Everything was Sublime: The Black Nature of Hilma af Klint (and Marie Curie and Kim Hyesoon)

by on Jan.03, 2013

“The fern craze opened as men’s clothes turned black.”— The Victorian Fern Craze: A History of Pteridomania, by Daniel Allen Elliston


We may have missed the future in which Hilma af Klint’s work could have been received.  Perhaps we encounter it now in its permanent quiescence, a ruin of the former future. Her work is occult, runic, enclosed and split open, some works 11 feet tall, others closed in 150 secret notebooks, secret leaves conjuring to each, awaiting a dead/future reader. Her day job was painting flowers, producing the autokitsch of Swedish naturalism; her black work was drawing occult diagrams, geometric forms and colors which seek to understand the life force or ‘astral guidelines’ in these very flowers, songbirds, lichen. Her work thus unites the strictures of Malevich with the necrotic knowledge that life is an uncanny thing which must make its way fields of black matter by scavenging for various forms; her spirit teachers told her, “Your mission is to open their eyes to a life that lasts for eternity.”


She wrote in her notebooks in 1917,

“Everything is contained within the black cube: The greenery of the earth is the bottom of the cube, the blue air is its roof, and the water-filled part is situated at that section of the cube that I rest my back against.” Her own body is a measuring stick for the totality; she turns her back on the black cube to draw it again and again; she knows it intimately, by heart, as if it has been transferred through the bones of her back.

It makes me think of Marie Curie, knowledge of radium learned as isotopes passed through the hands, writing out their own semiotics in fatigue, burns and and leukemia–

marie curie

and also of Kim Hyesoon’s entire ouevre, any poem, in which forms contain, die, give birth, give way to more forms, and the end of eternity can never be found. Creatures keep consuming each other, shitting, tearing, pushing through each other, and the significance of any given form or container is that it marks a boundary which can be pushed through, though one which always might reconstitute itself:

From “Sublime Kitchen” (trans. Don Mee Choi)
I caught a glimpse of her kitchen once
The rain cloud of flour mushroomed
and all kinds of dead animals’ blood flowed down the drain
the cries of countless spoons, chopsticks, fingers, toes
got sucked into the dishpan
It was a sublime kitchen

It’s time to prepare a midnight meal
She cracked the moon over the frying pan
a hole as deep as a fingernail appeared on the moon
then a flock of birds crawled out from the hole
with their wings that can be fried
The flock of birds spread their black wings
across the sky as the night deepened
She roasted the wings all night

Slobbered, chewed, licked, burped, chewed and chewed, sucked, tasted, drank, got fed nonstop, swallowed and shouted Cheers! Eat more! Hey, Over here! One more bottle! Smacked lips, belched, gagged

Like the lips that never once closed
the buildings on both sides of the street at night
the sound of them being fed the night sky through their huge openings
Everything was sublime




2 comments for this entry:
  1. don mee

    Great to learn about Hilma af Klint’s amazing work.

    I was reading Inger Christensen’s poems in _Butterfly Valley_ this morning and thought of you and your post.
    from Christensen’s poem “Meeting”:

    My love-for that word exists-there is a lie. There is a closed door. I can see it. It is gray. It has a little black hand to shake hello and goodbye. It has a little, black, stiff hand, which is completely still now. That door is not a lie. I sit and stare at it. And it is not a lie. I cannot tell you what it is.

  2. don mee

    Poems in Butterfly Valley (New Directions, 2003) are translated by Susanna Nied.