Heather Ellyard Photo Title : Heather Shain Ellyard
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1986 Adelaide Festival ARTISTS WEEK

brief excerpts from my paper, the shared symbolic order

Possibly I am absurd or brave standing here poised to speak about something so intangible, ephemeral, different as the spiritual in art.


I am not a scholar. I cannot trace the history of the spiritual in art. I can only illuminate what is already there, in the shade, perhaps quiet with dust. Look to the Aboriginal peoples of the globe where art serves the spirits. Look to the east, to erotic sculpture, look to the Far East and its profound understanding of the ephemeral in nature through it brush-strokes and its gardens. Look to the west, to the art and architecture of Christianity’s longing for a god. Look to the Anglo-Saxon mind’s inscriptions on the ancient land. Look to the origins of all pyramids. all mounds. all temples. all visual manifestations of the invisible. all constructions of the human longing to accommodate the unknown.

Art works in 2 ways: it transfigures the visible. the known. the natural. and it apprehends the unknown. the invisible. In so doing, it opens the way for the spiritual no matter when or where in history. then or now.


When Adrienne Rich, the feminist poet, spoke of the “dream of a common language” she did not mean the vernacular. When I speak of a shared-symbolic-order I do not refer to the bottom common-denominator……. Symbolic language does not communicate the vernacular. It does not render the narrative. What it does is to italicise, intensify, delineate, the elusive, the mystery. Symbolic language suspends the ordinary. It deranges the linear sense of time. It draws you in to an apprehended sense of things…….

even the loveliness of green
even the beginning of the bloom
even when I met you or myself
is not enough.
endless reveries are not myth.
unresolved dreams are nothing
but discoloured dust.
but in the earth garden I found
hieroglyphs of the common bond
symbols subpoenaed into art
fruit of the womb in stone.
the text oblique
the sense of the text immaculate:
the pomegranate reborn
the seeds innumerable
the bee’s karma intact
Eve’s fate restored
the chant:
exile and mutation.
mutation and change.
change and risk.
lost and found.
darkness and light.
the winter song.
the spring song.
the plain song.
the mourning song
for the dead
and the sacred song
that turns the dust into stars.

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