Memories and Art

We all have memories, lasting and fleeting. Over time, new ones appear while others gradually fade away; some become more vivid or change in tone and content. And then there are those memories that aren't really our own yet haunt us, memories of episodes that occurred many decades before we were born.

The arts have been and continue to be a particularly fertile ground where all kinds of memories, pleasant and unpleasant, have seeded new work. An exhibit in San Francisco is a particularly good example of this. From Generation to Generation: Inherited Memory and Contemporary Art is on view at the Contemporary Jewish Museum (CJM) until April 2. It brings attention to the stories that were lived by others but somehow turned into the artists' stories as well.

"What Goes Without Saying" (2012), by Hank Willis Thomas. Wooden pillory and microphone.

"What Goes Without Saying" (2012), by Hank Willis Thomas. Wooden pillory and microphone.

CJM Assistant Curator Pierre-François Galpin and independent curator Lily Siegel have brought together the work of 24 artists who grapple with their past--secondhand rather than direct experiences. A widely diverse group, they question and reflect on ancestral and collective memory through sculpture, installations, fiber, photography, sound, video, and mixed media. While at least five artists focus on the Holocaust, others address the American War in Vietnam and Cambodia, the Turkish genocide of Armenians, the legacy of racial injustice in America, the Korean War, World War II in Okinawa and Greece, the Mexican Revolution, indigenous culture in Alaska, and more.

Kevlar Fighting Costumes (2015), by Nao Bustamente. An homage to the courageous women soldiers (soldaderas) who fought in the Mexico revolution (1910-20. Re-imagined traditional garments, only now with protection against bullets and knives.

Kevlar Fighting Costumes (2015), by Nao Bustamente. An homage to the courageous women soldiers (soldaderas) who fought in the Mexico revolution (1910-20. Re-imagined traditional garments, only now with protection against bullets and knives.

The exhibit is multi-layered, appealing to our senses and emotions, provoking not only thought but also compassion. It was originally inspired by Dr. Marianne Hirsch's research on what she calls "postmemory." Because there is so much to convey about this subject and about the individual artists themselves--how such memories affect them and how they work with them through their art--I can't begin to address this all here. Nor can I include photos of everything, especially because of the mirror effect of some pieces (basically, you'd see me taking a picture!). I'll introduce a few examples and, if you're interested, you can watch vimeos, skypes, panel presentations, and other communications from the artists on the CJM website. Given the enormous number of refugees in the world since the 20th century, this is an extremely compelling issue. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that there is a huge population suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome because of their own memories and those of generations before them.

From the series "Immortality: The Remnants of the Vietnam and American War,” by Binh Danh.

From the series "Immortality: The Remnants of the Vietnam and American War,” by Binh Danh.

Artist Binh Danh, who visited Vietnam for the first time since he left as a child on a refugee boat in the 1980s, was struck by how much the landscape has remembered the trauma of war. Growing up in the U.S., he saw photos of children with missing limbs because of bombings and Agent Orange. To capture those times and effects, Binh Danh uses the natural chlorophyll process. He produces a digital transparency, places it on top of a living leaf, sandwiches that between glass and a backing board, and then exposes it to the sun. Combining technology and nature in this way is new to me, so I was especially struck by how well it represents the poignant tragedy of war in Vietnam in the fragility of a leaf. As the leaves die, so will the pictures, though memories linger.

"Mother Load" (1996), by Yong Soon Min.

"Mother Load" (1996), by Yong Soon Min.

Yong Soon Min, born as the Korean War ended, immigrated to California when she was seven years old. She uses the Korean tradition of bojagi (patchwork) to create her installation representing different eras. She sewed together black and white photographs from the Japanese colonial period that she printed on fabric. She also stitched together color photographs to make a carrying cloth for a bundle. In addition, there is camouflage fabric representing the Korean War, her mother's red scarf, hanbok (traditional women's costume), and shoes. The artist cut some of these items in half to indicate that a part of oneself gets left behind in the native country while the other starts a new life elsewhere. "Mother Load" is about bearing the load of memories her mother transmitted.

"Mother Load" (1996), by Yong Soon Min.

"Mother Load" (1996), by Yong Soon Min.

If you've read the book or seen the movie, "The Garden of the Finzi-Continis," you'll recognize the name Eric Finzi and the objects in his aluminum and glass sculpture. He is a descendant of a family that witnessed the fascist takeover of Italy and that was deported to concentration camps in Germany. Strong memories related through stories told to us by others can become internalized and deeply entangled with our identity and place in the world. As Finzi says, "A story and family memory can assume as much importance as anything that has happened to you. The collective memory can be incredibly powerful." Perhaps this is so because memory is not necessarily voluntary nor dependent on historical facts, but can be a conglomeration of feelings and sensations.

"Tennicycle" (2014), by Eric Finzi.

"Tennicycle" (2014), by Eric Finzi.

Loli Kantor, a photographer based in Fort Worth, Texas, was born in France and grew up in a Holocaust survivor community in Israel. Bernice Eisenstein, a mixed-media artist based in Toronto, also was raised among survivors. On the other hand, Lisa Kokin is not a child of survivors, yet watching film footage of Holocaust victims as a child in Long Island, New York, traumatized her as though she, too, could experience the horrors. She has spent a great deal of her artistic career confronting the fears that were embedded by what people she never knew had endured. "Inventory," her mixed-media gut installation on two walls, is composed of more than 1,000 scraps of cloth and paper, earrings, buttons, and other small found items that comprise the lives of such individuals. Kokin created it after visiting the Buchenwald concentration camp, where she saw piles of humble objects left behind by those who were killed. She says that her artwork is a way to process information. Though it doesn't entirely eradicate the terror, it does help. She believes it's her responsibility as an artist to address past events of import so that future generations can place them in an appropriate context. All of these artists are using their work to oppose the unfortunate tendency toward cultural amnesia.

"Inventory" (1997), by Lisa Kokin.

"Inventory" (1997), by Lisa Kokin.

Detail of "Inventory" (1997), by Lisa Kokin.

Detail of "Inventory" (1997), by Lisa Kokin.

Although raised on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Silvina Der-Meguerditchian had four grandparents who were Armenian refugees. When her uncle approached her with her grandmother's suitcase and said he'd throw it out if she didn't take it, she found a treasure trove of documents and photographs. She knew this was her connection to the many people who were part of her heritage, people spread far out from their homeland. She decided to knit them all together by crocheting the photographs with wool to create the "carpets" she calls "Family I and Family II." They're a reconstruction of something old and something new, a way to recover a sense of belonging that she felt had been taken away from her.

"Family I and Family II," by Silvina Der-Meguerditchian.

"Family I and Family II," by Silvina Der-Meguerditchian.

Detail of "Family I and Family II," by Silvina Der-Meguerditchian.

Detail of "Family I and Family II," by Silvina Der-Meguerditchian.

My final images are of a rug cooperatively woven of 2,000 silk ties in the village of Kalavryta, Greece. Foutini Gouseti, born in Athens but now based in Rotterdam, heard a story from an old man who was only a boy during World War II. In 1943, the entire male population over the age of 14 was executed and the town destroyed by the Nazis. Only women and children survived in ruins, partly through international relief efforts. The boy was sent to pick up and bring home what was designated for them. When his mother opened the big package, rather than badly needed food and clothing, she found 2,000 silk ties. For the boy, this was a happy memory because of the many bright colors during such a dark time. For the mother, it was not the hoped-for relief. Not knowing what else to do with the ties, she wove a traditional kourelou carpet. The old man remembers that they were starving and freezing, but they could walk and sit on silk. Gouseti's Kalavryta 2012 is a contemporary recreation of the one that was made from the strange gift of ties.

"Kalavryta 2012," by Fotini Gouseti.

"Kalavryta 2012," by Fotini Gouseti.

Detail of "Kalavryta 2012," by Fotini Gouseti.

Detail of "Kalavryta 2012," by Fotini Gouseti.

While the exhibit title refers to a phrase found in word and song in Jewish practice: l’dor vador—the call to pass tradition from one generation to another--the exhibit itself embraces many historical events of different cultures. Who could have anticipated that this phrase would eventually take the form of passing on memories from generations that actually experienced dreadful events?

Questions and Comments:
What memories have you inherited about experiences that are not your own? Have you incorporated them in your artwork and, if so, how?

