Behind the Cover Art
Calliope is themed around change this month. Change is a constant in our lives, shaping the world around us and the way we perceive it. In this magazine, we explore how change is reflected in the arts, from literature to painting, sculpture to film, and everything in between.
Through our articles, we delve into how artists have captured the essence of change in their work. From Ovid's Metamorphoses, a classic exploration of transformation and change, to modern works like The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World, which explores the experience of moving on from loss, we examine the many ways in which artists have tackled this universal theme.
Our writers bring you a fresh perspective on change in the arts, showcasing the works of both emerging and established artists. Whether you're an art enthusiast, a literature buff, or simply interested in exploring the human experience, we invite you to join us on this journey of discovery and exploration.
"Everything Changes": Ovid's Metamorphoses in Art
In this article Laura explores how the changes of the characters in Ovid’s epic poem
“Everything changes, nothing dies: the spirit wanders, arriving here or there, and occupying whatever body it pleases.” Or so says Pythagorus in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. This one line, spoken towards the end of the Roman writer’s epic poem, captures the central theme: transformation. Metamorphoses is a compendium of ancient myths, many familiar to us today. Hercules, Icharus and Orpheus all find themselves encountering some kind of change, however minor, in their stories. And these stories have served as inspiration for countless artists for over 2000 years.
Metamorphoses is more widely illustrated than any literary source in history (save only the Bible). As such the examples of artworks that have drawn inspiration from it are countless. Of course the Renaissance, with its renewal of the principles of classical antiquity, took great inspiration from Ovid’s poem, and some of the period’s most iconic works are illustrations of its stories. One of the most famous paintings of not just the Renaissance, but all of Western art, is based on a myth retold by Ovid. Botticelli's The Birth of Venus (1484-1486) depicts the adult goddess of love moments after her transformation from seafoam. The painting represents a shift from religious to mythological subject matter coinciding with the influence of humanism. This was only the start of the invasion of myth into Renaissance visual culture.
Painting was not the only medium to depict the Metamorphoses. One of the most literal transformations in Ovid’s poem, that of Daphne into a laurel tree, was the subject of a masterpiece of sculpture by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The figures in Apollo and Daphne (1622-1625) are frozen in the moment Daphne begins her transformation. Bark climbs around her contrapposto figure and delicate branches grow from her fingers, delicately hiding the supportive struts between them. For a contemporary viewer the story would be immediately recognizable. The influence of Ovid’s poem, on art as in literature, was definitive.
But the influence of the Metamorphoses did not end with the Renaissance. Even the Pre-Raphaelites, who defined themselves by their rejection of the style of the Renaissance master Raphael that was being taught by the Academy, continued to be influenced by Ovid’s stories. These nineteenth-century artists like John William Waterhouse took the subjects of Thisbe (1909), Echo and Narcissus (1903) and Circe to depict in signature Pre-Raphaelites style. Circe in Circe Offering the Cup to Ulysses (1891) is threatening an impending transformation, that of Ulysses (or Odysseus) and his sailors into pigs. With long unbound hair, diaphanous fabrics and vivid colour, the Circe of Ovid’s Metamorphoses is effortlessly absorbed into the Pre-Raphaelite oeuvre.
The twentieth-century too saw its fair share of Ovidian influence, particularly among the surrealists, whose own focus on unnerving, illogical scenes suited this theme of change transformation well. Salvador Dali’s Metamorphosis of Narcissus represents Narcissus’ transformation into a flower to appease his vanity. Narcissus here is kneeling in the pool, becoming the egg and flower he is holding. The hallucinatory effect of hand-painted colour photography captures the unnerving nature of this metamorphosis.
These stories continue to influence artists today. Damien Hirst’s Metamorphosis (2016) subverts the myth of Arachne, changing the woman not into a spider, but into its victim. This fly-woman with insect legs busting through classical drapery, still represents the girl transformed by Athena after challenging her to a weaving contest. For Hirst, Ovid’s myth is perceived as a parable on the “antagonism between creativity and authority," demonstrating the countless interpretations of ancient stories.
