I am out of range for several weeks. I will be back to musing, both fast and slow, on June 1.
For updates in the interim:
By Deborah Barlow
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These last few weeks were spent in Oman, UAE and Sri Lanka. The ancient traditions—Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist—are deep and leave me feeling humbly outside a true understanding of these profound songlines. The eyes take it in, but they are just the first step in truly seeing.
Here are just a few images from this most recent journey.
Sita Eliya Temple, Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka. According to legend, this temple marks the spot where Sita (from the Ramayana) was held captive by her abductor, King Ravana. Some claim this is the only Sita temple in the world.
Compendium, now on view at the Islip Art Museum (running through December 27), explores the interchangeable qualities of both art and science. Curators Lorrie Fredette and Beth Giacummo included this quote by Albert Einstein in their show commentary:
The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mystical. It is the power of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms—this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true religiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only, I belong to the rank of devoutly religious men.
That quote, so provocative to me personally, has also been a way to stay centered during a time when grief and loss are ambient everywhere. It is also a useful mantra to carry along over the next few weeks while I am traveling in Asia and Africa.
I will return to Slow Muse in mid-December.
Thank you to everyone who joined in at the opening reception of my show, “The Light Within”, at Brooklyn Workshop Gallery last Thursday, September 17. The paintings were beautifully echoed in the ceramic work by Amani Ansari. It was a great night.
Special thanks to the amazing BWG team—Martine Bisagni, Amani Ansari and Iviva Olenick, and a host of gifted musicians—Michael Irwin and his trio, plus the dulcet tonalities of Graham Haynes. In the company of celebrants and friends, I had an unforgettable evening.
I will be at the gallery for two more events. Please stop by if you are in town.
Saturday, September 26
“Meet and greet”
Noon to 5pm
Sunday, October 11
Noon to 6pm
Brooklyn Workshop Gallery
393 Hoyt Street
(F/G to Carroll Street)
Saturday and Sunday, 12-7pm
Tuesday through Thursday, by appointment
A selection of photos by friends Iviva Olenick, Paula Overbay, Amber Gaia and Arthur Steuer:
One corner in my new show, “The Light Within”, at Brooklyn Workshop Gallery (September 5 – October 11.) The combination of metallic surfaces on the series to the right (“Silma 1-4”) and the chalky intensity of “Kannakam” on the gorgeously textured wall on the left pleases my eye.
How to talk about the visual without short shrifting its power has been a question I have danced in and around for most of my life as an artist. Certainly that theme has played out in these nine years’ worth of posts on Slow Muse. How to successfully language the visual remains an ongoing mystery and challenge. I don’t know if I am any better at verbalizing a useful construct for my work than I was when I began so many years ago. I may just be better at bobbing and weaving.
Having been part of a large community of artists on Facebook for many years now, I have encountered artists who are in fact much better at this than I am. Read Altoon Sultan‘s posts about her own work and the work of others on her blog, Studio and Garden, and you will find a clear, informed but non-authoritarian voice.
I’m more in the mist than Altoon (although she is good at mist as well.) I get engaged and enchanted—perhaps too much so—by what can’t quite be described or what is just beyond my language skill set. But I have come to know that being in that unknown zone feels comfortable to me since that is a state of mind I am in when I am in the studio every day. The direction my work is taking, the way a piece comes to completion—every day is full of 90 degree turns and surprise appearances. The basket is found by my door, day after day, laden with alimentation.
Friend and artist Miriam Louisa Simons reposted a piece about Vija Celmins that provoked me to dig back into the Slow Muse archive for some related material.
Here’s one, featuring the ever engaging Dave Hickey:
Between Artists: Twelve Contemporary Artists, Interview Twelve Contemporary Artists is a simple idea but so valuable. Reading the conversations between artists (who are, in most cases, already good friends) is a bit like listening to really good mechanics talk shop with other really good mechanics—a lot of under the hood chatter, sharing quick tips and an undefended discussion of the practical as well as the intuitive.
A few lines from the introduction, written by the inveterate trickster king Dave Hickey:
“The speakers in these interviews are saddled with the tragi-comic injunction to talk about that which they cannot: their art—to discuss that practice, which, were it explicable, they should not be pursuing, to explain those objects which, had they known what they were making, they almost certainly should not have made. Thus, Isaiah Berlin’s distinction between the hedgehog and the fox is applicable here. “The fox knows many little things,” Berlin explains, “the hedgehog knows one big thing,” and artists, as artists, are almost always hedgehogs. They know one big thing, the thing that drives the engine, that perpetually eludes articulation. So what we have here, between these covers, is the conversation of hedgehogs playing at being foxes. We do not get that one big thing, nor could we expect it. But we do get the atmosphere, the filigree of little things, of accident and incident, of nuance and desire, that surrounds the enormous absence that the work of art must, necessarily, fill in our lived experience.”
And this memorable quote, from Vija Celmins in conversation with Ken Price:
I remember Brancusi said, “Art should be like a well planned crime.” Which is to say that you don’t discuss it before, and you don’t talk much about it afterwards either.
Literary variations of this theme also exist. Currently under the spell of the exquisite Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante (pen name for someone who wants a life rather than the fishbowl self consciousness of celebritism), I loved encountering this line in James Wood‘s New Yorker article about the books and their mysterious author:
Ferrante holds that “books, once they are written, have no need of their authors.”
In the end, the painting does stand alone.
I am having a show of recent paintings at Brooklyn Workshop Gallery in Carroll Gardens during September and October.
Curator Martine Bisagni has titled the show, “The Light Within,” choosing works where light appears to be emerging from within the painting rather than sourced externally. Martine curated my last show at BWG in 2010, and I have great appreciation for her careful eye. Also on display—new ceramics by artist and friend Amani Ansari.