French writer Marcel Proust (1871-1922) is famous for pointing out how our senses trigger memories. Dipping a madeleine into a cup of tea--the smells wafting into his nostrils--unleashed a flood of memories that became his 7-part novel, À la recherche du temps perdu(Remembrance of Things Past). Has something similar happened to you? Did you turn those memories into some form of art?

*Note: To view the conversation that was started on the former Weebly site of this blog and add your comment, click here or to start a new conversation, click "Comment" below.

Making Marks: Writing and Art

Source: https://www.craftsy.com/blog/2016/07/mark-making-ideas/

Source: https://www.craftsy.com/blog/2016/07/mark-making-ideas/

Mark making is an essential aspect of creating a work of art. We make marks with a pencil, a piece of pastel, charcoal or chalk, a brush and paint, a needle and thread, and all kinds of other instruments that let us incise lines, dots, shapes, and patterns into clay, wood, metal, stone, and plastic. The marks can be straight or squiggly, rigid or loose, singular or repetitive. They can express emotions, movement or stasis, order or chaos, weakness or strength. The range is infinite. It is with "letters" as well.

Writing is a particular form of making marks to communicate, record history, and preserve religious teachings. It is also an object of beauty in itself. That's why, ever curious, I went to the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco last Saturday to attend a program on "The Story of Writing in the Arts of Asia."  I'm fascinated by the unusual and appealing marks that other people easily understand, but which I read simply as interesting lines and shapes, such as this sign in Seoul or these calligraphic versions of love in Arabic (al-hubb) and Hebrew (ah-ha-vah). To me, the elegant black lines appear to be dancing.

Al-hubb, by Larisa.lar24. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Al-hubb, by Larisa.lar24. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Ah-ha-vah, by Michel D'anastasio. Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/maltin75/4803612829/

Ah-ha-vah, by Michel D'anastasio. Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/maltin75/4803612829/

And then there's the calligraphy of China, Korea, and Japan. While the various images I include are from disparate regions and civilizations--Middle East and East Asia--I find mark making oddly unifying. Despite the barriers we encounter in language, there's something in the beauty of the strokes that connects all of us. Maybe it's because the arts have long had the power to transcend cultural differences.

"Crossing the Frozen River,"a poem in running script, undated, by the Kangxi Emperor (1654—1722). The Palace Museum, Beijing. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

"Crossing the Frozen River,"a poem in running script, undated, by the Kangxi Emperor (1654—1722). The Palace Museum, Beijing. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

E Sun-shin calligraphy. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

E Sun-shin calligraphy. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

"Budo" shuji, brushed by Kondo Katsuyuki, Menkyo Kaiden, Daito ryu. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

"Budo" shuji, brushed by Kondo Katsuyuki, Menkyo Kaiden, Daito ryu. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

I came to the tour, led by inspiring docent Julia Verzhbinsky, with some questions: Do the letters of the Hebrew alphabet have any bearing on those of Sanskrit? Do the hieroglyphs of Egypt share any commonality with the ideograms of Chinese? And where and when did writing first go beyond its practical purposes and blossom into art?

First, of course, there are those marks that were made on cave walls and rocks tens of thousands of years ago. Then, dating to around 3200 B.C.E., we have the earliest cuneiform tablets from Sumeria (between the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers) as well as small bone and ivory tablets in early hieroglyphic form from Abydos (on the Nile). Gradually, those marks morphed into others.

Ritmal-Cuneiform tablet (ca. 2400 B.C.E., Kirkor Minassian Collection, Library of Congress, Washington, DC. Source:https://commons.wikimedia.org

Ritmal-Cuneiform tablet (ca. 2400 B.C.E., Kirkor Minassian
Collection, Library of Congress, Washington, DC. Source:https://commons.wikimedia.org

Coffin of Herishefhotep; Abusir, 9th/10th dynasty. Ägyptisches Museum, Leipzig, Germany. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Coffin of Herishefhotep; Abusir, 9th/10th dynasty. Ägyptisches Museum, Leipzig, Germany. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Too readily, we forget that extensive travel over trade routes has existed for many thousands of years (without jets!) and that soldiers and merchants carried a lot more than arms and material goods. For example, Aramaic, which originated in Mesopotamia and is ancestral to Hebrew, Syriac, and Arabic, spread all the way to the Indus Valley under the Archaemenid Empire (4th to 6th centuries B.C.E.). I saw evidence of this on a miniature Buddhist stupa from the ancient area of Gandhara and on statues of the Buddha. Although Chinese is considered completely original, it's hard not to notice similarities between early marks in China and those made elsewhere.

Chart of seal script, National Museum of Korea, Seoul.

Chart of seal script, National Museum of Korea, Seoul.

The earliest mark making in China seems to have been on oracle bones. I am drawn to the seal script that was derived from such "pictures." I can guess what they represent and find out what they mean through Google, but I appreciate them just for their interesting combination of lines. Since I'm not a calligrapher, instead I'm eager to abstract and stitch them onto fabric or paper. Although I've never been to China, I saw the marks above at The National Museum of Korea in Seoul. There I also learned about the Korean attitude toward calligraphy, which is considered one of the major arts that a true intellectual should master. Historically, to be truly adept, the calligrapher needed great knowledge about literature, history, art, and philosophy, for spiritual depth was valued along with artistic beauty. Even modern Chinese scroll paintings that I've seen, for instance, at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, bring together the three arts of painting, poetry, and calligraphy. 

"Plum Blossoms" (1965), by Xiao Ru. Asian Art Museum,  San Francisco, California.

"Plum Blossoms" (1965), by Xiao Ru. Asian Art Museum, 
San Francisco, California.

"Red and Green Plum Blossoms" (1944), by Ye Gongchuo (1881-1968). Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, California.

"Red and Green Plum Blossoms" (1944), by Ye Gongchuo (1881-1968). Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, California.

"Collected Letters" (2016), by Liu Jianhua. Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, California.

"Collected Letters" (2016), by Liu Jianhua. Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, California.

"Parler Seul" (1947), by Joan Miró. Source: http://www. allposters.com/Posters_i10212240_.htm

"Parler Seul" (1947), by Joan Miró. Source: http://www.
allposters.com/Posters_i10212240_.htm

For some artists today, such as Shanghai- based Liu Jianhua, a letter can be a visual unit of art in itself. He created Collected Letters (2016) by suspending cascading porcelain letters of the Latin alphabet and the radicals that form Chinese characters. Taken out of their practical role as building blocks of language, they become sculptural compositions in their own right. Liu Jianhua was inspired by the Asian Art Museum's collection of Chinese ceramics and the building's original identity as the main public library of San Francisco.

"Collected Letters" (2016), by Liu Jianhua. Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, California.

"Collected Letters" (2016), by Liu Jianhua. Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, California.

Those of us involved in fiber/textile art are aware that mark making is a big topic of conversation these days. Some artists stitch in abstract marks while others add actual text and recognizable letters. Painters such as Paul Klee and Joan Miró included marks that are reminiscent of scripts from long ago in other cultures. It's ironic that the more we think we're creating something new, the more we realize that we're tapping into something very old. Ancient art, contemporary art. The East, the West. In the end, I don't see any divisions. Influences and inspirations run in both directions.

"Insula Dulcamara" (1938), by Paul Klee. Source: https://learnodo-newtonic.com/paul-klee-famous-paintings

"Insula Dulcamara" (1938), by Paul Klee. Source: https://learnodo-newtonic.com/paul-klee-famous-paintings

Questions and Comments:
What kinds of marks are you drawn to in art and writing?
What do you use in your artwork: your own marks? lettering/script in your language or other languages?

Lino cuts on polymer blocks, by digital designer and artist Charmaine Watkiss.  Source: https://charmainewatkiss.wordpress.com/2010/11/01/lovely-lino/

Lino cuts on polymer blocks, by digital designer and artist Charmaine Watkiss. 
Source: https://charmainewatkiss.wordpress.com/2010/11/01/lovely-lino/

*Note: To view the conversation that was started on the former Weebly site of this blog and add your comment, click here or to start a new conversation, click "Comment" below.

A New Year for More Art

Source: http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/

Source: http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/

I shouldn't be surprised that the end of another year has rolled around. Still, I can't help thinking, "2017 already? How did it get here so fast?" Maybe because I engaged in a lot of deeply satisfying travel and art activities, the months simply sped by. The old expression that time flies when you're having a good time is the perfect answer.

