to give back to the world. If the inspired-me can inspire someone else again, who then can inspire another and so forth… That would be enough.”

In discussing her favorite anime, Maury said:

“One of my favorite anime films is Ghost in the Shell, because it’s full of layers. As humans we are watching a drawn representation of human-like cyborgs, so there is this double sense of artificiality. The director Oshii Mamoru also uses a lot of visual symbolisms and mechanisms that confuse the spectator. This is even more noticeable in his other animation film Angel’s Egg in collaboration with illustrator Amano Yoshitaka, who also worked on the Final Fantasy series (which I love 🙂 also the soundtrack!). The themes in Angel’s Egg are about loneliness and purpose and faith, and it’s set in a very dark world where this girl wanders through a deserted town with an egg, until she meets a man of whom we never truly know if he is friend of foe. It’s on YouTube with subtitles if anyone’s interested.

The original Fullmetal Alchemist has been hugely influential, which I prefer over Brotherhood because I think the original is more dramatic. Although, both soundtracks are wonderful. The hands that are represent in my work definitely find their origin in this series. The parallel universe/time travel theory of Steins;Gate also had a very big impact on my own way of theorizing an approach to life choices. They have a timeline that breaks up in several timelines, and made it really visible. Nowadays, when I look back at choices I have made and how they lead me to where I am now, I imagine the choices being forked roads and every path is another Maury leading a different life.”

Welcome to My Mirrored World
Winter 2018
A3 paper. Pen, ink, gel pen.

The influence of both Ghost in the Shell and Fullmetal Alchemist can be seen in Maury’s works, “Welcome to My Mirrored World” and “Let Us Catch You”.

Maury mentioned that a shot from the 1995 Ghost in the Shell anime film inspired “Welcome to My Mirrored World”, and though I don’t know specifically which shot this was, the scene I immediately thought of was one where the protagonist is rising to the surface of a body of water, and her reflection creates a sort of mirrored, parallel reality before she breaks the surface of the water. With “Let Us Catch You” and several other pieces, we see the inspiration of the long, tendril-like arms related to Truth and various scenes where certain types of Alchemy are performed in Fullmetal Alchemist.

Though we didn’t discuss her art process in as much depth as we discussed other topics, Maury did explain how she comes up with many of her ideas, as well as part of her process of using recurring motifs in her art:

“There are two ways. Way 1: I live life. Life gives emotional friction. This emotional friction finds a visual representation that I doodle in my book of ideas. Way 2: I watch film. Film merges with random thoughts and memories of other things and I doodle it in my book of ideas. When I feel creative or a necessity to deal with my thoughts and emotions, I open my book of ideas, pick a pre-sketch and start drawing the composition. A lot of times inspiration and this feeling of necessity happen in the same moment.

“Often, I already know what kind of textures I want to use, or I decide to use several, for example I make one with a universe background, while the other will get a tree growing out of somewhere. For this reason, I create a template for most of my designs so I can easily make several versions with the help of a light box. I kind of see it as a puzzle. I have several reoccurring textures and motifs which I keep switching around in new compositions. Sometimes new ones are added or old ones become obsolete.”

Along with discussing her art, Maury and I talked a bit about her music, film projects she’s been involved with and a story of hers she’s been working with off and on for a few years.

“I would love to compose a score for a Japanese animation. That’s definitely in the top three of my bucket list.

“During my music degree at Plymouth University I worked on the feature film Jannertown with director Guy Brasher, which was such an amazing experience. His film is presented in several chapters that all have their own genre, but everything is connected. So musically this meant working with several themes that could return in various ways ranging from elevator music to futuristic synth music and orchestral superhero music.

“More recently I have worked with Pim Kromhout on a performance theater act inspired by the painting “Golconde” by René Magritte. The act consists of four very tall men with umbrella’s and there is music coming out of the umbrellas. Although the four men look the same and the music sounds as one whole, every man has his own tune that symbolizes his individuality. Unfortunately, it’s on hold because of Covid-19.

“[…]

Chaos
2016
A4 paper. Pen, ink, coloured pencils.

“My art and my music come from the same inner-location, which I at some point started to see as a fictional world. In my art there are returning characters which were initially just personifications of emotions, but at some point, influenced by the endless amounts of binge-watched/read-stories, I thought I could try to make my own story. And I got as far as plotting the whole first part of a trilogy, including strange dimensional travel laws, gods and prophecies, geographical maps. It was supposed to get a soundtrack too, with themes for different locations and characters. There was a lot of longing and tragedy.

“Unfortunately, I’m not a very good reader, so I failed to read back what I had written and then I lost track of all the complexities and now we’re three years later. But with all the free time Covid-19 has given me I’m actually taking a different approach in telling the story in a visual novel style. (trying to.) (also giving me a temporary meaning in this meaningless existence.)

