Floodstage at the Memory Theatre presented models of the precession of the equinox as it is presented in ancient astronomy and myth. (See Hamlet’s Mill). It also contained elements taken from The Art of Memory by Frances Yates.
This collaborative effort with sculptor T. J. Mabrey, poet John Campion, and composer Edmund Campion explored the ecotropic relationship between the sky and the earth. And sought to use ancient maps of the heavens to shed some light on some very Earthly problems.
This installation was presented at Texas A & M University. Take a look at this short slideshow video of the installation to get a sense of the scale and feel of the show.
Floodstage at the Memory Theatre was organized in a form of nested sets; one large oval contained two other circles–themselves suggestive of ancient models of the cosmos, especially the quincunx. The large oval presented a number of works by Mabrey–including archetypal boats, and Campion, whose poetry and Texturals mapped out some of the logospoeic aspects of the show.
The two inner circles presented one with a marble floor that showed two interpenetrating snakes with Campion’s text engraved upon them. Above them a concave mirror reflected a nest of grapes above from whose center floated a metal fish. Guarding the four corners stood 4 large marble sculptures.
T.J. Mabrey tends to use Italian Marble in her large pieces. Herwork is known for its essential great beauty, and its evocative and resonant nature that seems to change and move as the works are observed. She is likewise innovative in her conceptions and people say she has knowing hands.
These large marble pieces (the stone is quarried in Italy) contain a number of motifs that explore ideas that are part of the themes in the Floodstage installation.
The spiral serpent image embodies an oceanic sensibility and highlights the dynamic vortex at its center. The water snake itself is cosmogonic and reflects the ancient understanding that the above mirrors the below. The waters on the earth are indeed mirrored in the heavens.
This sensibility suggests that the old stories concerning floods reflecting a change in the precession of the equinoxes. The serpent also is presented as devouring its own tail. This is the mythic image of the Ouroborus and is the embodiment of the principles of interconnectivity and of the processes of living and dying.
The plant motifs in the exhibition embody a deep love of nature and the tree figures are suggestive of the World Tree that holds up the sky. Often this figure is presented as growing from the sky.
Boats abound in the installation and invoke a sense of the ark and of the great flood, an epic that occurs locally in various places from time to time–often like the NIle annual flooding, which is part of the natural fluxus. But also, the boat images reflect the cosmic events that hold the exhibit together.
In addition to conceptualizing the Floodstage installation, the poet John Campion contributed Texturals (text paintings on paper and cloth) that were used in this installation, You can see some below or in the video above. You can learn more about his other work on his home page at
Right: The Meeting (2′ x 3′)–Text, Ink, foil, prayer papers, and collage on papyrus.
In the Meeting Campion cribs a passage out of the bible during the flood story. Here the work is presented as a meeting between the above and the below as a numinous event–something like first contact.
Below: The Twins Defeat the Lords of Death (1.5′ x 2′)–Text, Ink, water colors, foil, and prayer paper, on home-made paper.
The story from the Popul Vuh concerning the ball player twins playing the lords of death is captured in one of Campion’s texturals. In the story the lords of death are defeated not through a process of winning–but rather by tricking them in such a way
that death becomes NOT the end of a single life, but rather, a part of the cycle of living and dying. The comic aspect the work–that the ball is seen in a toilet bowl–reflects the coyote features of the twins. Comedy is in some ways more serious than tragedy.
Below right: The Map a Dung Beetle Makes (2′ x 3′)–Text, foil, prayer papers, on papyrus.
The Map a Dung Beetle Makes was originally done in connection with a musical theatre piece that Campion performed at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire with his brother the composer, Edmund Campion.
The role of the dung beetle ties in with the themes of the processes of life, the uroborus, and also connects with the boat and Egyptian themes in the show, as the boat of RA is connected to the cosmic path of the dung beetle.
Above Left: Zero Lying Down Sky (2’x3′). Text, ink, water, color, metal flakes, foil, paper
Zero Lying Down Sky refers to the moment of creation of corn and thereby human beings in the Popul Vuh.
This happened in the constellation Orion (THREE STONE PLACE). An event in this constellation marked the moment that corn was invented. That invention coincided with the creation of human beings made of corn.
This plant is the world tree for man in this hemisphere. With two other plants, beans and squash, the three sisters have fed the people under the roof they have pitched.
Below Right: The Bloody Third (2′ x 3′)–Text, ink, water color, metal flakes, on paper.
In keeping with some native stories, the installation presented this work reflecting the terrible massacre by the bloody third at Sand Creek.
The work presents the conquest of the Americas as an assault against an entire range of principles and a loss of a connection with nature, native peoples, and the feminine principle.
Right: The Moon of Popping Trees (2′ x 3′)–Text, ink, water color, acrylic, metal flakes, foil, prayer papers, on paper.
The consequences of the conquest and the assault on ancient wisdom is presented in The Moon of Popping Trees as a return of the repressed. Here the crimes against nature return in the form of violence.
Left: The Medicine Our Sickness Needs (2′ x 3′)–Text, prayer paper collage, water colors on paper.
The installation demonstrates the power of ancient associations and knowledge. This work demonstrates the terrible results from a loss of that way of relating to the unifying processes and forces of the Earth.
Right: Under your limbs. Text printed on linen, guaze, acrylic paint.
This poem on linen (like a book) captures the story of Penelope and Ulysses. After Ulysses returned from the fiasco at Troy–10 years late–she tests his love. Only he knew that their bedframe was constructed from a living tree. The command at the end of the work: DO IT OVER, suggests that human beings must rebuild the world tree, and square the circle of the cosmos, by living in harmony with the forces of the planet–mirrored in the sky. The planets and stars that we hang our stories on–our guides to living rightly and well.
In addition to his Texturals, Campion also contributed two very large selections of inverse video slides from his poetry that were projected continuously on two walls of the Floodstage show, These you will have to imagine….
Below: Sculpture of a head lying at the bottom of a pool by T.J. Mabrey
Floodstage at the Memory Theatre was presented in a community just North of Austin, TX and at College Station on the Texas A and M campus, where it won the prize for the best art show of that year.
The Floodstage at the Memory Theatre installation became a minor cause celebre when it was initially censured and closed for some of the content in Campion’s Texturals. The ACLU’s effort to force the show to reopen is documented in The Americans’ for Freedoms publication on censorship in the U.S.
Please Note: Edmund Campion composed the music for the installation. You can listen to some of his music on the CNMAT site:
OTHER Campion/Mabrey Collaborations:
While Floodstage has been the chief collaboration between T.J. Mabrey and John Campion, there have been others. Mabrey has used Campion’s work on her Marble sculpture and on her other art work.
Here’s one she did for A Show of Boats. It’s a PDF.