We recently saw Werner Herzog’s beautiful film, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, and enjoyed it immensely, save a wee bit of heavy handedness at a few points by Herzog himself.
There was much speculation about the Chauvet Cave…a lot of projection and speculation. It wasn’t a living space, there’s no evidence of habitation, although there is some evidence that at least some of the members of the community came there to die or to be entombed. So then, sort of predictably, it must have been sacred or special or something along those lines. Herzog refers to one of the main creators of the images on the walls as “the artist” throughout the film, but there were no actual visual artists, no line drawers, for example, on the team of film makers and researchers to input on the space.
Of course I don’t know about the cave, I’ll never see it up close and in person (oh, I wish I could!). But based on what the film showed, the images on the walls and the remains in the space seemed to suggest something very vital to me as a draw-er and lover of lines: this is a cave of revivification. The bones and skulls pre-date the drawings, were either left there by previous generations or creatures came there to die…who knows. But the artifacts of these creatures, the energy of them, was palpable to that early artist and the community–these creatures that gave sustenance and story and meaning to the human community.
To me there is one aspect of the Cave that seemed clear: to touch those skulls, femurs, rib cages and spines would send a current of recognition through the artist’s body, and the urge to recreate these animals, to revivify them on the walls of the cave was acted upon. The creatures on the walls brought to life the remains that are scattered along the ground–brought them to life in hope of future hunts, or in praise of sustenance, or in awe of beauty or all of that and more. We still do that…we come across the bones of a creature and it speaks to us–the bones of a bird or a coyote. Even the skull of a domesticated cow found out in the emptiness of a late summer field moves us in a sort of ineffable way.
I can fully imagine touching the bones, recognizing the essence of the creatures, and being compelled to revivify them on the walls. That re-creation, that impulse is art.