“The story is set in an unchanging world. Characters that do administration of administration of administration. They look like barcodes and every minute of every day of every day is planned out for them. The world has long ago reached a form of perfection and so they are in a state of preservation, because if there would be any change, Being would change to Becoming and he would carry the world back to Chaos. (this works better in Dutch). While this barcode-species called ‘Others’ are supposed to be like robots, the main character has this inside-universe that makes her set out into the world and then things happen and she meets all kinds of people and discovers all sorts of secrets.”

The fortunate and the unfortunate aspect of Maury and I’s discussion is that we had a huge overlap in interests and so much to discuss. There was a lot Maury had to say that I could not fit into the article, as well a lot I wanted to say about Maury’s artwork and a number of topics related to her artwork that I could not fit in. Nonetheless, it has been a pleasure going through her artwork and hearing her thoughts on many things.

Whaleoplane
March 2020
A3 paper. Pen, ink, gel pen.

Maury’s artwork spans across philosophical and psychological themes and subjects, but her artwork stands on its own even without these underlying themes. The stark contrasts of black and white captures your attention, pulling your mind into a reeling labyrinth of shifting identities, crashing emotions, and the enveloping hands and faces of a comforting, conforming throng of people. With every day being another trek through a maze of faces, words, beliefs, motivations, personalities, relationships—and all the twisting, knotted, overlapping, intersecting crossroads between them—how long can we avoid the minotaur we’ve kept imprisoned inside our minds?

How long until the walls come down? And all the thoughts, emotions and beliefs we keep bottled inside come surging out?

Maury’s art is able to show both the tension between ourselves and others, and the tension between ourselves and our own minds: the mazes and the mirrors we navigate every day.

If you would like to see more of Maury’s work, you can find her on Instagram at www.instagram.com/fallsomnia or @fallsomnia and @fall.in.progress. Her primary website is www.fallsomnia.com and her music can be found on www.soundcloud.com/fallsomnia. Please give her art as well as her music a look/listen, and if you enjoy it, be sure to follow her.

Man vs God Incarnate: An Analysis of Shin Gojira

Written by Alexander Greco

May 17, 2020

“Shin Gojira” is one of the most terrifying movies I have watched in the last few years, and is easily the best Godzilla movie made so far—yes, still better than anything Hollywood has produced. Written and directed by Hideaki Anno—creator of Neon Genesis Evangelion—Shin Gojira is a retelling of the classic Godzilla story, but it is also a contemporary remastering of the story. Rather than producing the over-the-top monster-mash America is intent on making, Hideaki kept the movie simple, honing in on all the minute details that brought out the horror of Godzilla, as well as crafting a compelling, meaningful and an archetypically mythological narrative relevant to modern society.

The horror of Shin Gojira came from several things.

First of all, the cinematography was spectacular. Every shot of Godzilla makes you feel small, vulnerable, weak and hopeless. The first full shots of Godzilla show Godzilla in the semi-distant background with a large number of humans in the foreground. Despite Godzilla’s distance and the people’s nearness, Godzilla’s size visually dominates the shot. Then, in later shots, we either see Godzilla towering in the far-distance, appearing surreally large in the distant background as people seem insect-like in the foreground, or we see Godzilla from nearer shots, where a small portion of Godzilla’s body fills the screen. This doesn’t even touch on elements such as the sound or lighting, musical score and the pacing of the scenes, which all were masterfully accomplished.

Godzilla’s design was easily the most innovative iteration yet, though far from the most “pleasing” design. What made this version of Godzilla horrific was the realism of it and the blind violence of Godzilla’s behavior. The CGI did have it’s moments of “cut-the-shit”, it wasn’t perfect, but Hideaki Anno seemed to be asking with this movie, “What would it actually be like if Godzilla attacked Tokyo?” The Godzilla that answered Hideaki’s call achieved a shocking verisimilitude. Godzilla evolves through three forms. The first is an amphibious, fish-like juvenile form, where Godzilla walks hunched over, almost flat to the ground. It has wide-open, vacant eyes, like a shark or barracuda, a relaxed, slack jaw, revealing dozens of ragged teeth, and it stomps around awkwardly, almost like a monstrous child.

Godzilla here looks natural, like a monster that might actually crawl out of the primeval depths of the Pacific. Godzilla then evolves into a more dinosaur-like form, though it still appears as a sort of horrific, half-developed proto-monster. Godzilla’s second form looks almost like a grotesque, half-formed embryo, still growing to maturity. And yet, despite this embryonic appearance, Godzilla is still far larger and more powerful than any other organism on the planet. Godzilla is already a super-organism, and it’s not even fully developed.