Over the last two millennia, Ovid’s Metamorphoses has influenced visual artists to create works across style, medium and meaning. It is no surprise, as transformation is a compelling inspiration for artists for whom the finished piece is so different from the pigments and marble block with which they begin.
New Experiences and Old Grief:
Moving on From Loss in The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World
In this article, Ellie Stewart takes a look at the intersection of grief and hope in Laura Imai Messina’s novel The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World
Grief is a theme commonly explored in literature and film, loss exposing elements of humanity that are not commonly seen in everyday life. In her recent book The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World, Laura Imai Messina explores the grief that comes with losing those we love and how to navigate the life that follows. The novel is inspired by an actual place, a disconnected phone booth installed outside of the city of Ōtsuchi. The booth, called the wind phone, was opened to the public following the tsunami on March 11th, 2011, as a place of bereavement for those who lost loved ones, as the area was badly affected by the tragedy. People came to walk in the gardens or use the phone to have conversations with those they lost.
Messina’s novel follows Yui, a woman whose mother and daughter died in the tsunami, as she discovers the phone booth and slowly begins to heal. On her first visit,, Yui meets a man called Takeshi, a widower whose young daughter, Hana, has stopped speaking following her mother’s death. As the two visit the phone booth over the following months they become closer, making the trip together as they both live in Tokyo. They meet the man who opened the phone booth, and others who frequent it, all sharing their grief. Eventually, Takeshi brings his daughter on one of the trips, and she finally begins to talk again, speaking to her mother on the phone. Following this, Yui becomes more involved in the lives of Takeshi and Hana and eventually falls in love with Takeshi. The grief of losing her daughter, however, keeps her removed. Finally, another natural disaster strikes, a typhoon which threatens to destroy the wind phone and the garden. Yui rushes to save it, wrapping it in plastic and tethering it to the earth, ultimately getting injured in the storm. Following her injury, Yui must finally confront what has been keeping her separated from Takeshi and Hana: the grief of losing her daughter and mother and the guilt that came with being happy in their absence. She goes and spends a couple of days with the owners of the wind phone, and finally, at the end of her stay, she speaks to her mother and daughter.
Messina divides up the chapters of narrative with smaller sections fixated on elements of the previous chapter. In some sections she lists facts, in others, she details a physical object or conversations had in the phone booth. These snippets of information orient the reader in the story. The characters and their grief are made real through the important objects and ideas of the story. Far from just focusing on Yui and Takeshi, the novel explores the sadness of others who use the wind phone. Initially, all of their grief seems similar, but as it is explored further, it becomes clear that they are all different. Some mourn dead loved ones, like Yui, but others mourn losses of the living. The wind phone allows them to interact, enacting the patterns of conversation and behaviour that had once defined their love, maintaining their connection to the past.
Throughout the novel, Yui carries a deep fear of forgetting her mother and daughter. In her first conversation with Takeshi, Yui discusses her dream of giving birth to her daughter. She even refuses to continue dying her hair blond after the tragedy, her dark roots becoming a marker of how much time has passed. Once she becomes closer to Takeshi and Hana, Yui’s fear becomes fixated on the little girl. At first, she worries that she will be unable to love Hana, that she will simply be another little girl in the street, and that even if she does come to love her it will be an insult to the memory of her daughter. When she realises that she does love her, Yui’s fear becomes whether or not her love will be enough. Just as Hana will never replace her daughter, Yui recognises she will never replace Hana’s mother. After finally speaking to her mother and daughter through the wind phone, she realises that this isn’t a bad thing. Hana and Yui’s daughter are vastly different girls, just as Yui and Hana’s mother are vastly different women. The guilt Yui held over becoming a maternal figure for Hana was unfounded, as she is not replacing her daughter but simply extending her love to another person. Similarly, she does not have to replace Hana’s mother to step into a maternal role. Yui comes to realise that she has been profoundly shaped by her mother and daughter. It would be impossible for her to forget them as they are so deeply intertwined with her, and even in death, they are carried with her always. Far from simply providing closure, the wind phone allows people to identify and interact with those parts themselves that are constructed by the people they have lost. Messina’s novel is therefore not simply about grief, but about hope and resilience, reframing death as something that does not mean complete loss and love as something infinite.
