The city needs a central park and it sits here between the cemetery and the museum. They named it the Halifax Public Gardens.
She arrives early on Sunday morning, wearing a dark blue trilby and a black suit jacket, and heads straight for the green wooden benches, forty of them lined up in parallel rows. She imagines the local factory in production in the 1880s, the cast iron frames imported from Scotland. Someone ordered the wrong size and it’s too late, the shipment has arrived and they have to make the best of it to meet the deadline from the superintendent of works. This is why they look disconcertingly small. They are small, suitable to seat older children and adults less than 5 feet 3 inches in height. And this is why she’s here, to mess with them when it’s quiet, to occupy them and film herself in the process. They’re empty, expectant, abandoned and painted with many coats to protect the wooden slats concealed underneath. She wonders who chose the colour, this uniform insipid green that’s become a standard Western icon for park, grass, leaves and vegetation. Paint them green because this is a public garden of grass and vegetation.
She sets up the tripod beside the bandstand on the other side of the path and presses the record button. One or two joggers pass by, ignoring her and the tripod, intent on their routine. She slides between the empty rows, occasionally holding onto the back of a bench, lurching and stopping, lurching and stopping again, then runs towards and away from the camera with a stumbling deliberation that questions the value and purpose of conventional walking. She settles momentarily in the far distance, beyond the furthest bench, close to the still-closed café, then moves slowly forward to sit in the second row, off centre to camera left, her right. She leans forward and takes a small packet from her pocket, carefully peels off the wrapping to reveal a scalpel. Unseen, she slices off a flake of paint from the underside of her bench. It reveals many layers of previous painting, all similar colours. She holds up the fragment between thumb and forefinger to locate a similar shade in these lush surroundings, but fails to find one. There is no match for this particular green. Is it Forest Splendour, Pharaoh’s Gem, Picturebook, Spinach, Government Green, Base Camp, Blade, Scott’s Pine, Green Paw Paw, Funk, Mangrove Leaf or Plasticine?
She finds a colour chart of British Standard (BS) colours for reassurance. Canada must surely adhere to the BS system. Is it 220 Olive Green, 262 Bold Green, 226 Mid Brunswick Green, 221 Brilliant Green, 228 Emerald Green/Viridian, 280 Verdigris Green, 282 Forest Green, BS2660-5061 Pine Green, BS2660-5067 Atlantic Green, BS2660-5065 Clover Leaf, BS2660-0010 Paris/Viridian Green, BS2660-6073 Bottle Green or BS2660-6074 Mid Brunswick Green? It’s close to Atlantic Green but not that close.
Her paint flake fails to match colour charts or vegetation, so is it green? In making the comparisons she sees the immense and subtle variations of green around her and experiences the hollow truth that this stark English word is the descriptor for all this. She remembers the Mi’kmaq words for green. With no adjectives in the language they mean he/she/it is the colour. Stoqonamu’k is green. Stoqonamuksit is dark green. In Greek, chloros means having green as its colour.
She looks around slowly. There is no paint flatness here. Green is a mysterious multi-dimensional world of intense subtlety, completely integrated into the life forms that generate oxygen for our survival. She’s lost in a quandary of identification, swimming in a pool of layers of mystery where green is no longer a colour. She sees it as an integral part of plant life, always changing, continually moving towards a new state. The space between green and grow as ghre is the origin of the word in English and this make more sense to her, reinforced by the lack of growth in the flake of paint she’s still holding. Its only evolution is towards a slow fade and disintegration.
Green does not exist, she says aloud before beginning to slide again through the parallel benches. Green is a scandal of misrepresentation. You’ve been cheated. They don’t want you t-to know the truth because then you’ll know too much. If you rely on your perception, on what you can actually s-see-experience, you’ll enter the mix, this realm that I’ve been in. The grass is not green. The ball is not green. The grass may appear a one-colour from a distance but close up it’s continually changing, translucent and shifting. This patch holds clover, slugs, daisies and b-buttercups, so in summer it’s also white and yellow. Don’t taunt me with your inadequate green adjective.
She wonders if she’s still talking out loud or to herself and is not bothered either way. She’s not letting this go. She feels outraged, furious with kindergarten teachers and family members who encouraged her to think of colour as an identifier, a label attached to the identity of significant objects in her life as a small child, where colours are so clearly demarcated and amongst the first words to be spoken. And then the damage is already done. The world is red, yellow, blue, green, orange, purple, brown, grey, black, white and pink, always pink. If colour is an illusion in nature then what about my skin that’s also continually changing colour?