And then, there is the tall, obsidian tower that emerges from the Pacific—the final form of Godzilla—and the terror of this Godzilla’s form is the sheer hopelessness of trying to confront such an impossibly large creature. Godzilla here is a tower of half-hardened, half-molten flesh—it barely resembles a natural organism—instead resembling some abomination of biology—yet the same verisimilitude is maintained. The movie doesn’t feel like a giant monster movie. It feels like a film depicting the actual outcomes of a super-organism walking into a major city.

You watch a realistic, god-like monster walk through buildings, topple apartments with families still inside, crash through crowded cityscapes and fill the streets of Tokyo with fire.

Possibly what is most disturbing is that Godzilla behaved without thought, without remorse, without any real awareness. Godzilla never behaved like an antagonist. There was never any malice or intentional aggression in Godzilla’s behavior, except when it was defending itself against the Japanese military in the latter half of the movie. Godzilla acts almost blindly, as if it is has no awareness to the destruction and mass death all around it. Godzilla’s only motive is survival: seeking sustenance, exploratory behavior, reacting to negative stimuli.

Godzilla’s first form flops around awkwardly. Its eyes bulge manically. It haphazardly bores a line through the city by toppling every building it passes. It has no clear motivation, no specific goal, no real awareness—not even much of an awareness of itself—except survival. All Godzilla actually does for the first half of the movie is walk through the city. That’s all.

All of this culminates in a supreme sense of uselessness. What do you do? How do you react? Is there any way of regaining control of the crumbling situation?

By the mid-point of the movie, it feels like there’s nowhere you can actually run or hide from Godzilla. Where can you go that won’t be destroyed? How far could you run before Godzilla catches up to you? What could you do to stop Godzilla? There’s nowhere you can go, no speed you could run, and nothing you can do. At no point do you feel safe. At no point do you feel secure. At no point do you feel calm. There is only a frantic fear, and a crushing hopelessness.

And yet, by the end of this story, we witness heroism in the face of this absurd horror that harkens back to ancient mythology.

At the heart of this movie are three major conflicts. Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Society, and Man vs. God; in other words: the protective/oppressive collective of Society, the negative aspect of nature—cancerous, violent, perfectly amoral and indifferent—and “God” being the enveloping/isolating reality of the universe we live in. These conflicts translate into three major themes of the movie:

  • Man’s eternal struggle for survival
  • Man’s eternal struggle against the conformity of culture
  • Man’s existential struggle with reality, the cosmos, and their relationship to the infinite

Literally explained, the primary conflicts of the movie are:

  • The physical survival of Tokyo and the citizens of Tokyo
  • The conflicts between politicians, scientists, journalists, the military and everyday people, and the relationships between different countries (Tokyo/Japan, and America, China, Russia, France, etc.)
  • The individual faced with the insignificance of their existence and the futility of their efforts

I will explain all three of these conflicts in the remainder of this article.

First, before I start digging at the deeper ethos of the story, we should come to an understanding of the mythological and archetypal symbols prevalent in Shin Gojira.

Shin Gojira, at the core of its narrative-structure, is an archetypal Hero Myth. More specifically, it is an archetypal Dragon-Slayer myth. A Dragon-Slayer myth can be explained as follows:

There is a “Kingdom” or a “Society” which is under attack from some external threat.

This external threat is always an archetypal “Monster”, some horrible and powerful creature, which often cannot be defeated by mundane ways.

A Hero must go out to defeat the Monster that is terrorizing their community.

The Hero confronts and slays the Monster, which typically results in marriage, wealth and social promotion.

These myths are prevalent throughout cultures across history, even back to the Epic of Gilgamesh, and they portray a universal struggle of humanity: confronting the horrors of reality.

Often, the Monster of the Dragon-Slayer myth is in some way connected to an archetypally feminine force, such as a Goddess of Fertility, Creation, or Nature. Nature is typically represented as feminine, and throughout many ancient myths, the “Monsters” are children or descendants of a creator/mother-goddess (Tiamat, Gaia, Izanami, and so forth).

This is the archetype of the Great Mother, both a nurturing giver of life and a devouring destroyer of life. Another way of thinking of the Great Mother is as the mythological representation of Nature. The Great Mother is the beauty and the creation of Nature, and the Great Mother is the horror and the destruction of Nature.

Opposite Nature or the Great Mother is Society or God the Father.