Thank you for accompanying me during these months of posting about my experiences with and thoughts about art, whether locally or in another country. I very much appreciate your communications. Even if you don't comment, that you're out there reading my blog is a companionable gesture in itself.

I'm going to complete 2016 and begin 2017 with some quotes to reflect on. These are from On Art and Mindfulness, by artist, author, and physicist Enrique Martínez Celaya.

Gleann Fhiodhaig, Scotland. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/.

Gleann Fhiodhaig, Scotland. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/.

Being an artist is not a posture or a profession, but a way of being in the world and in relation to yourself....Understanding who you are as an artist should be thought of as a life-long process inseparable from your work....Growth does not have to be systematic. The way of the artist is a meandering path.                  

"Migrant Mother" (1930s), by Dorothea Lange. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

"Migrant Mother" (1930s), by Dorothea Lange. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

The qualities that distinguish great art from the rest are, directly or indirectly, related to ethics. At the heart of great art you will find love and compassion....A great work of art cannot come fromhatred or cynicism.  

"Frau, Korb tragend (before 1918), by Käthe Kollwitz. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

"Frau, Korb tragend (before 1918), by Käthe Kollwitz. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Balancing Act, Quinn Dombrowski. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Balancing Act, Quinn Dombrowski. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

There is no comfortable foundation for an artist to stand on. Do not look for it, and if you find it, get off it....An artist’s practice should account for uncertainty and instability that is always part of an honest inquiry. Expect change. Embrace accidents and mistakes.
 

Western Bluebird at Ralph B. Clark Regional Park, Buena Park, CA. Photo by Davefoc. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Western Bluebird at Ralph B. Clark Regional Park, Buena Park, CA. Photo by Davefoc. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Art tends to be a solitary experience for the artist, but it becomes less so if you have some relationship with nature and if your work is connected to life.

Arches National Park, Utah. Photo by Don Graham. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Arches National Park, Utah. Photo by Don Graham. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

According to poet Mary Oliver, “The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.” Next year, don't look back on 2017 with regret. Pick up your pen, needle, spindle, brush, or whatever you use and start creating today.

Dawn at the Coorong National Park, South Australia. Photo by Mundoo. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

Dawn at the Coorong National Park, South Australia. Photo by Mundoo. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

Happy New Year!
May 2017 dawn bright with creative promise for you.

*Note: To view the conversation that was started on the former Weebly site of this blog and add your comment, click here or to start a new conversation, click "Comment" below.

Defiance in Art

Frida Kahlo (1932). Photo by Guillermo Kahlo. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/.

Frida Kahlo (1932). Photo by Guillermo Kahlo.
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/.

For the last month or two, I've found myself thinking about what it means to be defiant in one's art. The word defiance can be defined as "a daring or bold resistance to authority or to any opposing force"; "proud and determined opposition"; "disobedience" and "rebelliousness." In a sense, it's about not trusting the powers-that-be to tell us what kind of art to create or to love. (For fans of etymology: Latin, fi from fidareand de-, a prefix that negates). I also understand that it's about going ahead and doing something in spite of existing conditions and circumstances.

Naturally, pondering defiance led me to identify artists who exemplify it. There are too many to name here, but instantly I thought of Frida Kahlo and Judy Chicago, among lots of other women artists who defied what the establishment prescribed for and expected of women in general as well as people of color.

Selma Hortense Burke (1900-1995) in her studio. Photo by Peter A. Juley & Son. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Selma Hortense Burke (1900-1995) in her studio. Photo by Peter A. Juley & Son.
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Source: amazon.com/

Source: amazon.com/

What prompted this exploration is a character in a novel I read after I returned from Poland and other recent destinations. I was sorting through some old clippings and notes at my desk, when I came across one about a book I'd intended to get from the library for quite a number of years: The Polish Woman: A Novel, by Eva Mekler. The "coincidence" of this title was not lost on me, nor that the main character, Karolina, is an artist.

While the narrative focuses on fictionalized events that occurred during and after the Holocaust, a couple of pages on Karolina's experience in an art world that didn't support her interests caught my attention. As she explains to Rosalind, another character, "it turned out bad" because her sculptures are representational, plus she works in stone, which she admits is unusual. Clearly, she loves creating sculpture, just as so many of us love creating with paints, textiles, cameras, clay, metal, paper, and other materials.

It is hard work, a kind of labor, to break down stone, to tame it. You are tired and dirty and there is dust on face and in hair, even in shoes like you have come out of a mine. But from all this smashing and pounding, you have a beautiful thing, and if you are good, you have touched something true. It is ironic to make something delicate by breaking stone, no? And after, touching what you have made...[it] is like body hunger that has become...satisfied.

"The Kiss" (1888-1898), by Auguste Rodin. Rodin Museum, Paris, France. Photo by Yair Haklai. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

"The Kiss" (1888-1898), by Auguste Rodin. Rodin Museum, Paris,
France. Photo by Yair Haklai. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

What happened to Karolina in the post-war art world of Communist Poland was disheartening. It was something too many of us know well, even in democratic societies and good economic times. She had worked passionately for two years on three small pieces, "Variations on a theme by Rodin," which she conceived of "as a kind of anti-Kiss commentary on the Rodin sculpture she'd adored as an adolescent and had come to resent with the fury of a disillusioned romantic." The pieces depict a male and female nude desperately attempting to embrace, but successively moving farther away from each other until, in the last sculpture, their fingers hardly touch. Unfortunately, her efforts were not received well. She explains to Rosalind, "In the end I was told I have skill, but not imagination. My work, they said, was conventional and romantic." A friend had even taken her aside and suggested she try a different medium, such as clay or papier-mâché. She was hurt and furious:

Art has to be political to please...Soon anything is art only if it is...defiant....Empty canvas is art; a marble ball tied in middle with black string is art. Glue nails and rope together and people praise it as sculpture about repression...Perhaps I should tie myself naked to a hammer and sickle....

"Distribution 1, Bronze" (2013), by Joep van Liefland. Galerie Gebr. Lehmann, Dresden, Germany. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

"Distribution 1, Bronze" (2013), by Joep van Liefland. Galerie Gebr. Lehmann, Dresden, Germany. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Yes, there is important defiance in certain kinds of political art, such as the murals of Clemente Orozco and Diego Rivera, Picasso's "Guernica," and much feminist art. I think of Ai Weiwei, who has been clubbed in the head and imprisoned for flouting the Chinese government's authoritarianism. But art can be defiant in other ways as well.

Mural by Diego Rivera (1886-1957). Palacio Nacional, Mexico City, Mexico. Photo by Thelma Datter. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Mural by Diego Rivera (1886-1957). Palacio Nacional, Mexico City, Mexico. Photo by Thelma Datter.
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Creating or performing art can represent ultimate resistance in the face of severe deprivation and terror. At the Theresienstadt Concentration Camp during World War II, sick and starving Jewish prisoners performed Verdi's "Requiem" in spite of the appalling degradation they were suffering. Although they had only a single smuggled score, they sang the famous oratorio 16 times, including once before senior SS officials from Berlin and an International Red Cross delegation. This Mass for the dead was transformed from what the Nazis thought of as the prisoners' meek submission to their fate into an act of defiance and even therapy. Rafael Schächter, the conductor, told the chorus: "We will sing to the Nazis what we cannot say to them." He had to reconstitute the group three times as members were transported to Auschwitz. Their performances symbolized challenge to the authorities that had imprisoned them and demonstrated courage to confront the worst of humankind. For the prisoners, singing Verdi's "Requiem" was an affirmation of life. As theatre and opera director Peter Sellars has said, "During the worst times a lot of the best art is made."

From the film "Defiant Requiem." Source: http://www.defiantrequiem.org/

From the film "Defiant Requiem." Source: http://www.defiantrequiem.org/

Here's yet another take on what is defiant art or a defiant artist. If the art world clamors for figurative or representational art, yet you love to work in an abstract style and continue to do so--or vice versa--then you're defiant in your art. If the art world is fascinated by grit and violence but you prefer peace and beauty, then you're defiant in your aesthetics.

"Low Tide, Yport" (1883), by Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Clark Institute of Art, Williamstown, Massachusetts.

"Low Tide, Yport" (1883), by Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Clark Institute of Art, Williamstown, Massachusetts.

