dot 40: boundaries

I’m very conscious of the fact that I need to reinvent myself, really need to see what boundaries I can find.

– Diane Victor –

 This statement has stayed with me since reading the article  Second Life in The Times last month. Exploring the creative impact a recent kidney transplant has had on one of South Africa’s greatest artists Diane Victor, Oliver Roberts playfully engages with what could be viewed as a near-death experience.

What strikes me as I re-read this article is how focused and determined death can make us. I am reminded of Austin Kleon that suggests artists should read obituaries because they are ‘like near-death experiences [but they] aren’t really about death; they’re about life’ he states in his book Show Your Work! Kleon rightfully quotes the late Steve Jobs in this regard:

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything … just fall[s] away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.

As a previous ICU nurse I was confronted with potential death on a minute-to-minute basis. I can honestly say that this 20 year experience truly altered me, and I was never in doubt as to what was essential. Life and death were translucent ends of the same continuum. The boundaries were clear.

Now, sitting in my studio as an artist, that thought has become a lot fuzzier and less defined. I find myself longing for that clarity of conviction, wondering how I could re-find that space as an artist?

Is it at all possible to find such boundaries within art making ..?

For Diane Victor, the seeking of boundaries, of reinventing herself has led her to rework previously failed etchings. Apparently somewhat unsettled by this process (of shameful sentimentality) it has allowed her the means to reinvent herself again creatively. My mind wanders off and I contemplate reworking artworks that I would deem as failed. It might potentially be a place to start from.

Moving in from the outer boundary …

'sound boundary'  Aquatint etching
sonic boundary (2015)                          Aquatint etching                          Sonya Rademeyer

dot 39: beauty

 

Throw away as much as you can of what you know, and you might at last be able to see.

– David Rothenberg –

Matopos
Matobo Hills view                                                                         photograph: Sonya Rademeyer

 

‘We have to investigate, to delve into beauty; rather than pick it apart in such a way that it dies, we must inhabit the wonder that is in the world, recognize it, love it in moments of both bliss and investigation.

The beautiful is the root of science and [of] art, the highest possibility that humanity can ever hope to see.’

Taken from Survival of the Beautiful: Art, Science, and Evolution (2013) by David Rothenberg.

dot 38: [hind]sight

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….”

Installation view of Return of the Gods: The Ancient Ones (2013-2015)
Installation view of Return of the Gods: The Ancient Ones.       Photo: Sonya Rademeyer

Hindsight is most certainly fertile, yet it requires the awareness to recognize the turning points and then to join the dots.

Dreams of Immortality is showing at Everard Read Gallery:JohannesburgCape Town.

dot 37: listening

How can you record the emotional volume present in the art of listening?

– Maya Maljević –

I have always thought that I listen well. That is, until I decided to selectively listen to my immediate environment. In 2013 I decided to switch off radios and music in order to actually start listening to the sonic world surrounding me. This decision has payed off as I am now able to discern and navigate between various soundscapes as I listen consciously. A recent artwork that reflects such listening is silence 1 (2015) shown at pop-up art exhibition Silence held in Cape Town. In many ways I have had to un-learn what it is to listen.

There is an analogy to be made between un-learning in listening and un-learning  in art making. Both indicate previous training in either thinking or the acquiring of skills or techniques. In essence the ‘previous’ belongs to a narrative that does not belong to the self. Looking at the work of Maya Maljević one would not think that such a talented artist would have needed to unlearn how to draw. Having been trained at the University of Arts in Belgrade, Maljević is firmly grounded in an academic and classical arts education. It is important to note that in creating her artworks, Maljević moves from a predominantly formal position as Jacqueline Nurse noted in David Krut Projects Maya Maljević (2012). What enthralls me, is how Maljević is able to move beyond the cognitive and into her imaginary space in the way that she does.

In viewing her paintings and drawings, I hear sounds. I hear singular instruments at times, but mostly collective, orchestral soundscapes not in a formal sense, but very much in the way that instrumental groups within an orchestra tune up: vibrating in energy and dissonance. In an interview with Nurse,  Maljević describes her creative process:

When I combine objects, it is … how they clash , feed from each other, create chaos and from that chaos a perfect sound is made …

 Nurse – comparing Maljević to Kandinsky – notes that ‘through her own version of gestural abstraction,  Maljević … allows action and conflict to occur between the different elements with which she is engaged.’ This level of engagement requires the art of listening.