In many Hero Myths, including Dragon-Slayer myths, there is a “King” figure. The King and the Kingdom are the forces that protect individuals within society, but are also the forces that oppress individuals in society. Archetypically—that is, as a narrative symbol—the King and the Kingdom are essentially the same thing. The King is the representative­, the figurehead and the grand decision-maker of the Kingdom, and so the King and Kingdom are one (this is almost literally true in Totalitarian states such as Soviet Russia, North Korea and Nazi Germany). In this sense, the King is symbolic of Society.

Oftentimes the problem presented by Nature—the Monster or Dragon—accounts for only half of the problem that is facing a society. One half is the Monster itself. The other half is the failure of the Society—the failure of the King—to overcome the problems they are facing. This is why many kings in a Dragon-Slayer myth are often old, debilitated, dying, or in some other way incapable of confronting the horror on their doorstep.

To take this up to the same level of abstraction as the Great Mother, the archetypical masculine divine entity would be God the Father. As the Great Mother is representative of Nature, so God the Father is representative of Society. As the Great Mother has both negative and positive aspects, so does God the Father as tyranny and protection.

The third piece of the puzzle is the Hero. The Hero is that which confronts Nature in order to save Society. This process involves overcoming the horrors of Nature and revitalizing a broken and decaying Society.

This mythological narrative can be elaborated from our simple Dragon-Slayer myth as follows:

Nature poses threats to Society.

That Society is aging, corrupt or incompetent, and so the threat posed by Nature becomes a Monster—a threat so bad that it terrorizes the people of a Society.

The Hero must come not only to confront the problem posed by Nature, but re-order or revitalize the failing society. This necessarily means the Hero must grow in a variety of ways and collect resources to defeat the Monster. These resources can be:

  • Special Knowledge
  • Weapons
  • Magical Abilities
  • Allies
  • Personal Development/Growth

The Hero is typically rewarded for their efforts and their sacrifices, which usually entails monetary, social and sexual rewards.

To sum this up:

It is the task of the Hero to return Order and Health to Society by becoming more powerful than the failing King, and defending Society from a Monster by incorporating the knowledge and resources of Nature and Chaos. In other words, it is the task of a Hero to save a Kingdom by usurping a King, and use acquired powers, weapons and knowledge (often attained from delving into the “Land of Chaos”, the “Underworld”, or into the “Unknown”) to defeat the Monster or Dragon. This typically results in the Hero attaining nobility or godhood, marrying a princess or virgin, and/or living the peaceful, simple life they wanted all along.

Shin Gojira begins with an anomalous event—a rupture or small earthquake in the ocean just outside the city—which the political leaders think is a perfectly natural event, and give little heed to it. Godzilla then emerges from the ocean, and the government and emergency response teams are ill-equipped to deal with Godzilla. Godzilla easily tears through Tokyo, and the immense amount of red-tape and legal regulations keep the government from effectively responding to Godzilla (even though it is well within their ability to do so at this stage of the movie).

Godzilla evolves into a much larger form, then returns to the ocean. When Godzilla returns from the ocean once more, Godzilla is far larger than before, and is nearly impervious to most small-scale weaponry, even artillery rounds. US bombers fly over Tokyo and begin dropping large bombs on Godzilla, which has some effect on the Monster, but then Godzilla destroys the bombers and wreaks havoc on the city before going to sleep in the middle of Tokyo.

From the very beginning of the movie, Rando Yaguchi—the protagonist—has been in conflict with the other politicians. He believed Godzilla was a creature and not a natural event far before anyone else did. He attempted to prepare for the potential oncoming catastrophe of Godzilla far before anyone else did. He also had a much clearer idea of how to respond to the threat of Godzilla than anyone else did. Yaguchi was ready to confront Godzilla and had the right mindset for confronting Godzilla, but his attempts at doing so were thwarted by the majority of fellow politicians.

However, Yaguchi is then given charge of task force designed to respond to the threat of Godzilla. Yaguchi is essentially in charge of dealing with the threat of Godzilla (though this authority is relatively surface-level until the end of the movie). After dealing with the catastrophic defeat at the midpoint of the movie, then dealing with several major stumbling blocks leading up to the climax (such as the threat of nuclear missiles from the US), Yaguchi rallies his task force together and defeats Godzilla. They do this by studying Godzilla until they understand Godzilla’s mysterious biology and find a chemical compound they can administer to Godzilla to incapacitate the Monster.

In the end, Yaguchi is hailed as the savior of Tokyo, he develops a potential romantic with an American politician, and it is implied that Yaguchi has a high chance of becoming the next Prime Minister of Japan.

I will simplify this and reconnect it to the archetypal Dragon-Slayer narrative.

Shin Gojira is about Godzilla attacking Tokyo. Godzilla is a reptilian Monster (Dragon) capable of evolving to adapt to threats (evolution, the province of Mother Nature). Godzilla emerges from the ocean (the lair of Leviathans and the territory of the Great Mother, as I’ll soon discuss).