I remember reading that Richard Diebenkorn went back and forth between abstract and figurative styles, always to the dismay of the art critics, who favored one or the other. He defied all of them and painted what he wanted to paint when he wanted to paint it. The Impressionists were excoriated for making what were deemed "unfinished" paintings, but they did not cave in and go back to the precise and realistic details of classical work. Simply to be an artist can be an act of defiance in a world that values what it considers practical, useful, and financially desirable. 

"Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair" (1940), by Friday Kahlo. Museum of Modern Art, New York City. Source: http://www.moma.org/collection/works/78333

"Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair" (1940), by Friday Kahlo. Museum of Modern Art, New York City. Source: http://www.moma.org/collection/works/78333

Our art can be defiant in what we want to express emotionally. In "Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair," painted after her divorce from artist Diego Rivera, her unfaithful husband, Frida Kahlo asserts her independence as a woman and as an artist. She breaks with the traditional Mexican hair and clothing styles of her previous self-portraits that Rivera favored by cutting off her long flowing hair and wearing his typical garb instead. To make things absolutely clear, she also writes onto the canvas the following lyric of a Mexican song: "Look, if I loved you, it was because of your hair. Now that you are without hair, I don't love you anymore."

For the rest of us, the lyric could be reworded to reflect a too common fact: "Look, if I loved your art, it was because of your concepts and politics. Now that your art is not  au courantin the market, I don't love it anymore."

It takes guts to be an artist in the face of all kinds of opposition, authorities, and obstacles. Sometimes it's not an outside force against which artists are defiant, but an internal situation over which they have little or no control. They don't give up despite the physical or mental hand that they've been dealt. I can't help but think of the many visual artists and writers who never asked for mental illness to dog their steps. 

"Starry Night" (1889), by Vincent van Gogh. Museum of Modern Art, New York City. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

"Starry Night" (1889), by Vincent van Gogh. Museum of Modern Art, New York City. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Vincent van Gogh is a perfect example. In June 1889, he painted "Starry Night," one of his most iconic images, at a time when he resided in the asylum at Saint-Rémy. He had voluntarily entered and accepted the restrictions of confinement. Initially, he was allowed to draw and paint only within the walls of the institution. Even when permitted to go outside, he was supervised. And he alternated between periods of stability and crises of distress. Yet he produced astonishing work that countless thousands line up to view. Vincent van Gogh defied what he didn't seem able to overcome by continuing to challenge himself as an artist and evolve his unique style. Yes, eventually, he succumbed to his demons and committed suicide, but that doesn't negate all the years of defiance.

Questions and Comments:
What do you consider defiant art?
Which artists represent defiance for you?
How are you a defiant artist?

*Note: To view the conversation that was started on the former Weebly site of this blog and add your comment, click here or to start a new conversation, click "Comment" below.

Filling Up on Art

In The Swan Thieves, a novel by Elizabeth Kostova, psychiatrist Andrew Marlow has particular thoughts about visiting places that house art. As he leaves the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., he says, "I believe in walking out of a museum before the paintings you've seen begin to run together. How else can you carry anything away with you in your mind's eye?" Then he notes to himself:

Pushing out through the doors, I experienced that mingled relief and disappointment one feels on departure from a great museum; relief at being returned to a familiar, less intense, more manageable world, and disappointment at that world's lack of mystery: There was the ordinary street without brushwork or the depth of oil on canvas.

Close-up of "Sleeping Girl" (1880), by Pierre-August Renoir. The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA.

Close-up of "Sleeping Girl" (1880), by Pierre-August Renoir. The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA.

I can't say that I wholly agree with Dr. Marlow, for it's definitely possible to perceive beauty and mystery in the everyday scenes around us. It's a matter of opening the mind and paying attention to what's otherwise too familiar. Also, we can feel relief going in either direction. If the day we visit a museum, there are no major crowds, isn't it a relief to get away from the hustle and bustle on the street and the cacophony of blaring horns? At certain moments, when we're standing in front of a work of art that moves us, doesn't it feel as though we've entered a sacred space?

Close-up of "Sunset" (1879 or 1881), by Pierre-August Renoir. The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA.

Close-up of "Sunset" (1879 or 1881), by Pierre-August Renoir. The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA.

But I have to admit that, during my recent 5-week trip and others before it, at times my head was spinning. There was so much to take in, as though the only way to eat was to gorge at an overly abundant smorgasbord. I didn't relish indigestion.

It's a hard call how much art to view, especially when I don't know that I'll ever return to that museum or gallery, let alone that city or country. I used to think I had to do it all, for I might never again have the possibility. Over the years, I've changed my mind. In this one life, there's no chance that I'm going to get to every country, see every work of art, and so on. I don't want to. Fewer but more memorable experiences are far more valuable to me than quantity.

When confronted with a great deal of art, I have several options. Generally, I take a lot of photographs so that I can revisit the art in a more leisurely manner at home. However, they don't necessarily capture the textured details one sees in person. Mostly, I am highly selective about which exhibits I'll view, even how much of the exhibit. I limit myself so that I can enjoy what's there and what I feel drawn to for more than a fleeting glance. In this case, less is definitely more. Another approach is to intersperse museum visits with other activities. There's no formula. I go with what feels right on the particular day.

"Fumee d'ambre gris"(Smoke of Ambergris, 1880), by John Singer Sargent. The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA.

"Fumee d'ambre gris"(Smoke of Ambergris, 1880), by John Singer Sargent. The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA.

If I were to write about all the art I am fortunate to witness and include photos of everything I've seen, you'd soon stop reading this blog. There's only so much any of us can digest. That's why this post offers some tapas instead of a 12-course meal! Enjoy them as you like. These American and European artworks are part of the permanent collection at The Clark Art Institute near Williamstown, which a friend was kind enough to drive me to while I was in Massachusetts.

"Saco Bay" (1896), by Winslow Homer. The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA.

"Saco Bay" (1896), by Winslow Homer. The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA.

While I am usually more attracted to abstract rather than representational art, I was surprised by the light and depth in "Saco Bay," by American artist Winslow Homer (1836-1910). He painted this sunset at Saco Bay, Maine, near his studio. The two women, carrying lobster traps and fishing nets were among the last figures he included in his paintings, which progressively focused only on the sea. A reviewer at the time criticized Homer for the "unnatural strawberry sky," but the painter felt it was one of his best works. If I had not seen it in person, but only in a photograph, I don't know that it would have captured my attention. But as I entered the first gallery at The Clark, I was struck by that strawberry coloring.

In other rooms, I saw works by Inness, Degas, Renoir, Manet, Bonnard, Toulouse-Lautrec, Cassatt, Sargent, Millet, Monet, Morisot, Pissarro, Corot, and more.

These four dancers were modeled by Edgar Degas in the 1880s, then cast 1919-1921. The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA.

These four dancers were modeled by Edgar Degas in the 1880s, then cast 1919-1921. The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA.

One that seemed out of place, considering all the Impressionist paintings in the collection, was "Various Objects," by Louis Léopold Boilly (1761-1845). It's one of his earliest efforts at trompe l'oeil ("fool the eye") painting. He might have even invented the term. The painting seems to be dedicated to a couple, Monsieur and Madame Dandré, to whom some of the letters are addressed. The sprig of pansies (pensées, in French, which also means "thoughts") next to them seems appropriate. Who knows what the objects are conveying, perhaps something related to the couple's activities? It feels like a contemporary assemblage.

"Various Objects (1785), by Louis Léopold Boilly. The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA.

"Various Objects (1785), by Louis Léopold Boilly. The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA.

The last image below is of "The Sower," by Jean-François Millet (1814-1875), one of the founders of the Barbizon school in rural France. He is known for his sympathetic depictions of agricultural laborers and his profound influence on later artists, such as Pissarro and Van Gogh.

Questions and Comments:
If you consider viewing art a high priority at home or while traveling, how do you deal with the fact that so much is available? What are your strategies to counter feeling overwhelmed?

"The Sower" (c.1865), by Jean-François Millet. The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA.

"The Sower" (c.1865), by Jean-François Millet. The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA.

*Note: To view the conversation that was started on the former Weebly site of this blog and add your comment, click here or to start a new conversation, click "Comment" below.

Taking in Art in Poland

The opening of the 15th International Trienniale of Tapestryon May 9th was one reason I recently visited Poland, for the event takes place in my father's city, Łódź. I first heard about it in 2013, but couldn't attend then. Though I had been in Łódź in the late 1990s, at that time I knew nothing about such happenings, for I had not yet gotten immersed in textile art. In fact, I didn't even know the history of the city. Imagine my surprise when I learned that it was the center of a thriving textile industry in the 19th century. Called the Polish "Manchester," Łódź supplied goods for the Russian Empire, which spanned from East-Central Europe all the way to Alaska.