These childhood colour references must also apply to products and brands, where establishing the precise reference is vital for the repaint and the repeat. Are these benches a Nova Scotia park brand? Who has green in their logo? Green and yellow logos definitively evoke feelings of youth, nature, and cheerfulness. Subway and Sprite are great examples of companies that use this logo colour combination. She thinks of the potential cheer in holding a limp Subway roll part-filled with the cheapest cuts and a can of sickly Sprite in the other hand. This is cheerful living of the highest order. She thinks of the plural of logo as logos, which stands for reasoned discourse in Ancient Greek: “He who hears not me but the logos will say: All is one”, Heraclitus. And then the redskins, the Redskins, an American Football team based in Washington, the Washington Redskins, the Redskins for short, whose owners still insist that the term is not offensive to anyone, especially as, apparently, Native Americans were consulted about the name and logo, the profile of a Blackfoot man with feathers, approved by a Blackfoot chairman, when this was not his land. The Washington tribes are the Cayuse, the Chehalis, the Chinook, the Kalispel, the Klallam, the Kwalhioqa, the Lummi, the Nez Perce, the Nooksack, the Quileute, the Quinault, the Skokomish, the Tenino, the Twana, the Umatilla, the Walla Walla, the Wasco-Wishram and the Wenatchi. No Blackfoot here, only a rousing chant from the fans “Hail to the Red-skins. Hail vic-to-ry! Braves on the war-path. Fight for old D.C!”
Redskin is a racial smear invented by the invaders in a clumsy attempt to depersonalise the people they were obliterating, while this dehumanising insult has now been repossessed as Red Power. And red logos are ‘bold and make a statement’ so they didn’t see this coming. She thinks about green in a similar light, and the dismissal of her ‘green credentials’ as another kind of prejudice. Colours are continually used as simplistic slurs. Predictably, the only skin colour that escapes this is white, pink, pinkskin, pigskin, paleskin, and the pressure to have lighter skin is still insidiously pervasive in Brazil, India, China, Korea, Japan, Ethiopia, and linked to class and social status. The whites win out and lose the game.
She will no more be identified as green for her ecological beliefs any more than she will allow the lush vegetation all around her to be coloured with the same word. She now feels disgust at the look and sound of it. Green is more than useless, it needs to be removed, banished, obliterated.
All colour words are gone. They vanish from books, dictionaries and online references. The meagre human brain is slowly reprogrammed to no longer see or recognise them. Where the colour words once sat on the page there is a space, a gap, in which to imagine other descriptions, other ways of being with the thing described. These spaces open up to become plateaus of subtlety and mystery. The ball is no longer identified by colour and instead reveals its essence as a physical existence with unique material qualities, equivalent to a stone or pinecone. You see and experience all this at the same time. The process is interlinked. You look-see-feel-experience in one state that was previously crudely simplified in a single colour name. This is now about essence. The words ‘colour’ and ‘rainbow’ remain, channelling the spectrum. Your mind slowly retrains. It takes a few months.
You’re labelled as severely visually impaired (thanks) and colour is not in your consciousness. You’re acutely colour-blind and see the world in tones of grey white black. Yet you’re completely in the experiential world. Your intense perception of difference becomes the one we seek to learn from. You hold the keys. Your fingertips reveal more than we see. You take your time with this worldview. Your clothing harmonises in a random way. Matching becomes an embarrassing thing of the past. Your perception is so acute that small glimpses are an experience of wonder and near fear. You’re an open-eyed newcomer.
The constant and unpredictable movement of the variegated plants in air currents. The gloom of light loss and the sudden emergence of highlights, liquid light across surface creating shade and drama. Thick cloud conceals absorbs blankets a haze is on this outside. Step inside to electric power up artificial light. Switch on switch off. Rock that switch in anticipation of instant response. The lights aren’t working I can’t see a thing. The loss of light and life. Enough, more than enough. Hold it up to the light. Turn around. You look so good in purple orange blue. You look great. Thanks. How do I look? It’s 100% cotton spun woven and then dip dyed with this, this, this purple liquid. Wash separately at 30 degrees. How clever of them to create blue chrysanthemums and green tulips.
The once evocative paint names, like Vintage Chandelier, Natural Calico or Delicate Seashell, are replaced by numbers, using a variant of the BS system. The painting of interiors and exteriors is considered crass, and avoided in favour of revealing the essence of surface matter. We admire and desire unpainted plaster and timber. Many paint producers are facing bankruptcy. We no longer choose cars for their colour, their enamel is automatically sprayed with variations of the rainbow stripes of the LGBTQ flag. The subtlety of the spectrum stays as the in-between, dissolved, the cross-faded. Pigmented paints become irrelevant, garish and unhelpful as a counterbalance to an essence of being that incorporates light and darkness. Pain and paint are such close neighbours.
She walks back to the tripod and switches off the camera.