Ch-ch-ch-changes: Turn and Face the Strange
In this article Deia Leykind explores her favourite songs about change.
We all experience change in our lives. Whether it’s transitioning from school/university to the working world, forming and then losing attachments, both platonic and romantic, as well as smaller things like getting a new haircut that you realise you’re not so keen on once it’s a bit too late… Change can be both really wonderful and really difficult, but it is almost always sure to bring with it a lot of deep feelings. And what better way to get through these intense emotions than with the help of songs that get exactly how you feel? Without further ado, here are my top five favourite songs about change!
1. Changes, David Bowie
As the namesake of this article, it’s only right for this song to be first on the list. Bowie’s entreaty to ‘turn and face the strange’, is often just what I need to prompt me to rise up to change in moments when fear makes me want to stay secluded in the familiarity of my comfort zone.
2. Change, Big Thief
The effortless beauty of Big Thief’s lyrics never fail to leave me speechless. I think the introduction of the song speaks for itself: ‘Change, like the wind/ Like the water, like skin/ Change, like the sky/ Like the leaves, like a butterfly…’ One of those rare songs that is perfect for both smiling and crying to.
3. Vienna, Billy Joel
Whenever I’ve been going through any sort of milestone in my life, you best believe I’ve been listening to this song. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the anxiety of change that a reminder to slow down a bit and trust yourself comes as a breath of fresh air. ‘Vienna’- or whatever it is you’re hurriedly clambering towards, will ‘wait for you’.
4. So Far Away, Carole King
This song particularly resonated with me when I moved to university, and it felt like all of the people I’d grown up with were suddenly going in different directions, ‘so far away’ from wherever I was going. I’ve since learnt, though, that relationships that are meant to last will No matter the distance.
5. Great Things, Echobelly
A bit of a differentchoice, this more upbeat song is full of passion and excitement for the future and for change. The chorus line ‘I wanna do great things/ I don’t wanna compromise’ always makes me want to wholeheartedly throw myself into new opportunities without looking back.
Singing in Different Tongues and Speaking in Different Pitches
Olivia Bastin explores the effect of language-learning on the way we hear.
Music and foreign learning might not sound like a cohesive skill- set but they are. From studying European tongues to tonal languages and singing in different choirs, I’ve tuned my ear to hear better.
When I learn a language I change. I pick up new words and I find a new way to put my world together. I learn about a new culture. Culture, like a language, is fluid. As we evolve and warp and become so does language. From many different languages I’ve picked up, I’ve found the power to better understand myself. I would say I’ve grown as a person and my linguistic abilities have strengthened showing how change and evolution can propel us into new heights.
I love singing and learning foreign languages. I’ve done languages ever since I can remember and from the primary choir I was in, to singing traditional Scottish and Irish songs with the Folk and Traditional Music Society, to being part of Vocal Bandits and finally joining The Sofa Singers, I’ve always enjoyed music. I believe both of these hobbies lend themselves to each other enormously. It is said that music functions in a similar structural way to language. Although music was created 500,000 years ago and language was birthed 200,000 (1) years ago, the music and language neural network in our brains overlap. Words are the building blocks of a language and groups of notes combine to form phrases/ chords which eventually become songs. It is not surprising that when learning songs by ear one picks up the musical side of foreign languages quickly.
For example, when I learn a new language, I focus on pronunciation, pitch, intonation, rhythms and flow. When I sing and pick up songs by ear, I focus on hearing the notes and tempo. I have found having done both these hobbies, my singing and my ability to learn foreign languages has improved. I started speaking French at home and then at high school learnt Spanish. In my final year I began to study Italian. Then I embarked on asiatic languages and took private mandarin classes. Once I’d done Mandarin for three years, I proceeded to try my hand at Japanese which I found faster to pick up. Finally I moved onto Cantonese that stretched my linguistic and musical knowledge and abilities.
