Designing Mythology may be an impossible project. Its desire for entire living mythologies that will shift the shadow metaphors and underlying values of Western colonialism and provide news ways to exist with the living planet is beyond the agency and influence of one human. As a designer whose role it is to understand context and material culture, the demand for other ways to interpret our relationship to place and each other (including more-than-humans) is imperative.

Mythologies have and continue to exist and function as multi-layered mechanisms that answer the how and provide guidance and rules of engagement. Through their forms, diversity, imagination, belonging to and response to place they provide invaluable insight into other ways to structure and share knowledge and ways of being human.

We, the mythless, have a common theory of creation as told through scientific enquiry and proposed explanation, but our severance from the humanity within this understanding leaves many of us without access to the cosmology and belonging this offers. Being a part of a cosmological narrative helps to make sense of the magnificence and mystery of our world and our fleeting moment of human consciousness within it.

Through story, artefacts, collaboration and observations Designing Mythology is an ongoing experiment into making enough of a mythic scaffold to counter colonial structures, celebrate through wonder and provide an experience of belonging.

more words here.

A basket of seeds

Once there was a child born from an egg. With her own sharp tooth, she cracked her way out, and there she was, and there the world was.

This world was young, having just gathered itself together from dust and gas, and it was very hot and bright. Slowly, her eyes adjusted to the light. The first forms she saw were barely alive: tiny shapes, they set to work on the many small exchanges of sunlight and breath that gave air to the sky. As the world cooled, it became easier for her to breathe and move and see. Slowly, as she watched, these tiny forms learned to come together, making themselves into something stronger than they had each been alone, a collection of emergent life. She decided she would like to make a collection too.

We’re here together now because all this – you, me, the earth, air and water we’re sharing – formed from clouds of dust and gas. This happened a long time ago, and it’s still happening. When the universe began, everything was in one place: a tiny point of infinite density. So there is first a process of gathering, of taking shape, and then there is everything that this has made possible.

The holding shape is the waratah, the gatherer. It is a vessel, a container, a place. You and I live in this shape, so I can’t tell the story from outside it. We are the waratah; we are, in this moment, the form that takes hold.

We don’t just happen to be here at the same time; we exist together, in a complex interdependency, entangled with each other. It’s impossible to separate any form of life from any other, since they all hold each other.

We are the waratah.
We hold and are held by this gathering-together.
We are kin.

The earth turned calmly. Its slight crust of land was one great continent, embraced by a warm ocean. The atmosphere was thin, but a slight tilt brought summer and winter, day and night, and this created a rhythm. A pattern.

The child saw other patterns taking shape wherever she went. She found life all around her, small and complete in itself, and everywhere it was expressed, the pattern grew more complex. The land flooded, and she swam through the proliferation of jelly dancers, shy shells, husked sea-bed wanderers. When the sea sank back, she walked the land again, and found it transformed: rich with leaves, spores, little winged and many-legged creatures, those that could walk and climb and swim. Soon trees were growing. In the spaces between them, she found seeds and grasses. She looked at the way the seeds were shaped, with a neat husk embracing them, and thought of the way her egg had once held her in its perfect round container. She wove the grasses into a basket, and put the seeds inside.

When she looked up from her work, she saw that everything had branched again: reptiles, fish, spiny and scaled creatures. There were animals so enormous that she could not see all the parts of them at once, and life forms so tiny that she could not count them. Then a strange light appeared in the sky. The child was afraid; she crawled into a cave, wrapped her body around the basket, and closed her eyes. The world was hot, then dark, then cold.   

After a time the child emerged from her cave, carrying the basket carefully. There was quiet. There was dust. She stepped into the sunlight and opened her basket. As the light caught the seeds, it bounced off in all the colours of its spectrum, and the pattern found its rhythm again. The land began to break into continents, and the continents and the oceans filled with ever more complex forms of life: animals that nourished their children from their own bodies, animals that fed on the bodies of others. Furred and scaled and flighted. Pouches, burrows, herds and packs and other kin: a trillion things those first bacteria had never imagined were possible.

The joining shape is the weaver, the connector. It is an action, a movement, a network.

A trillion life forms, all existing in each other’s midst. Each pattern built on, with, and alongside every other.

A bird lands on a flower, hovers there, taking a drink of its nectar. The bird flies along to the next flower, carrying a little of the first flower’s pollen with it. One simple act of connection and exchange. The universe is made up of actions like it. You and me, the bird and the flower, the ocean and the atmosphere. Material, ongoing exchange. We’re made of the actions, the movements, the connections.

