~~~Janet Murphy Photography ©2009~~~
For how long have people depicted spiral designs in their art and architecture, and why does the image have such a provocative effect?
From magnetic fields to vast galaxies swirling in space, spirals can be seen in every aspect in nature. We see them in the physical forces which shape the Earth - the tides of the ocean, the winds in the atmosphere - and within life itself. Plants and the horns and shells of animals grow in spiral formations and some animals, especially aquatic species, possess a twisting locomotion.
The spiral phenomenon within natural forms can be explained through mathematics - the pattern is a result of complex sequences, equations and algorithms which nature utilises in her designs of the Universe. But mathematics alone cannot justify the lure of the spiral to the human mind.
Some of the oldest examples of human art are depictions of spirals, painted or carved into rock, often found in burial sites. Later, the Romans and Greeks used spirals as designs for vases and the columns in temples. The Celtic and Norse people were well known for the mysterious and repetitive designs found on their jewellery, clothing, weapons, objects of worship and everyday items. The Celts even painted spirals on their bodies with blue dye to intimidate enemies during battle. They also created forms of animals and plants twisting into impossible spirals, sometimes interlocking with other elements of the picture.
The spiral has left no human culture untouched. It is an important feature in some Australian Aboriginal works, where it is often drawn as a coiled snake. The Islamic tradition prohibits depictions of people or animals, so spirals feature as an important element in the mathematically-governed Islamic designs. Spirals also feature in oriental and Indian clothing and pottery.
Today, the spiral still runs deep within our culture. It forms the logos of a large number of companies, and has come to symbolise magic, dreams, desires and, most importantly, eternity.
It is perhaps this never-ending quality of the spiral which intrigues and draws us so greatly. When a spiral is drawn or made using paper and then turned, it creates the illusion that it is twisting forever away or towards us. The repetitive animation of a twisting spiral also evokes deep relaxation and calm, which accounts for the spiral's close association with the art of hypnotism. In some cases, people even create spirals themselves in order to ease the constantly active mind. If a person is left to "doodle" on a piece of paper in a relaxed state, it is very likely that they will draw spirals and swirls as their subconscious mind controls the pen.
As a representative of the eternal forces of nature, or simply as an attractive and interesting pattern, spirals shall always remain within the cultures of man. For as long as they surround us in every aspect of nature, the spiral will imprint itself within our unconscious psyche, and shall be reflected in our arts for all time.
Written by Megan Balanck