"Beautiful Waiting" (2015), by Sylwia Jakubowska. International Triennale of Tapestry 2016, Biała Fabryka ("White Factory"), Lodz, Poland.

"Beautiful Waiting" (2015), by Sylwia Jakubowska. International Triennale of Tapestry 2016, Biała Fabryka ("White Factory"), Lodz, Poland.

Detail of "Beautiful Waiting" by Sylwia Jakubowska.

Detail of "Beautiful Waiting" by Sylwia Jakubowska.

Photo taken from one of 4 wings of the Centralne Muzeum Włókiennictwa (Central Museum of Textiles), Lodz, formerly "The White Factory," erected by the family of Ludwik Geyer in 1835–1886. Site of the International Triennale of Tapestry.

Photo taken from one of 4 wings of the Centralne Muzeum Włókiennictwa (Central Museum of Textiles), Lodz, formerly "The White Factory," erected by the family of Ludwik Geyer in 1835–1886. Site of the International Triennale of Tapestry.

This wouldn't mean anything to me except that my father once told me something about his father, who I now realize played a small role in that huge enterprise. My grandfather could look at a piece of cloth through a loupe and discern how to create that pattern, that is, how to set up the looms to weave it. That bit of family history remained in my memory bank for ages until one day it struck me that, though I had never learned how to weave, there I was, working with textiles. I felt a need to return to Łódź and see for myself where all this had started and how it eventually became a showcase for contemporary fiber art.

Briefly, Łódź began as a small settlement on a trade route and, by the early 20th century, grew into one of the most densely populated and polluted industrial cities in the world. Weaving originally took place in dark, dismal hovels, but some mill owners built huge steam-powered factories that turned their families into dynasties on a par with, if not wealthier than, the Rockefellers.

Izrael Poznański's Palace, originally a family residence, now the Museum of the City of Łódź.

Izrael Poznański's Palace, originally a family residence, now the Museum of the City of Łódź.

Eventually, the boom went bust due to a series of catastrophes: The Bolshevik Revolution (1917) and the Civil War in Russia (1918-1922) ended the lucrative trade with the East; The Great Depression (1930s) and the Customs war with Germany closed western markets to Polish textiles. After decades of labor exploitation, workers' protests and riots erupted.

Today, the factories and mansions are museums and galleries, with parks and gardens. For example, Izrael Poznański's Palace (see photo above), originally a family residence in the Neo-Renaissance and Neo-Baroque style, houses the Museum of the City of Łódź. Several rooms on an upper level are dedicated to a hometown boy, the renowned classical pianist Artur Rubinstein (1877-1982). The lower level is a gallery, where I viewed an exhibit of paintings and lithographs by local abstract artist and professor Andrzej Gieraga.

"Intruz" (1973), by Andrzej Gieraga.

"Intruz" (1973), by Andrzej Gieraga.

"Bez Tytulu III, ok" (1973), by Andrzej Gieraga.

"Bez Tytulu III, ok" (1973), by Andrzej Gieraga.

Walking along city streets, I also came across art on old building walls and in alley ways: The face/tree directly below and the mirrored glass in a pattern of roses underneath that are two instances.

Street art on a building in Lodz, Poland.

Street art on a building in Lodz, Poland.

In this alley off Piotrokowska St. in Lodz, someone created a pattern of roses, using bits of mirrored glass to cover building walls.

In this alley off Piotrokowska St. in Lodz, someone created a pattern of roses, using bits of mirrored glass to cover building walls.

I visited the Museum of Art, located in another Poznański palace, and a cultural center where shows ancillary to the Triennale were hung. There are more than 90 such related exhibitions and events that take place across Poland as well as its borders during this year. But the most extensive exhibit is the one for which I had traveled so far, the Triennale itself. With the work of 136 artists from 46 countries displayed on 3 floors, there's no way I can include everything here. Instead, what follows is a mere sampling of the wide variety of fiber art I witnessed. It's come a long way from the cotton and wool textiles once woven for an entire empire. The definition of fiber art is stretched to include pieces that do not even consist of fiber, but may entail a relevant interlacing technique, such as the rusted metal in "Modulator" by Leonora Vekić of Croatia.

While I took photos of the entire show, it is hard to capture the feeling of being in the presence of particular pieces. Photographic images just don't have the same impact as standing in front of or walking around them. I've selected those that come across more sharply in terms of shape, color, and texture, or that are unexpected in some way.

"Modulator" (2014), by Leonora Vekić, Croatia.

"Modulator" (2014), by Leonora Vekić, Croatia.

Detail of "Modulator" by Leonora Vekić.

Detail of "Modulator" by Leonora Vekić.

"A Dream in the Rain (En la lluvia el sueño) (2010-2013), by Sara María Terrazas., Mexico.

"A Dream in the Rain (En la lluvia el sueño) (2010-2013), by Sara María Terrazas., Mexico.

Detail of "A Dream in the Rain," by Sara María Terrazas

Detail of "A Dream in the Rain," by Sara María Terrazas

"The Round of the Wind" (2014), by Nadya Bertaux, France.

"The Round of the Wind" (2014), by Nadya Bertaux, France.

Detail of "The Round of the Wind" (2014), by Nadya Bertaux, France.

Detail of "The Round of the Wind" (2014), by Nadya Bertaux, France.

The title cards at the Triennale do not contain information about materials and methods, but in many cases, I could guess. In the two images (one full and one detail) that follow of Judith Content's work, I know that her wall pieces are hand-dyed, pieced, and quilted silk.

"Labyrinth" (2015), by Judith Content, USA.

"Labyrinth" (2015), by Judith Content, USA.

Detail of "Labyrinth" (2015), by Judith Content, USA.

Detail of "Labyrinth" (2015), by Judith Content, USA.

The slightest breath of air set Alina Bloch's multi-layered "Genesis" in motion, so it never looked the same from moment to moment. 

Front view of "Genesis" (2015), by Alina Bloch, Poland.

Front view of "Genesis" (2015), by Alina Bloch, Poland.

Side view of "Genesis" (2015), by Alina Bloch, Poland.

Side view of "Genesis" (2015), by Alina Bloch, Poland.

"Rhythms" (2013), by Alexandar Kulekov, Bulgaria.

"Rhythms" (2013), by Alexandar Kulekov, Bulgaria.

Detail of "Rhythms" (2013), by Alexandar Kulekov, Bulgaria.

Detail of "Rhythms" (2013), by Alexandar Kulekov, Bulgaria.

"Porcelain Coasts" (2015), by Rolands Krutovs, Latvia.

"Porcelain Coasts" (2015), by Rolands Krutovs, Latvia.

Detail of "Porcelain Coasts" (2015), by Rolands Krutovs, Latvia.

Detail of "Porcelain Coasts" (2015), by Rolands Krutovs, Latvia.

In her piece, "Mass Suicide," Androna Linartas of Mexico replicates the ancient system of quipu to convey a powerful message about the dangers of smoking. Quipus, also known as "talking knots," were devices used in the Andean cultures (South America) to collect data and keep records. A quipu usually consisted of colored, spun, and plied thread or strings made from cotton or camelid fiber. Linartas created hers with cigarette butts.

"Mass Suicide" (2011-2015), by Androna Linartas, Mexico.

"Mass Suicide" (2011-2015), by Androna Linartas, Mexico.

Detail of "Mass Suicide" (2011-2015), by Androna Linartas, Mexico.

Detail of "Mass Suicide" (2011-2015), by Androna Linartas, Mexico.

"Mutatis Mutandis" (2014), by Emöke, France.

"Mutatis Mutandis" (2014), by Emöke, France.

Detail of "Mutatis Mutandis" (2014), by Emöke, France.

Detail of "Mutatis Mutandis" (2014), by Emöke, France.

Questions and Comments:
Does your family have a particular textile history? Where did it come from?
What surprises/fascinates/interests you about fiber art today?
What traditional techniques with non-traditional materials (or vice versa) have you used in your art? 

*Note: To view the conversation that was started on the former Weebly site of this blog and add your comment, click here or to start a new conversation, click "Comment" below.

