The mild, pleasant rays of the autumnal Sun are sieving in through the circular window buried in the blue-painted ceiling, like drops from a delicate celestial waterfall. They fill the room with a golden, relaxing light. Prints of buildings, landscapes, or portraits, all placed neatly in thin frames, cover the gray-plastered walls everywhere I look. Sounds of steps and conversations in low tones resonate and combine in frequencies that are overlapping around my stiff, standing body. People are coming in or moving out towards the other rooms of the art gallery. An incessant, continuous flow of costumes, dresses, and voices.
Why am I here? What am I doing in this place? Where is this place located, anyway? I feel as if I have been suddenly planted like a sapling, at the edge of this hall, as if I have just materialized on this spot out of the void.
Seconds later, fuzzy memories come back, slapping my brain with a vigorous gentleness. I remember the announcement about the exhibition. I have read it in a newspaper the other day. It was about a rare and extensive Escher collection, almost all his masterpieces in one place, open to the public from my city for a full month. And here I am, in front of this lithograph from 1956, named “Print Gallery”.
The flow of people continues unabated left and right, forward and backward. It’s a never-ending swirl of steps and voices. Visitors pause for a few moments in front of a framed image, then move, almost in haste, to the next. I continue to look at “Print Gallery”, hypnotized by its unusual composition. My eyes remain glued to the man displayed there. The man is gazing at the works filling a long passageway. Through an insane twist of space, the framed image in front of him expands, enclosing the room, the building, the whole Universe. Unperturbed, he continues to stare at the print of which he has become a part himself. And now I am that man and I’m looking at the print from the print, and I have become part of this print myself.
“What do you think of this work? It looks intriguing, doesn’t it?” strikes a voice at my right.
Pulled out of my dazzling vision, I turn my head slowly and find standing next to me a slender, middle-aged man of medium height, dressed in a dark-orange robe. His head is neatly shaved and he’s got a peaceful smile on his face. A Buddhist monk. Well, why wouldn’t a monk be interested in art, too? However, my instinct tells me he isn’t here by chance. His question sounds more than casual, it must have a deeper meaning. So, I do my best to articulate my thoughts as clearly as I can:
“I have to agree, I’m fascinated by it,” I murmur in a low tone. “The image seems to blur the distinction between what’s inside and what’s outside a person.”
His gray eyes look at me intensely, as if they could drill through my skull and read my thoughts. Yet, there is a peace and a friendliness in them that could only come from someone who has reached a high spiritual level. The monk is someone who apparently wants to help me with something. But with what? And why?
My memory still has big gaps. I can’t recall clearly the past few days or, as a matter of fact, anything that preceded them. I still don’t remember how I’ve got into this room and in front of this print. Perhaps this stranger has come to help me figure out what’s going on.
“You’re right”, says the monk, “Escher has caught brilliantly the fact that the ego is an illusion, that what’s inside our head cannot be fully separated from what’s outside our skin. Not that he was the first to do so. However, he was one of the best artists to show it in an intuitive and easy to understand form.”
I feel like in a classroom, where I’m the student and he is the teacher. As soon as the stranger finishes talking, a revelation begins to germinate in the back of my brain. It looks like the whole scene is happening in a dream, like I have dreamed of it before. The whole situation and the whole dialog seem somewhat rehearsed, artificial, as if we were two mediocre actors playing their roles on an invisible stage. I say:
“My memory is kind of blurred. I can’t remember clearly what’s happened to me recently. I’ve got the impression you aren’t here by chance. Have you come to help me, to guide me somewhere?”
The monk stares straight into my eyes with a serious expression. He nods in silence. Time seems to flow slower now, the air has become somewhat viscous and heavy.
I breathe deeply a few times to calm my mind and turn my head back towards the artwork. It’s still there, unchanged. But something else, hard to define, is different now. I don’t know where my past is rooted but I’m somehow aware where my future lies. As if everything has suddenly begun to flow in the opposite direction, from the future towards the past. Without being aware of how this information has filled my thoughts, I know there’s a path in front of me, a path onto which I have to step soon. Very soon, probably in less than a minute.
We both continue to look at the print like we’re holding a vigil in front of it. I feel as if Maurits Cornelis Escher himself is standing now behind us, gazing intently at his own creation. However, why am I going through this strange scenario? What are these preparations for? What kind of trip is waiting for me? Or, perhaps, it has already begun?
“I’ve come to this place to make sure you’re taking the proper path,” says in the end the stranger in the dark-orange robe, breaking the silence. “Your journey is going to begin here, right in front of this work of art. Don’t strain yourself too hard to understand everything at once. Understanding will come eventually, gradually, in time.”
“Who are you, really?” I ask, turning my head towards him, with the intention to follow up with a few more questions but the monk is gone. He has simply vanished into the air and can’t be seen anywhere. Startled by his surprising disappearance, I turn my eyes back to the strangely distorted landscape from the frame in front of me. And suddenly, I am again the man inside the print, looking at the print. Space is curling around me, wrapping my body like a dark veil. When I turn my head once more towards the hall, I feel I’m both inside and outside the frame. It is a most unusual sensation and it makes me dizzy.
I think I’m going to faint and prepare to meet the unfriendly, hard marble floor in my fall. Yet, my knees manage somehow to stay steady. Instead, the whole room is dissolving. A few seconds later I get suddenly comfortable, lying in a bed placed under a domed ceiling. The room is bathed in a pleasant, diffuse blue light.
A fragment from "Butterfly's Dream" by Marian C. Ghilea
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The image with Escher's print has been taken from Wikipedia as an open-source file and magnified. There are some Youtube posts (just do a search on "Escher Print Gallery" to find them) that present in video form this spectacular space distortion.
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