An observation I’ve made is that tonal languages in particular have really helped me to improve my singing abilities. Through having studied and learnt Mandarin and Cantonese my ear for singing has been refined and heightened. I can pick out different notes quicker and mimic them better. With a song, you must first pick up the melody. From the melody you can invent harmonies or add little flourishes but the most important aspect of the song is to grasp the melody. The same can be said about tonal languages. One must first learn the tones and how to copy them to avoid saying “my mum was wondering where the dentist is”. If you use the wrong tone for ma you might end up saying “my horse was wondering where the dentist is”. Before concerning yourself over pronunciation, basic syntax and vocabulary you must first understand the tonal system and the correlating pitches of those tones.
Having started with Mandarin, I picked up the 4 tones and the “flat” one relatively quickly. I had an excellent teacher who drummed them into me. The four tones became precise and distinct. When I started doing Cantonese, it became my greatest linguistic challenge. Grappling with the 8 different tones was not an easy feat. The graph to demonstrate minute changes in pitch was overwhelming and the very slight difference between the 5th tone and the 6th tone left me feeling discombobulated. However, as the classes with the Hong Kong society progressed, I began to distinguish between high pitched tones versus low pitched tones and from there I could begin to recognize the third tone from the fourth tone for example.
Identifying which tone I was using, really helped me to develop my vocal range. Moreover, the complex to al system that Cantonese has has allowed me to improve on certain flourishes when I sing. For example, I can do slides better and hearing all the different notes in a riff has meant, I can riff better. When it comes to a grace note, hearing that natural wobble in the voice has tuned my ear into understanding the notes I’m singing better. As much as I haven’t studied other South- East Asian tonal languages such as Thai or Burmese, I’d be very open to exposing my ear to yet more pitches.
However, if embarking on Mandarin or Cantonese might sound somewhat overwhelming, learning any new language will still enormously help you when picking up new melodies in your choir. An example of a country that has tested this theory out with impressive results would be Finland. In Finland the average person speaks three to five languages. Babies and toddlers learn core music skills through the musiikkileikkikoulu (2) method. They learn core music skills through songs and games which is believed to influence the high number of Finnish polyglots. Most Finnish children start school aged seven and begin to study music aged nine or older. This gives them bigger vocabularies, a deeper knowledge of grammar and a higher verbal IQ. It even helps them with the stresses and intonations of their own mother tongue.
In conclusion, if you enjoy singing and are looking to tune your ear into identifying notes better, then picking up a foreign language is a great way to do so. I would particularly recommend a tonal language if you are up for the challenge! Not only will you be expanding your horizons, improving job prospects and engaging with another culture, your vocal chords will be very appreciative! And who knows, you might get that lead solo after all!
(1) The case for Language Learning, Are Musicians Better Language Learners? The Guardian, Liisa Henriksson Macaulay, Thursday 27th February 2014
(2) The Case for Language Learning, Are Musicians Better Language Learners? The Guardian, Liisa Henriksson Macaulay, Thursday 27th February, 2014
Love as Medium
Brynn Gordon introduces three pieces of art and literature that explore themes of “Love” after Valentines day
Images: Diaart, Wikipedia, Poetry Foundation
The end of Winter is a wonderful thing. Days get longer and snowdrops grow, which means spring is close at hand. To honor the upcoming occasion of Valentine's day, as well as the promise of more flowers and good weather, this article briefly introduces three works of art that attempt to pin down what “Love” is.
Agnes Martin, Love (1993)
Canadian-American artist Agnes Martin’s abstract painting Love clearly declares its theme, but not it’s inspiration. It may have been a meditation on Martin’s love for New Mexico, the flat bands that stretch across the canvas and the bleached sherbert blue and yellow evoking the spring sky over her studio and home in the desert. Alternatively, the fine graphite lines that trace the contours of the bands could signify peace found in a partner, the incandescent, intangible joy of romantic love.