Tokyo is the Kingdom or the Society that is being attacked by Godzilla, though you could say that Japan in general is under attack. The ultimate responsibility for confronting Godzilla falls onto the shoulders of the Prime Minister (the “King” of Japan), but the Prime Minister and his cabinet of politicians are broadly incompetent and their ability to confront Godzilla is hindered by bureaucracy.

Yaguchi, the Hero of Japan, confronts and defeats Godzilla by uniting the disparate forces of Science, Technology, the Military and the Government. They create a chemical compound (magic power or magic potion), and weaponize this chemical (the long, extended arms of cranes used to administer the chemical paralleling the phallic swords of knights) in order to defeat Godzilla.

For his troubles, Yaguchi is commended as a national Hero, given political favor, and gets to flirt with the American Princess, Kayoco Anne Patterson.

As an interesting side-note, Yaguchi’s plan to poison Godzilla is called the “Yashiori Strategy”, which is an allusion to the Japanese Yamatano Orochi legend. In the legend, an eight-headed dragon-like monster named Yamatano Orochi is terrorizing a countryside. The Hero, Susanoo, defeats the eight-headed dragon-creature by poisoning it with Yashiori no Sake, a legendary sake that incapacitates the Monster.

Yaguchi returns Order to Society by becoming more powerful than the failing King, and Defends Society from a Monster by incorporating the knowledge and resources of Science (magic), Outsider Intellectuals (allies and wise wizards) and Impromptu Methods of defeating Godzilla (magical weapons).

While this covers the surface-level narrative-structure of Godzilla, the symbolism and narrative structure of Godzilla can be delved into even deeper, especially when compared to other mythological narratives. This will deepen the meaningfulness of the first conflict, Man vs. Nature.

The name “Godzilla” or “Gojira” was originally a mix of the Japanese words for “gorilla” and “whale”. The name was intended to illustrate Godzilla’s violent, primal nature, its vast size and power, and evokes parallels both the Behemoth (land monster) and the Leviathan (sea monster) of the Hebrew myths. In a sense, this is saying that Godzilla is a hyper-monster, a super-monster. However, in Shin Gojira, the name Gojira is translated as “God Incarnate”. This means that “Gojira” is a double entendre meaning both “gorilla and whale” and “God Incarnate”.

The title “Shin Gojira” is often translated into “Godzilla Resurgence”, however, the literal translation of “Shin Gojira” is “New Godzilla”, and the alternate translations are “True Godzilla” and “God Godzilla”.

Godzilla has been referred to throughout the movie franchise as the King of the Monsters, and here, with these name and title translations, this motif has been revitalized in Shin Gojira.

“Shin Gojira” ends of being an octuple entendre, a combination of New, True and God, and Gorilla + Whale and God Incarnate. These meanings can be simplified if one wishes to into “The New True God of Monsters made Incarnate”.

This name is significant, because it hearkens back to not just the archetypal or symbolic Monster or Dragon, but to the ultimate Monster, the ultimate Dragon, or the Divine Incarnation of Monsters itself: the God of Monsters.

Analytically, a God is not necessarily a literal being, but the ultimate archetype of a concept. Thor, God of Thunder, (a warrior archetype) embodies the violent, wild, powerful, and fleeting fury of a thunderstorm. Dionysus, the God of Wine and Revelry, (an archetype of psychological states) embodies the spectrums of biological influence and intoxication—from manic ecstasy, to violent insanity. Isis, Goddess of Motherhood, Nature and Magic, (an archetype of a queen) embodies love and love’s ability to overcome death or destruction, as well as the esoteric knowledge, such as Science.

Godzilla, God of Monsters, is a draconic archetype who embodies the indifferent cruelty of nature, evolution, survival, and primal instinct. Godzilla symbolizes the “Red Queen”, the concept that nature is forever one-upping itself through evolution. Godzilla embodies the ferocious necessity of animals to survive a cruel world by becoming crueler than its environment. Godzilla also embodies the instinctual thread that runs through each and every human psyche—the motivation to survive reality.

There are many mythological stories that encapsulate this archetypal motif—Thor and Jormungandr, Zeus and Typhon, Krishna and Kaliya, and Ra and Apep—but I think the best comparison can be made with one of the oldest—if not the oldest—Dragon-Slayer myths that we know of:

The story of Marduk and Tiamat.