Feathers and Art

'Apapane (Himatione sanguinea), a species of Hawaiian honeycreeper. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/

'Apapane (Himatione sanguinea), a species
of Hawaiian honeycreeper. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/

Although I lived in Hawai'i for nine years, I don't remember ever thinking of featherwork as artwork. I knew that Hawaiian royalty (ali'i) had worn feather cloaks and capes, but that's what they were in my mind at the time--cloaks and capes--in the way that European kings and queens wore such garments. But a recent visit to the De Young Museum in San Francisco changed how I view those 'ahuʻula ("red shoulder coverings")I admire the collected pieces for their artistic mastery, especially the simple but bold contemporary-looking abstract designs and colors. I could easily see them rendered with textiles or paints. Since bundles of feathers were tied together and attached to netting made of olona (in the nettle family), one of the strongest natural fibers in the world, can we call the 'ahuʻula fiber art?

Amazingly preserved, the items are from the 18th and 19th centuries. For the San Francisco exhibit, they were gathered from Honolulu's Museum of Art and Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, Harvard's Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, National Museum of Natural History of the Smithsonian Institution, London's British Museum, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, and Vienna's Museum of Ethnology, Weltmuseum.

7319246_orig.jpg
'I'iwi (Vestiaria coccinea), scarlet Hawaiian honeycreeper.  Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/

'I'iwi (Vestiaria coccinea), scarlet Hawaiian honeycreeper. 
Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/

When I first heard of featherwork in Hawai'i, I was taken aback by what I thought must have been wholesale slaughter of endemic birds. I've since learned--only to my partial relief--that birds were captured and their feathers plucked. The Hawaiians knew that, alive rather than dead, the avian wonders could regenerate more feathers. Regardless, I doubt the birds thought it a pleasant experience. Eventually, disease, habitat destruction, and introduced predators took their toll, leading to extinction in some cases. But, for a long period, the birds provided the wherewithal for royal men and women to drape themselves in garments that were believed to afford spiritual protection as well as proclaim their noble status. Now we can view these beautiful pieces in museums.

[Please excuse the lack of quality in the photos of the featherwork. I had to take them through glass.]

Hawaiʻi ʻōʻō (Moho nobilis), a honeyeater. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/

Hawaiʻi ʻōʻō (Moho nobilis), a honeyeater. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/

ʻŌʻū (Psittirostra psittacea), a species of Hawaiian honeycreeper. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org

ʻŌʻū (Psittirostra psittacea), a species of Hawaiian honeycreeper. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org

ʻŌʻū (Psittirostra psittacea), a species of Hawaiian honeycreeper. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org

ʻŌʻū (Psittirostra psittacea), a species of Hawaiian honeycreeper. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org

In addition to the short capes and long cloaks, there were also feather garlands (lei hulu), handheld feather standards (kāhili) that signified divine power, and feather helmets (mahiole). The latter remind me of a partial wheel with hub and spokes. They were created by fastening feathered netting onto a twined rigid form of 'ie'ie (Freycinetia arborea), densely branched, woody aerial roots of the plant family Pandanaceae that attach themselves to host trees. These roots allow the feathers to maintain a particular shape, orientation, and arrangement.

Freycinetia arborea--aerials roots attaching to tree. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/

Freycinetia arborea--aerials roots attaching
to tree. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/

'Ie'ie (Freycinetia arborea). Photo by Forest & Kim Starr (USGS), Plants of Hawaii. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/

'Ie'ie (Freycinetia arborea). Photo by Forest & Kim Starr (USGS), Plants of Hawaii.
Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/

I can't help but think of a slice of watermelon when I look at this last one. But it could represent something I'm just not aware of or it could simply be the feather artist's unique design.

If you're at all drawn to these feather creations, may they lend inspiration for your own artwork.

Questions and Comments:
How do these designs strike you? Do you see cultural or environmental symbols in the abstract patterns?
If you didn't know that they're made of feathers, what would you think they are?
Have you incorporated feathers in your artwork--how?

*Note: To view the conversation that was started on the former Weebly site of this blog and add your comment, click here or to start a new conversation, click "Comment" below.

Mutual Inspiration: Science and Art

There was a time when I narrowly thought that science and art exist at opposite ends of a spectrum. It was hard to envision Einsteins and Pollocks collaborating. Yet, according to an article I read last month in the New York Timesthat's exactly what's happening at the Center for Art, Science & Technology (CAST) of MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) in Cambridge. The results are innovative, to say the least.

From the "Sandcastles" Series by Vik Muniz and Marcelo Coelho. Source: http://totb.ro/foto-castele-desenate-pe-un-graunte-de-nisip/

From the "Sandcastles" Series by Vik Muniz and Marcelo Coelho.
Source: http://totb.ro/foto-castele-desenate-pe-un-graunte-de-nisip/

For example, Brazilian artist Vik Muniz was able to etch superfine lines on a single grain of sand. It took four years of trial and error in co-operation with lab technician Marcelo Coelho at M.I.T's Media Lab. Muniz used an electron microscope with a focused ion beam to create images of castles. They were then scanned and printed large scale for a series called "Sandcastles."

The article goes on to describe other projects, including the fabrication of art pieces with trained virus cells (!) and Tomás Saraceno's utopian vision of flying around the world on one of his buoyant sculptures. His observation of spiders has led to gallery-sized web sculptures reminiscent of neural pathways and and the ever-expanding cosmos.

"Galaxy forming along filaments, like droplets along the strands of a spider´s web" (2008), by Tomás Saraceno.  Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York. Source: http://artpulsemagazine.com/venice-biennale-making-worlds

"Galaxy forming along filaments, like droplets along the strands of a spider´s web" (2008), by Tomás Saraceno. 
Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York. Source: http://artpulsemagazine.com/venice-biennale-making-worlds

I found the MIT project interesting because, a few months earlier, I had responded to Pence Gallery's call for entry on “The Consilience of Art and Science.” While my textile submissions weren't juried into the show, the chosen pieces were definitely thought-provoking. Take Anna Davidson's "Fungal Quilt," 5" x 5.5', made with fungus, potato dextrose agar, thread, and polyurethane. A scientist and an artist, Davidson invited other scientists to a quilting bee, where they created the quilt made from other organisms. Her intention was to create a dialogue between science and domesticity.

"Fungal Quilt" (2014), by Anna Davidson. Source: http://www.pencegallery.org/Exhibits_2016/01_Jan/artists  and http://www.clayburgcreate.com/annadavidson/anna/uncategorized/665//Davidson.html

"Fungal Quilt" (2014), by Anna Davidson. Source: http://www.pencegallery.org/Exhibits_2016/01_Jan/artists
and http://www.clayburgcreate.com/annadavidson/anna/uncategorized/665//Davidson.html

New Mexico fiber artist Betty Busby, inspired by biology and paleontology, creates beautifully detailed and colorful macro pieces. Made of cotton and wool, "Third Colony," 65"x42", was also in Pence's science and art show.

"Third Colony" (2012), by Betty Busby. Source:  http://www.pencegallery.org/Exhibits_2016/01_Jan/artists/Bushby.html

"Third Colony" (2012), by Betty Busby. Source: 
http://www.pencegallery.org/Exhibits_2016/01_Jan/artists/Bushby.html

Although her 12"x12" acrylic painting "Shine a Light" reminds me of stained glass windows in a cathedral, Canadian artist Pauline Truong is depicting tagged human breast cancer cells, captured by an innovative technology called Multiplexed Ion Beam Imaging (MIBI). Discovered by scientists at Stanford, UC Davis, and San Francisco, MIBI uses secondary ion mass spectrometry to image antibodies that have been labeled with pure elemental metals, which enables researchers to examine multiple proteins simultaneously.

"Shine a LIght" (2015), by Pauline Truong. Source: http://www.pencegallery.org/Exhibits_2016/01_Jan/artists/Truong.html

"Shine a LIght" (2015), by Pauline Truong. Source: http://www.pencegallery.org/Exhibits_2016/01_Jan/artists/Truong.html

Pence Gallery's call for entry made me reflect on what artists and scientists have in common. Rather than considering one group more right-brained and the other more left-brained, I realized that they share a great deal.

Franz Liszt (c1869), by Franz Seraph Hanfstaengl.  Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

Franz Liszt (c1869), by Franz Seraph Hanfstaengl. 
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

First, there's the element of imagination, so essential to both. As Hungarian composer, pianist, and conductor Franz Liszt (1811-1886) reputedly said, "Without imagination there is no art and neither science." Without imagination, artists and scientists would not have the enthusiasm to push against the boundaries of what's already known or what's already been done, nor how we know and do.