Ultimately, the specific source of inspiration for Martin’s Love is irrelevant. She was an Abstract Expressionist (think Pollock and Rothko) and was an installment in the New York scene before her pilgrimage to the desert. Martin intended her work to express pure emotions without the barriers posed by figurative images. She painted her experience of love rather than its object.
Rothko is an apt comparison, as he too explores the emotional interplay of color, line and shape. A Rothko piece called Love would be explosive and vibrant. Martin’s Love is a very different emotion: controlled, serene, familiar. Martin’s meditations on subtle, slow-moving feeling provide a counterpoint to the Abstract Expressionist norm, her love so simple it requires such precision and concentration to convey.
“If you wake up in the morning and feel very happy about nothing, no cause, that is what I paint about, the subtle emotions that we feel without cause in this world.” - Agnes Martin
John Keats, Bright Star (1819)
Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art—
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors—
No—yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever—or else swoon to death.
Did anyone else study Romantic poetry at school? Initially, our class found the metaphors opaque and the poets pretentious, and none more so than Keats. But as with all art, through deeper understanding and exposure, we eventually came, somewhat guiltily, to admit we liked Keats’ work.
Unlike Martin’s painting, the form of the poem is more apparent than the emotion behind it. Inspired by Keats’ fiance and muse Fanny Brawne, Bright Star is more rhythmic than contemporary, It elevates a simple hug (“pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast”) to epic proportions. To him, this action encapsulates Brawne’s steadfast character, the beauty of the natural world and his devotion to her.
The natural imagery is particularly pertinent: the snow on the moors, the changing of the waters and his “Bright Star”, as is his worry about being “[a]lone”. Keats died in Italy on a health-cure prescribed for his tuberculosis, an illness that claimed the lives of his mother and brother, whom he nursed. In his last weeks he was removed from his friends and wife-to-be, and his experience as a doctor’s apprentice left him with little doubt regarding his fate. In this time, the Italian stars and tides might have reminded Keats of this poem and Brawne, whom he would never see again.
Keats’ love gives him an expanded, almost cosmic view of the world. It may be dramatic but it is nevertheless typical of Romantic poetry.
A sculptor working in the academic style, Cannova was known for his mastery over his medium. He was so skilled in his craft he made marble seem tensile and alive, capturing the idealized human form.
This is part of what makes his sculpture of Cupid and Psyche so compelling, the absolute realism and tangibility of the figures and their embrace. A close up view would show the subtle indentations where the figures touch. Their interlocking embrace also serves to balance the piece while creating a huge sense of intimacy: Psyche and Cupid mirror each other, one stretches up while the other reaches down. When one goes left, the other goes right, further highlighting this idealized love.
Another element that astonished audiences of the time was the thinness of Cupid’s wings. Partly a measure to ensure the marble could support its own weight, Cannova shaved his wings down to the point they became translucent, making them appear to glow when the sun hit them. This pairing of practicality and artistry imbues the piece with a sort of magic, showing off its mythical origins.
As important as the figures of Cupid and Psyche are as well as the romantic themes they invoke, it can be argued that the real “love” Cannova evokes in this piece is his love of marble. The beauty and sophistication in his treatment of the stone and obvious joy in surprising his audience trumps the familiar Classical story which would likely have bored his viewers. His love for his craft pushed him to explore new modes of creative expression.
A Bag of Unheroic Fantasies
Aldwin Li looks at sci-fi and fantasy books without conventional heroes, and what writing without heroes might bring to us.
Images: Part of Assyrian relief carving, 883 – 859 BC. Metropolitan Museum of Art
As a child, my mother never understood what I liked about fantasy books. She’d look at a novel I was asking her to buy and say, “isn’t this just another story where they just shoot people and kill people?” In the car ride home I’d gather all the things I could have said back. No, mum, I could have said. This isn’t just another story; this is a post-apocalyptic dystopia that explores morality and justice through heroic struggle, etc.! Sure. They do that by shooting people, and sometimes killing people. But Thomas Hobbes said ‘the Natural State of Man is War’, and (cue fourteen-year-old me smirking) how’s it going to sell if there’s no action?