In Sumerian myth, the God Marduk becomes the King of Gods by defeating Tiamat. Tiamat is a Sumerian Sea Serpent Goddess, and a Goddess of Nature and Creation. Tiamat is a dragon-like monster which emerged from the sea or ocean (the Ocean being symbolic of chaos, nature and the potential of life), and Tiamat is a monster that spawns other monsters. Tiamat is also the ruler of the Sumerian Gods, and is essentially oppressing the mortals of the world during this myth (Nature oppressing Man).

Marduk is the son of Enki, another God of Creation and Water, as well as a God of Intelligence, Crafts, Magic and Mischief. Marduk is gifted with many eyes, which allow him to see all around him, and possesses several boons or powers, as well as various instruments and weapons. None of the other Sumerian Gods are able to defeat Tiamat, though they try, so Marduk uses his powers, weapons and his many eyes to defeat Tiamat, and then become the King of Gods.

Godzilla emerges from the Ocean and wreaks havoc on Tokyo. The current government is incapable of defeating Godzilla. The protagonist, Yaguchi, rises to the occasion, and uses science, technology and the military (secret knowledge, magical tools and powerful weapons) to defeat the Monster.

However, Godzilla has another layer. In the story, Godzilla is created, in part, because of mankind’s arrogance. This additional layer comprises the conflict of Man vs. Society.

In previous Godzilla stories, Godzilla is created from atomic missiles, which symbolized the vast destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. However, in Shin Gojira, Godzilla is created from nuclear waste left in the Pacific by Americans (fuckin’ Americans, man, always dickin’ around with existential threats to humanity).

Hideaki Anno has also mentioned in interviews that Godzilla is meant partially to represent the Fukushima incident. The Fukushima incident was caused by the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. When the earthquake was picked up by sensors at the plant, the active reactors shut down. The electrical supply to the reactors at the plant failed, but emergency generators were used to help supply coolant to the reactors. However, as the plant was flooded by the tsunami, these generators failed as well. This led to three nuclear meltdowns, three hydrogen explosions and radioactive contamination from various reactor units. Much of this was paralleled in the destruction in Shin Gojira.

In this way, Godzilla is not only symbolic of the direct destruction by nuclear technology, but the destruction caused by the misuse of modern technology–and, you could say, the destruction caused by human arrogance. Humanity believes it to be in control of its environment–in control of the natural world–but that appearance of control vanishes rapidly in the face of most natural disasters.

Godzilla is a creation of nature, a beast of survival and evolution, but it is created only because of the arrogance of man. This is where the narrative of Shin Gojira becomes not only a conflict of Man vs. Nature, but a conflict of Man vs. Society.

Here, I can tie Godzilla to another famous myth:

The story of Perseus and the Cetus (bastardized into the Norse “Kraken” in Clash of the Titans).

In Greek myth, Perseus defends the city of Ætheopia from the sea monster, Cetus, which was sent to attack Ætheopia by Poseidon, God of the Sea.

Interestingly, Cetus is the etymological root of Cetacean, which is the classification of whale species—which is one half of the name Gojira.

However, the Cetus wasn’t sent arbitrarily. The Cetus was sent to Ætheopia by the gods as a punishment for the mortals’ arrogance (the queen of Ætheopia wouldn’t stop flexing). Perseus is the son of Zeus, King of the Greek Gods, who uses Pegasus as a steed, and Medusa’s head as a weapon, which turns the Cetus into stone. Perseus then returns to the now-saved society to marry Andromeda.

In Shin Gojira, Godzilla is created when a surviving prehistoric animal comes into contact with nuclear waste, and mutates into a giant monster. So, Godzilla is simultaneously a spawn of nature (literally a monster that was born and developed in the ocean), and a consequence of man’s arrogance (man’s immature use of nuclear technology).

Yaguchi is the protégé of a successful politician, who defeats Godzilla using a mix of military equipment (drones, bombs, and so forth), and his “Yashiori” poison to turn Godzilla to stone. After this, Yaguchi becomes a potential candidate for the future Prime Minister of Japan.

Godzilla is the vengeance of Nature—Nature revolting at the hubris of Man and Society. Yaguchi is the Hero who must overcome both Nature and Society to save his Kingdom. While Godzilla is seen as the primary threat, the incompetence, arrogance and decay of Society may actually be the larger threat posed to humanity.

Beyond this, Godzilla not only represents the havoc that can be unleashed by Nature onto Man, but Godzilla also represents the havoc humans can unleash on each other by the improper use of Nature. When Godzilla cannot be defeated by normal human weaponry, America threatens to nuke Tokyo. Really, it’s difficult to say which is worse: Godzilla continuing its assault on the city, or America unleashing an atomic inferno on the city. In some sense, you could almost see the two as being one in the same. Godzilla is the threat of Nature biting back at humanity because of Man’s arrogance, and Godzilla is also the threat of Man turning on Man and unleashing the horrors of Nature on each other.