Albert Einstein (Vienna, 1921). Photo by Ferdinand Schmutzer. https://commons.wikimedia.org

Albert Einstein (Vienna, 1921). Photo by Ferdinand Schmutzer. https://commons.wikimedia.org

Then there's the fact that scientists and artists ponder similar questions because they observe the world, working toward an understanding of life: What is our place in the universe? Who are we? What are we? Where are we headed? German-American physicist Albert Einstein (1879-1955) believed that "the most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science."

While many artists work intuitively rather than logically, they still engage in a step-by-step process, just like scientists. Science and art are disciplines that embrace similar features, such as experimenting, investigating techniques and materials, exploring the environment, human and nonhuman beings, activities, weather, seasons, inner life, and more. Scientists and artists transform what they've experienced and share their perceptions, insights, perspectives, and solutions. While they use different means and mediums, they both offer discoveries we can apply or simply behold. They work long hours in labs or studios, undergoing frustration, disappointment, and failure until they achieve their goal.

T'ung Jen, Hexagram 13 of I Ching, Fellowship/Heaven over Fire

T'ung Jen, Hexagram 13 of I Ching, Fellowship/Heaven over Fire

One of the pieces I submitted to "The Consilience of Art and Science" is based on T'ung Jen, Hexagram 13 of the I Ching. To me, it represents the relationship between science and art. T'ung Jen is defined as "fellowship" and formed by the trigrams Heaven over Fire. It's about working together to attain a desired objective. Imagination from the heavenly realm (ideas out of thin air?) is forged in the fire of discipline to produce results. Artists inspire scientists and scientists inspire artists--both are groundbreakers. Scientific breakthroughs have enabled artists to use new mediums in their creativity; artistic breakthroughs have presaged scientific explanations. Differences and similarities in cooperation rather than conflict.

"T'ung Jen - Fellowship/Heaven over Fire (Hexagram 13 of I Ching)," by Mirka Knaster.

"T'ung Jen - Fellowship/Heaven over Fire (Hexagram 13 of I Ching)," by Mirka Knaster.

Questions and Comments:
How would you describe the relationship between science and art? Where is there compatibility; where is there tension?
How has science helped artists in their creative endeavors? How has art helped scientists?
How do you use science in your art?

*Note: To view the conversation that was started on the former Weebly site of this blog and add your comment, click here or to start a new conversation, click "Comment" below.

Landscapes

http://www.bloomsbury.com/us/the-art-instinct-9781608190553/

http://www.bloomsbury.com/us/the-art-instinct-9781608190553/

If you were to guess what sort of landscape people universally like--from Africa to America to Asia to Australia--how would you describe it? According to aesthetic philosopher Denis Dutton, author of The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution, it would be similar to the landscape of our Pleistocene ancestors: open spaces with low grasses and copses of trees, especially those that fork near the ground (for easy escape from predators?). An example is the scene below from South Africa.

Savanna (and animals) near Kuruman, South Africa. Photo by Brian Dell. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

Savanna (and animals) near Kuruman, South Africa. Photo by Brian Dell. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

There could be evidence of water, animals, and birds. And the picture could contain a path or road, a riverbank or shoreline, extending into the distance, as though beckoning us to follow it. What's particularly fascinating is that this landscape is regarded as beautiful by people in countries that don't even have such terrain. Dutton points out that it shows up on calendars and postcards, in designs of golf courses and public parks, and in framed pictures hanging on living room walls around the world.

"Autumn in France" (1910-1911), by Emily Carr. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

"Autumn in France" (1910-1911), by Emily Carr. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Artists create all kinds of landscapes for all kinds of reasons. In the late-19th- and early-20th-century, many Western artists were driven to create landscapes in part because of their dissatisfaction with the modern city. They imagined earthly paradises in paint. Others simply have wanted to capture impressionistically the essence of Nature's beauty around them, or to remember a place they visited. Some wanted to realistically depict the details, especially before photography was invented. And then there's simply the desire to delight in colors and shapes. Based on certain philosophical traditions, a spiritual element might be integral to the landscape picture, creating more of a "mindscape," as in this painting by Australian artist Maria Gorton, or that of Canadian artist Lawren Harris, currently exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

"One Moon, Many Waters," by Maria Gorton. Photo courtesy of the artist.

"One Moon, Many Waters," by Maria Gorton. Photo courtesy of the artist.

"Lake Superior" (c. 1923), by Lawren Harris. The Thomson Collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario. © Art Gallery of Ontario. © Family of Lawren S. Harris. Source: http://www.mfa.org

"Lake Superior" (c. 1923), by Lawren Harris. The Thomson Collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario. © Art Gallery of Ontario. © Family of Lawren S. Harris. Source: http://www.mfa.org

Landscapes have gone in and out of fashion in the art world, but they still command our attention. They can be exotic or familiar, bucolic or grand, remote and wild, fantastic or mystical, totally abstract or fully representational. They can be screen-printed, painted in oils, watercolors or acrylics, composed with textiles, sketched in ink, charcoal, pastel or pencil, etched, engraved, captured by camera, and so much more. Here are a few from different times and places and in different mediums. Can you guess when, where, and how?

"Free Spirits among Streams and Mountains: A Chinese Handscroll," by Wang Yuan-ch'i (1645-1715). The Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

"Free Spirits among Streams and Mountains: A Chinese Handscroll," by Wang Yuan-ch'i (1645-1715). The Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

"Fjord with Steamer" (1871), by Elisabeth Grüttefien-Kiekebusch. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

"Fjord with Steamer" (1871), by Elisabeth Grüttefien-Kiekebusch. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

"Windmills Near Zaandam" (1871), by Claude Monet. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

"Windmills Near Zaandam" (1871), by Claude Monet. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

In an interview conducted by Krista Tippett for her program "On Being," the Irish poet John O'Donohue says, "What amazes me about landscape is its Zen thereness. In a certain sense, landscape recalls you into a mindful moment of stillness, silence, and solitude, where you can truly receive time."

"Avenue of Poplars in Autumn" (1884), by Vincent Van Gogh. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

"Avenue of Poplars in Autumn" (1884), by Vincent Van Gogh.
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

"South West African Landscape with Termite Hill, Umbrella Trees and Mountains in the Background"  (1935), by Jacob Hendrik Pierneef. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

"South West African Landscape with Termite Hill, Umbrella Trees and Mountains in the Background" 
(1935), by Jacob Hendrik Pierneef. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

"Yearning for a Pleasurable Place" (1816), by Kameda Bôsai. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

"Yearning for a Pleasurable Place" (1816), by Kameda Bôsai. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

"The beauty of nature," O'Donohue continues, "is its generosity." He refers to the Celtic view of landscape as not just matter but actually something alive. It's not simply the outer presence of the landscape that affects us. There's also something that connects us to the elemental, to the rhythm of the universe.

"Colorado Turquoise," by Regina V. Benson. Photo by John Bonath. Source: http://www.reginabenson.com

"Colorado Turquoise," by Regina V. Benson. Photo by John Bonath. Source: http://www.reginabenson.com

"Desert Pool," by Karen Wysopal. Source: http://www.karenwysopal.com

"Desert Pool," by Karen Wysopal. Source: http://www.karenwysopal.com

"Reflected in the Gualala River." Photo by Rick Denniston.

"Reflected in the Gualala River." Photo by Rick Denniston.

Questions and Comments:
What kind of landscapes are you drawn to--peaceful, stormy, mythological, realistic, bright or chiaroscuro, minimalist or detailed?
If you create landscapes, what kind, and in what medium?

*Note: To view the conversation that was started on the former Weebly site of this blog and add your comment, click here or to start a new conversation, click "Comment" below.

The Power of Art to Move Us

From time to time, I quote lines about art expressed by fictional characters because what they say is provocative, interesting, or simply rings true. Recently, two publications offered me more statements to consider.