Present me looks back at fourteen-year-old me and sighs. So that’s what you like about fantasy, is it? I’d ask him. That the popular books are all about men with things that hurt things, as if we didn’t have enough of those in the real world.
No, I don’t hate fantasy. How could I? Fantasy is getting lost in a magical bathhouse staffed by spirits, learning the language of a species incapable of lying, living in a world where the true names of things have power. There is a place in those worlds for the hero. But I want what Ursula K. Le Guin, in her essay ‘The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction’, says all serious fiction is trying to describe: ‘what is in fact going on, what people actually do and feel’. I also want to read the voices of people in those worlds who do not want to fight, who do not want strength or power. I want to read about real people, people who want to live.
Ursula K. Le Guin wrote this in the same essay:
The novel is a fundamentally unheroic kind of story. Of course the Hero has frequently taken it over, that being his imperial nature and uncontrollable impulse, to take everything over and run it while making stern decrees and laws to control his uncontrollable impulse to kill it. So the Hero has decreed through his mouthpieces the Lawgivers, first, that the proper shape of the narrative is that of the arrow or spear, starting here and going straight there and THOK! hitting its mark (which drops dead); second, that the central concern of narrative, including the novel, is conflict; and third, that the story isn't any good if he isn't in it.
I differ with all of this. I would go so far as to say that the natural, proper, fitting shape of the novel might be that of a sack, a bag. A book holds words. Words hold things. They bear meanings. A novel is a medicine bundle, holding things in a particular, powerful relation to one another and to us.
So for the next time you tell your parents you like fantasy and they ask you if it’s all just Game of Thrones, here is a grab bag of three unheroic fantasies.
1. The Song of Achilles, Madeleine Miller
I first read this in secondary school thinking this would be the Iliad but from Achilles’ perspective. Instead Madeleine Miller tells this story in the voice of Patroclus, Achilles’ aide and lover. The Iliad gives Patroclus only a chapter of life as a foolhardy hero, a casualty of Achilles’ decisions; in her Song Miller transforms him into Achilles’ confidant, giver of comfort and later counsel even as Achilles turns away. Through him she opens a window into Achilles’ hubris and the person underneath. Miller’s Patroclus is also explicitly not a warrior – he is a healer and mediator, and through his eyes the novel becomes a song not only of Achilles, but of the humanity of all who are hurt by war.
2. Gifts, Ursula K. Le Guin
The world of Gifts is a mountainous countryside, home to feuding clans. The clan chiefs are magicians whose gifts are passed through their blood, father to son, mother to daughter. Orrec is a son of Caspromant, seat of the Caspros, and his father has told him from childhood that he will inherit the Caspro gift of the undoing – the power to look at anything and anyone and destroy them by force of will. His childhood friend Gry already has her clan’s power to speak to animals, which her mother uses to lure animals to hunters. But neither Orrec and Gry want to kill. This is a story not of heroes but of children, of those caught between cruel powers and unwanted gifts.
3. The Past is Red, Catherynne M. Valente
The Past is Red opens in a post-apocalyptic hellscape. After decades of global warming the seas have risen to cover most major cities, carrying on them large islands of floating trash that have become humans’ last shelter on Earth. Tetley Abednego’s home of Garbagetown is built on one such island, and its residents still hold hopes of returning to the world before the sea rose. A heroic novel might put Tetley at the head of a Great Journey to the Last Island, but Tetley is no hero. Garbagetown’s resources are scarce, and in her mind any expedition would destroy their last supplies of oil and the stable life they have now. What will Tetley do when a floating circus comes to Garbagetown, whispering promises of dry land?
Stories about not resisting and not destroying and not searching aren’t the ones we usually tell. When I told a friend I was writing this article, he joked: “if no-one’s shooting anyone, how do you know who the bad guys are?” But in a world where those who build walls and fear the strange are the good guys, these are the stories I want to read and remember – stories with no heroes, with no ‘good guys’ or ‘bad guys’. These are the stories we need, I think: stories with only people.