The most fertile source of insight is hindsight.
– Morris Kline –
I started thinking about hindsight after reading an article about Deborah Bell’s current exhibition Dreams of Immortality. Having met her briefly many years ago, I was taken by her humbleness. This has stayed with me, as has the memory of her deep sense of spirituality as an artist. There is resonance here. It is particularly interesting to read how Bell reflects back on her work as an artist. Hindsight, as Robyn Sassen writes in the Sunday Times article, has given Bell ‘perspective into her own thoughts’.
The thoughts Sassen are referring to here, is Bell’s own self-reflection as she contemplates her art-making from an earlier time:
I thought my early stuff in the 1980’s was about being caught in South Africa. Being caught up in that claustrophobia, that kind of desperate embrace; but looking at it all now, I realize it was about my fear of being trapped in the material ( …) At the time I thought I was making political and sexual commentary. I thought that was what I was doing.
These are brave words by Bell. It speaks of honesty as well as the ability to accept a previous process which may now seem somewhat distanced and even foreign. Having said that, it is clear from the exhibition catalogue that for Bell her artworks are connected and inter-connected. One work leads to another and then turns back onto itself again. Perhaps this is because, for Bell, thought itself ‘is in the realm of the spiritual, not the material.’ Thought therefore takes place in an ever-flowing state of present awareness.
Perhaps I am also writing about hindsight because of a shift that has occurred in my own work. I seem to have moved from one space to another, leaving me anxious at times. I wonder whether I am more or less authentic by flowing with this process? I wonder where that places my previous work? At times I wonder how this change is viewed from the art sidelines? Here I can take my lesson from Bell:
My art making is intensely private, closer to a spiritual discipline than an engagement with the contemporary art world. At this stage in my life, I am less interested in looking at what others are doing, and more concerned with my own transformation through the act of making.
(from exhibition catalogue)
Perhaps the key word here is transformation, indicating a process taking place on a continuum rather than the experience of an edited time-frame.
Hindsight becomes both foresight and insight, taking place in a connected embrace: such were the insights that Bell’s magnificent installation The Return of the Gods: The Ancient Ones (2013-2105) evoked in me. The interaction with sound, time, myth and spirituality allowed me to experience not only the present moment, but also the interconnectedness of what it is to be human. As I navigated endlessly between the five, Monumental Beings, I connected and re-connected to Phillip Miller’s composition, set off by my own presence. In my mind’s eye I was drawing invisible points with my own body as I circled the Ancient Ones.
One of my favourite writers, Kazuo Ishiguro writes in The Remains of the Day:
But then, I suppose, when with the benefit of hindsight one begins to search one’s past for such ‘turning points’, one is apt to start seeing them everywhere….”
Hindsight is most certainly fertile, yet it requires the awareness to recognize the turning points and then to join the dots.