We are the weaver. We join and are joined by this interrelation. We are kin.

Birds arrived, and flew about her; when they saw that she carried a basket, they began to sing. Many of the birds decided to make their nests in forms that were echoes of her basket. She admired their craft, the way they spoke to each other, and the way their young hatched, just like she had. Beneath one nest, she found a golden feather, and reached for it.

As she held the feather in her fist, she decided to sing back to the birds. She let out her voice, and her voice became music and it travelled on the wind and into crevices and through the water. When she opened her hand, the feather had broken into a thousand fragments.  

She stroked the fragments with a finger, and saw how they shimmered in her palm. The pattern was still there, in every little section. Just as the pattern had been inside that bacteria, from the beginning. Had it been inside the egg with her too? In the dust and gas before that? What if her body belonged to the pattern? Carefully, she held the broken feather to her lips.

She felt a tingling. Her limbs grew light and little, her bones hollowed, her shape turned slender, swift as air. Her face sharpened. Quills were sprouting all along her skin. She lifted her arms, discovered they were wings, and rose up into the atmosphere. Her basket of seeds fell to the earth below, and the seeds spilled out, and she didn’t mind at all.

Even high in the sky, tiny shapes were living, working, breathing. The child hovered and twisted in the air, seeing life wherever she went, her fine golden feathers flashing out behind her. The world smelled different to her now, a map of nectars. Its music had changed too: a score of wind through leaves. The sun moved and she saw its gentle arc.

She flew down into the forest, moving from tree to tree. On every branch her little feet landed, along every limb her feathers brushed, new life sprang forth. Green shoots and yellow shoots and tiny brown tendrils. She flew fast through the forest, as all of it filled with growth and breath. When the plants recognised her, they began to flower. She looked down at all the new colours and smells and sounds her path had made.

Think about the stories you know, stories about how life began and where it’s headed. Maybe there’s an arrow from beginning to end, and the arrow’s pointing in a particular direction. Maybe there’s a happy ending, or a tragic one.

But what if there’s no arrow, no beginning or ending, just this complex proliferation of beings? Patterns being made and remade. A waratah that is water, air, sunlight, nectar, colour, bird, forest, you, me, the earth itself. A weaver that threads all this together, that moves through all the world’s actions. No separation, and no arrow. Just this immense, collaborative magic. Matter and energy, fabric and craft.

We are the waratah, and we are made by the weaver. We hold, and we join together. We are kin.

In the valley below, she saw her basket. Where it had fallen, so it grew: it was the waratah, standing bright and proud. Around the waratah, she heard the honeyeaters gather and cheer, and she flew low and close to be near them. The flower stood bold and red at the centre of the dancing. It was tall and strong, its light bursting. And as the birds danced, she saw the honeyeaters’ golden feathers flash behind them just like hers did. She saw that everything that flew and crawled and grew was calling out to everything else, and these voices were a basket that held her, and a spark that connected her to the brightness of the world. She had found the collection she was searching for; she had always been inside it.

So she joined in the weaving.

hoi, the waratah. the weaver casts

our bones warp, our breath the weft,

a pattern, the matter, our edges stretched.

I, am, we, are, held within the waratah.

to be recited whenever you see, smell, come across a representation of a waratah

Grounding Sound, a collective, synchronised, body-based, making ritual was made / practised at the end of 2020 as part of this enquiry.

With Dani Powell, Gretel Bull, Tamara Burlando and Maïté Guyomarch

designed by Elliat Rich

A basket of seeds
written by Jennifer Mills

Ode to Waratah
hand-etched glass, steel, polypropylene
45 x 45 x 52cm
Maker and production Luke Mills; Glass (table top) Scarlett and Brian Mellows / Aurora Glass; Photographer James Morgan 

Transformation Of Weaver (series of 4 mirrors)
Glass / silvering and production Luke Price / Outlines Architectural, Hair piece James Young, Photographer James Morgan, In-kind support The Macfarlen Fund

Weaver ethereal
antique mirror with acrylic fibre
66 x 44 cm, edition of 8

Weaver becoming matter
antique mirror with fluted glass
88 x 57 cm, edition of 8

Weaver patterning
antique mirror with printing
81 x 54 cm, edition of 8

Weaver earthly state / honeyeater
gold leaf with paint on mirror, 68 x 60 cm, edition of 8