Source: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/9503

Source: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/9503

I was listening to the audiobook of Amy Tan's Saving Fish from Drowning, when I felt impelled to hit pause again and again until I was able to write down something the narrator reflects on after her mysterious death. Although I gave up finishing the book, I did come away with the following from the ghost of Bibi Chen, San Francisco socialite and art vendor to the stars:

With romance, I felt pangs of love, yet never the passion that overcame my friends. But then I discovered art. I saw pure feelings, for the first time--nature expressed in a form I could understand. A painting was a translation of the language of my heart. My emotions were all there, but in a painting, a sculpture. I went to museum after museum, into the labyrinths of rooms and that of my old soul, and there they were: my feelings, and all of them natural, spontaneous, truthful, and free. My heart cavorted within shapes and shadows and splashes and patterns, repetitions, and abruptly ending lines. My soul shivered in tiny feathered strokes, one eyelash at a time. And so I began to collect art. This way, I was able to surround myself with the inexpressible, to exult in the souls of others. What a lifelong debt I owed to art!

"Untitled" (1988), by Friedel Dzubas (1915-1994). Source: https://www.artsy.net/artwork/friedel-dzubas-untitled-9

"Untitled" (1988), by Friedel Dzubas (1915-1994). Source: https://www.artsy.net/artwork/friedel-dzubas-untitled-9

While my own experience doesn't mirror Bibi's, I wonder how many people find in art what they've had difficulty discovering in their day-to-day life. Is art a realm where we do realize more clearly what our feelings are, a place where those feelings are awakened, even modified? If so, what makes that happen?

"The Bath" (1891), by Mary Cassatt (1844-1926). Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/

"The Bath" (1891), by Mary Cassatt (1844-1926). Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/

Source: https://www.goodreads.com /book/show/25614298

Source: https://www.goodreads.com
/book/show/25614298

Then a friend sent me a quote from Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jhumpa Lahiri's new nonfiction book, In Other Words, about her love affair with the Italian language:

I think that the power of art is the power to wake us up, strike us to our depths, change us. What are we searching for when we read a novel, see a film, listen to a piece of music? We are searching, through a work of art, for something that alters us, that we weren’t aware of before. We want to transform ourselves, just as Ovid’s masterwork[Metamorphosis] transformed me.

I wish I could sagely state why this is so, why art has such a powerful effect on us, why we are profoundly moved by a poem, a picture, a sculpture, a dance. Is it because whatever the artist felt in creating it is coming through to us, eliciting our mirrored emotions? How often have I felt suddenly overwhelmed in my body by something inexplicable as I gazed upon a painting or a statue, or found myself in tears while reading a passage in a book or watching a scene on a movie screen? Or is it that we are conjuring up something the artist didn't intend yet, for whatever reason, we have a need to experience? I suspect it's different each time, our response emerging according to the conditions and circumstances in the moment. We also could simply attribute this phenomenon to the "magic" of art, without stopping to analyze it.

"The Moon" (2014), by Koyama Toshitaka. Source: https://www.artsy.net/

"The Moon" (2014), by Koyama Toshitaka. Source: https://www.artsy.net/

Questions and Comments:
Both Tan and Lahiri describe the powerful impact of art. What effect does experiencing art have on you? Do you feel something similar or different when you're the one creating art? If so, how would you express it?

*Note: To view the conversation that was started on the former Weebly site of this blog and add your comment, click here or to start a new conversation, click "Comment" below.

What If You Can't See?

As artists and as viewers of art, what loss are we most likely to consider catastrophic? For many, if not most, it's no longer being able to see. On occasion, I have wondered how I would manage to continue expressing my creativity were my vision to fade away or my hands not function. How would I thread a needle? How would I cut cloth? How would I arrange patterns, colors, and textures to complement each other? How would I know whether my overall composition works?

Wool skeins naturally dyed with indigo, lac, madder, and tesu by Himalayan Weavers in Mussoorie, India. www.himalayanweavers.org. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

Wool skeins naturally dyed with indigo, lac, madder, and tesu by Himalayan Weavers in Mussoorie, India. www.himalayanweavers.org. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

Although I don't recall ruminating on this during January, curiously, I received several communications that included internet links about blind artists, along with an editor's invitation to interview a blind photographer in my own community. So, of course, I decided to explore the topic and discover what it might teach me.

Sargy Mann. Source: www.digtriad.com

Sargy Mann. Source: www.digtriad.com

It all started when a painter friend emailed me a vimeo link about British painter Sargy Mann (1937-2015), with whom I wasn't familiar. At the age of 36, he was diagnosed with congenital myopia and cataracts and then with retinal detachments and ulcerated corneas. Despite multiple surgeries, by the time he turned 50, he was certifiably blind.  Yet, just before he died last year, he asserted that, rather than stop him in his tracks, this condition actually made him see better, see more.

"Frances in the Corner Chair," by Sargy Mann. Source: www.cadogancontemporary.com

"Frances in the Corner Chair," by Sargy Mann. Source: www.cadogancontemporary.com

In the video, Mann is preparing for an upcoming TED talk. He says, "I wondered long and hard why the paintings I've made since being totally blind are as good as they are and, indeed, quite a lot of people think they're the best things I've ever done." He thought that perhaps previous to losing his sight, he'd been too timid and too influenced by the vision and experience of the master artists he revered. When he went out to choose a subject to paint, he was choosing one that Monet or Bonnard would have chosen, rather than his own. Once he became blind, that option was no longer available and, interestingly, it led him into a more personal world, one that was his own experience and own way of responding to it.

"Infinity Pool III," by Sargy Mann. Source: https://www.cadogancontemporary.com/

"Infinity Pool III," by Sargy Mann. Source: https://www.cadogancontemporary.com/

As a result, Mann didn't grieve or wallow in self-pity. Instead, he began to understand that perception involves more than just vision. According to an obituary in the The Guardian, he stated, “So much of it goes on in the head. Experience starts with touch." He simply kept working out how to paint while his brain found new ways to see the world. As he applied a pigment to canvas, he had a sensation of seeing the color. Unexpectedly, with blindness came breakthroughs: the freedom and courage to use color with more daring and expressiveness as well as to engage more intimately with his subject.

.Sargy Mann. Source: www.facebook.com

.Sargy Mann. Source: www.facebook.com

In an interview with the BBC, Mann explained, "Reasonably enough, people always want to know how I arrive at the color in my paintings when I can't see at all. It is worth mentioning here that most people, I think, dream in full and perfect color. I certainly do, and when one is asleep, one is perceptually blind, so the brain can do it--though God knows how. I can imagine color and color combinations pretty well and I wonder, is it so very different from a composer or arranger of music working on manuscript paper, thinking 'I would like the theme in flute and clarinet, against strings and French horns'? In the paintings I have made since losing all my sight...the last 10 years, I cover the whole canvas from my imaginings and my knowledge of my pigments and how they look in different combinations."

"Busto del canonico Francesco Chiarenti" (1640), by Giovanni Gonnelli, Museo del vetro, Gambassi Terme. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

"Busto del canonico Francesco Chiarenti" (1640), by Giovanni Gonnelli, Museo del vetro, Gambassi Terme. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

For Mann, drawing and painting became "almost like a sixth sense.” For Italian sculptor Giovanni Gonnelli, also known as il cieco da Gambassi  or "the blindman from Gambassi" (1603–1664), touch and "inner" vision enabled him to sculpt again in clay after he went blind. He received praise and patronage from such important figures as the Grand Duke of Tuscany and Pope Urban VIII.

I came across many other artists who did/do not let impaired sight keep them from pursuing their creative passions. Between 1916 and 1926, French painter Claude Monet (1840-1926) managed to work on 12 canvases of his celebrated series The Water Lilies, even though he was nearly blind by 1923.

"The Water Lily Pond" (c. 1917-19), by Claude Monet. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

"The Water Lily Pond" (c. 1917-19), by Claude Monet. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

Today, there are organizations that support and exhibit artists who are visually challenged. For example, you can see some of their work on The Blind Artists Society website and read about international artists on another webpage. There's no way to discern that the art was created by a blind person.

What I've gleaned from viewing the artwork and learning the artists' stories is that fear of loss is a waste of time and energy. As creative individuals, they all found new ways of continuing to express themselves, often better than they had before. Any of us could do the same.

[In a future post, I'll share what I'm learning about how blind photographers are able to use light to keep making photographs.]

Questions and Comments:
What do you fear losing as an artist?
Do you know artists who have lost their sight or other functions? How did they deal with it? Do you think their artwork actually got better? If so, why?

*Note: To view the conversation that was started on the former Weebly site of this blog and add your comment, click here or to start a new conversation, click "Comment" below.