Shin Gojira is almost a perfect reflection of several mythological tropes. However, these mythological tropes are actually a reflection of reality, and Shin Gojira acts as an intermediary between mythology and reality. In other words, Shin Gojira uses the structure and symbolism of mythological narratives to communicate concerns about the reality of humanity.

Humanity is comprised of fragile beings, faced with the near-insurmountable task of surviving in this universe. We make this already insurmountable task even more difficult by allowing human hubris, vice and ignorance to further disrupt our lives. We live in constant peril, despite the façade of modern security and decadence, and quite possibly worsen this peril with modern security and decadence.

We push the boundaries of science, technology, and society at our own risk. Though we are surrounded on all sides by natural disasters, predatory beasts, starvation, disease, and harsh environments, we only serve to compound these great horrors by introducing war, pollutants, and dangerous technologies (such as nuclear technology) to Earth’s environment.

Reality doesn’t care about your feelings. Reality doesn’t care about your suffering. Reality doesn’t care if our follies are only accidents and misunderstandings.

Reality—Nature—simply happens, with or without your approval.

Godzilla is the perfect Scientific/Materialist symbol for Nature. Godzilla is indifferent to the suffering of humans.

Godzilla might have an IQ of approximately 12, yet it is still higher up the food chain than humans.

It has no real form of emotion (other than, possibly, pain, aggression, and curiosity), no form of empathy, communication or rationality (other than reptilian survival), and has no sense of morality.

Godzilla doesn’t eat, doesn’t dream, and doesn’t have sex—instead, Godzilla evolves/mutates itself spontaneously, or reproduces asexually (as we see at the end of Shin Gojira).

Godzilla is the ultimate organism.

It is a self-contained nuclear reactor, which can evolve as needed in order to survive. It can unleash a storm of annihilation, and it can weather the bombardment of Man’s weapons. Godzilla, just like Nature, cares little for Man, and can only just barely be survived by Man. Not only this, Godzilla at its fiercest might be just as terrifying as Mankind at its fiercest. The horrors unleased by Godzilla—razing the city with its atomic breath—pale in comparison to what Man can do when unleashing their arsenal of atomic weapons.

And yet, beneath the horrors of Nature and the tyranny of Society, there is the deepest conflict of Shin Gojira:

Man vs. God

What would you do if you met a god?

What would a god even be like?

If we take the Judeo-Christian explanation of God:

God is omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient. God is everything that existed, exists or will exist, everything that can occur in existence, and the knowledge of all that has been, all that is, all that will be and all that hasn’t, isn’t, and won’t. God is everything that can be imagined, perceived and understood, and all that cannot be imagined, perceived and understood.

What would that be like?

What would it be like to confront all that is reality?

What would you do?

In HP Lovecraft, one of the ultimate “evils” of the universe is an entity named Azathoth, which is also described as the “Blind Idiot God”. Yet, despite this name, Azathoth is considered to be omnipotent. Similarly, Godzilla appears to be both unthinking and unfeeling (though there are trace amounts of primal rationality), and at the same time, Godzilla is nearly omnipotent, like a God.

Godzilla is a symbol of the blind force of nature, which overwhelms humanity. Godzilla is the indifferent violence of the universe (manifest in hurricanes, volcanoes, and supernovas). Godzilla is the pinnacle of nature (the ultimate predator, the ultimate survivor, the ultimate organism). And Godzilla is the folly of Man’s hubris.

The horror of Godzilla is the horror of reality; the horror of the natural universe we must survive.

Godzilla is the manifestation—the incarnation—of all the problems that beset us on a daily basis, and all the potential problems we could face in our lives, ranging from the insignificant (a minor natural disaster) to the wholly catastrophic (the nuclear eradication of an entire city). And yet, even the most catastrophic events we imagine are still insignificant in the grand scheme of the Cosmos.

Shin Gojira is a story about a single terrible event that happened on one small island, in the vast ocean of a small, blue rock. Shin Gojira is about a single, small God walking into the midst of a single, huge City. Shin Gojira is about how insignificant a single person is when confronted with one, small God of Nature, Vengeance and Annihilation.

It took a team of dozens, hundreds of political officials, thousands of civil servants, and several thousands of soldiers to finally subdue Godzilla after a couple weeks or so. Godzilla led a one-man siege on Tokyo. Even Yaguchi says that Godzilla is a far superior species to humans, and Kayoco says, “Gojira, truly a God Incarnate.”

Godzilla is not dead. America has not left the planet to reside somewhere else. Tokyo is in irradiated ruins. The Japanese government has been disemboweled. Thousands are now dead. The battle is not over, it’s never been over, and it will never end.