Three gallery events are scheduled so I will be in and around Brooklyn a lot in September and October. If none of these times works for you, please contact me so we can find another time to convene. I hope to see you during the show run.
With new ceramics by Amani Ansari
September 3 – October 11, 2015
Brooklyn Workshop Gallery
393 Hoyt Street
718 797 9428
(F or G Train to Carroll Street)
Thursday, September 17
Saturday, September 26
Artist meet and greet: Noon to 5pm
Sunday, October 11
Closing celebration: Noon to 6pm
The only way I can imagine discussing my time in China is from a few small side glances. The incomprehensible immensity of the country, the complexity of its 6,000 year history, the speed with which everything that cannot adapt to China’s streamlined, extraordinary collective vision of the future is being torn down, discarded and abandoned—I am not equipped to put all those vectors into a narrative that could make sense in a few paragraphs. For those who want something more substantial, a slew of well informed books are out there about the emergence of the new China. In many ways it is one of the most significant story lines unfolding on the planet right now. I think I kind of knew that before I went. But I now have a much better understanding of just how immense it actually is. I am still a bit speechless about what I saw and learned during those two and a half weeks.
Meanwhile China does not allow access to Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or email if you are a gmail user. “We have our own version of those platforms,” was the cheerful response we heard when we asked people about being shut out. “For us, things are so much better than they used to be!” Normal is a temperature setting, not an absolute.
In writing about Dante, Robert Pogue Harrison captured some of the conflicting complexity I experienced while in China:
For those of us who belong to a modern age where all is relative, where one hand always comes with the other, and where uncertainty is our only certainty, there is something captivating and liberating about the unconditional moral clarity of Dante’s vision.
So no, I cannot offer an unconditional moral clarity about anything I experienced. What I can share is my personal journey into particular aspects of the visual culture of China.
I was keenly aware of how my eye was shifting with repeated exposure to a new set of cultural idioms. After years of looking at Chinese painting with the uninformed curiosity of someone who never having studied Asian art with the same intensity with which Western art was plumbed, I began falling under the spell of Ming and Qing Dynasty ink landscapes on paper and silk. The aura of solitude, the monochromaticism, the quality of the mark making and brushstrokes, the way scale is achieved in these panoramic landscapes—it became increasingly familiar and exquisite. Much of the contemporary art in Shanghai and Beijing has its roots in that Chinese heritage, wonderfully so. It was those works that embodied aspects of that Asian tradition that spoke most forcefully to me rather than that ubiquitous, Western-influenced, International popular culture iconography that shows up everywhere these days.
Below are a few images that stood out for me. The first set is of contemporary art. Very few of these are identifiable since I don’t know Chinese. If there is something that catches your interest, please feel free to contact me. I can at least tell you where I saw it.
The images after those are more generic views. A new landscape feeds the artist’s eye in its own particular way, and sharing these feels imporant too.
Contemporary art in China:
The Commune at the Great Wall, a collection of structures designed by contemporary Asian architects:
The Commune has its own private segment of the Great Wall:
From the Museums:
Street and monument views:
Last but not least, the beloved pandas in Chengdu:
The headline in the Parrot’s Weekly read: Titantic Sunk. No Parrots Hurt.
–Katharine Whitehorn, quoted in The Artful Universe by John D. Barrow
Oh the power of a point of view…Parrots may not be your thing, but something is.
Washington’s poet laureate Elizabeth Austen speaks to our proclivity to narrowbanding in her piece, How poetry can help us say the unsayable:
We make our world by what we choose to see.
I wrote that line years ago, and have copied it from notebook to notebook, waiting for the rest of the poem to arrive. But lately I’ve begun wondering if maybe it’s less a fragment of a future poem and more a manifesto.
At first glance, it might seem like an endorsement of confirmation bias, that all-too-human tendency to only value evidence that confirms our existing ideas and opinions.
Confirmation bias is most insidious as it relates to beliefs we’re not conscious of: We filter the world around us, selectively noticing, believing and remembering things that affirm our ideas, all the while unaware of the unconscious editing we’re doing moment by moment.
We make our world by what we choose to see.
The operative word is “choose.” We can actively cultivate—seek out, take in, consider—perspectives that complicate and expand our view and, thus, our world. Or not.
And from Ralph Waldo Emerson:
From the mountain you see the mountain. We animate what we can, and we see only what we animate. Nature and books belong to the eyes that see them.
These jewel-like mantras feel very useful, and they will fit easily in my backpack of supplies as I head to “new to me” destinations in Asia.
It isn’t hard to get caught in a life that is way too focused on tracking parrots—or whatever it is that consumes the conscious mind day in and out. And as Emerson suggests, we can animate the world anew no matter where we are. But one of the best aspects of a trip to somewhere else for me is the involuntary shift in the frame I have been using. That dislocation forces my hand, gratefully. So yes, I am so ready for a full scale reboot.
I’ll be back Slow Musing in June.
A few installation shots from my recent show at the Morris Graves Museum in Eureka California, Behind, Beyond, Beneath: Scaling the Continuum. At the opening event on Saturday night, over 800 people came through the museum. I met some extraordinary people and had a terrific evening.
A stellar team and museum staff—Jemima Harr, Janine Murphy, Laurey Sullivan, Virginia Wood, Laurie Arupa Richardson, Lisa Polack, Dennis Winstead and the Humboldt Arts Council.
Kevin Simmers, Ed Carrigan and Alison Yerxa for being my road trip buddies.
Dale Boudreau et al who made the long drive from Seattle.
Martine Bisagni, Amani Ansari and Brooklyn Workshop Gallery for joining in with an exquisite arrangement of flowers. The colors were perfect.
A few installation shots before the crowd arrived…