And yet, Shin Gojira is, in the final analysis, a story about humanity ultimately triumphing over this absurd, terrible, maddening force that looms over us at all times.

Shin Gojira is a story about how humanity refuses to be defeated by even the most terrible threats that face us, and how the collective efforts of unique, empowered individuals can overcome the tragedies of reality.

In the end, this is an existential story of humankind standing in the presence of a God, the realization of the insignificance of our small, petty lives, and the realization of our potential to rise to greater heights and overcome the terrors that befall us.

Godzilla is the asteroid heading toward our planet. Godzilla is the nuclear reactor that goes into meltdown. Godzilla is the pollution of our oceans. Godzilla is our ignorance of the world we live in. Godzilla is the indifference of the Cosmos.

And we are the small species that dare disturb that Cosmos.

The Art of Dusko Rokvic

Article Written by Alexander Greco

April 16, 2019

I had the opportunity to chat online with Dusko Rokvic, a self-taught artist from Novi Sad, Serbia, after seeing his work online. Despite never talking to Dusko before this, we quickly became engaged in a brief but meaningful conversation about his artwork and his thoughts on art.

Asymmetry of Life

“Painting is not a car and owner park[ed] in front of his big house and many people can see his money [and] power,” he told me. “Art is something individual… for free people.”

Dusko talked with me about materialism, and the effect that living in a consumerist culture has on a person. Often, it seems like we live in a restrictive culture, where stepping out of the social norm, or not achieving a high enough socio-economic status can be looked down upon. Are people in a consumer-based society truly living free lives, or are they participants in blind materialism?


Theatre

In this painting, I see the gray and rust-orange of abandoned steel girders in a city, with a pale, polluted sunset behind it, and an angry pit of hunger at the center of it all. Is this Dusko’s vision of materialism? Some industrial pit of greedy wallets and blank checks?


“This world deformed us in[to] material people… life without idealism will just be material form.”


Ivana Guidry

Dusko’s art shows us an eerie twist on identity, with images of distorted faces, mask-like appearances, and split personas. Are these the true identities of people? Are these the identities that have been deformed by the society around them? And what are these internal identities made of?

Are they principled people? With their own morals and ideals? Do they have admirable goals in life?

The Way to a Better Life

Or are these people animals from the shopping-mall zoos? Are these people penned up in cages of status and belongings? Are these the people who never bite the master’s hand, so long as the hand keeps feeding?

Dusko summed this sentiment up with one question, “How much are we free today?”

Dusko freely allowed me to use his art in this article, and made a point to tell me he didn’t want any money involved in this collaboration at all. Dusko told me that art “is for real rebels,” and disregarded the notion of expensive, high-society art.

Cat’s World

Dusko’s goal is not to create art for easy-consumption, but to challenge others to think for themselves.


“My style is abstract expressionism… I want to push people to thinking… to wake up feelings… to thinking behind the reality.”


To Be

There is a depth that Dusko creates by layering different colors and patterns of paint onto the canvas. These layers of colors, patterns and textures parallel Dusko’s ideas about reality. There is a tension between the external, physical reality we’re surrounded by, and our own internal reality—a reality of emotions, thoughts, and perceptions.

Portrait of my Mother

In Dusko’s paintings, he shows the stacking of different realities on top of each other—such as the stacking of materialism and idealism, or the stacking of different identities. As I went through Dusko’s art, I began to wonder how many layers there were in our psyche, how these layers might affect our personality and our identity.

Freedom is Idealism

How deep does our psyche go? And how much of our psyche do we ignore?

At the core of Dusko’s work is an exploration of the phenomenological world, the layer of reality our conscious experience resides in, which often feels like a lonely or isolated world in our society.

Material World…Where are We Going?

Despite the vast improvements in global standards of living, and despite vast increases in global wealth, something still seems to be missing in the lives of modern humans. We still can’t satisfy our desires, and we can’t stop ourselves from sliding back into violent conflicts.

Frida

Beyond the intentions of his pieces, it was clear in our conversation, and from what I saw of the artist online, that Dusko loves making art—the process, the creation, and the techniques he’s adopted from his influences (Pollock, Mark Rothko, Gerard Richter, Amadeo Modigliani, and Ilija Basicevic Bosilija). Despite exploring the darker sides of consumerism in his work, I sensed a genuine enthusiasm from Dusko as he talked about his pieces.

It takes a certain kind of drive to self-teach yourself any kind of skill, and Dusko’s intuition for abstract uses of color and form come from long hours of practice and care. To really appreciate Dusko’s work, you have to appreciate Dusko’s love and dedication to his craft.

Zoe and Violonchello