The avant-garde artist and composer John Cage stated that ‘Silence is not acoustic. It is a change of mind, a turning around.’

listening to movement
‘ listening to movement ‘                                                                   Photo: Sonya Rademeyer

For more on John Cage, listening and sound visit Open Culture.

dot 36: trace[s]

I made the flames lick the surface of the painting in such a way that is recorded the spontaneous traces of the fire. But what is it that provokes in me this pursuit of the impression of fire?

Why must I search for its traces?

– Yves Klein –

This question resonates with me. The quest to capture invisible traces fuels my art making. It is what draws me. It is what inspires me. Like Klein, I have often wondered what the driving force behind it could be. From where the impetus…?

Klein was drawn to use fire as can be seen in this short film where he performs his 1962 ” Fire Painting” series. Here, the traces of pouring water are clearly visible, capturing the tracing as it happens in real-time. It is a mesmerizing moment. It is a moment of truth.

The act of tracing is a spiritual experience for me. It is distanced from the ego-self. It requires a humility in order to channel and be channelled. It is soundless, silent, happening, movement, journey, pathway and time. It is anchored in the corporeality of being.

Recently, I had the privilege of seeing a specific image by the late Namibian photographer, Paul van Schalkwyk. Having noted the image in an article on van Schalkwyk by Tiara Walters in The Sunday Times (April 12 2015), nothing could have prepared me in seeing the actual Etosha Pan (2010). This image, depicting gemsbok moving across a dry Etosha Pan records the traces of the gemsbok’s movements. It is vast, isolated and lonely. It is reflects hardship and endurance, set in temporality. The driving force here is the search for water, the giver of life in the Etosha Pan.

Perhaps it is a similiar search, the search for traces. It’s the search for life.

Etosha
Etosha Pan (2010)   C-Type Lightjet Print   80 x 120 cm    [The Sunday Times]

dot 35: [art]speak

It becomes extremely hard not to speak in the language in which you are being spoken to.

– David Levine –

I recently became intrigued with the idea of what ‘artspeak’ is after having read an article about the South African ceramicist Lucinda Mudge. Mudge’s recent pieces have been chosen to be shown at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao later this year.

What I find interesting about Mudge’s story is the fact that she is able to combine both global and local references whilst suspended in a treehouse in the vicinity of the Keurbooms area. The article sketches Mudge’s working environment as one in which she is surrounded by nature, highlighting the fact that she is totally removed from “artspeak.”

Re-reading Emma Jordan’s article ‘Firing our paranoia in clay’ in The Times I started wondering whether the production of unique artwork requires keeping artspeak at bay? Put differently, does artspeak influence originality negatively ..?

David Levine and Alix Rule explored the impact of artspeak in the art world in their extensive 2013 research project International Art English (IAE). In an interview with Levine and Rule by  Andy Beckett, Levine says:

 “You can’t speak in simple sentences at a museum and be taken seriously. You can’t say, ‘This artist produces funny work.’ In our postmodern world, simple is just bad. You’ve got to say, ‘This artist is funny and …'”

Yet there are artists who are seemingly able to manoeuvre themselves through and beyond artspeak’s net. An artist I can relate to for her thought-drawings and interest in sound and movement is Claire Cote’. From her Manifesto 2: I am for an able-art (2008), inspired by the form of Claes Oldenburg’s 1962 ‘Statement’, Cote’ writes:

I am for an art that is…..
open-able-close-able-soci-able- whimsic-able-politic-able-compos-able-recycl-able-understand-able-land-able-float-able- edib-able-simpl-able-complic-able-flexib-able-sandwich-able-fabrica-able-slam-able-clam-able-flam-able-ram-able-cram-able-frame-able-unit-able-beautif-able.

Elsewhere, in her Manifesto 3: I am for an able-art (2008), Cote’ writes that:

  • I am for art that lives in silence, but knows when to yell.
  • I am for an art that draws thoughts and maps ideas.
  • I am for an art that excavates thoughts and puts them haphazardly on universal shelves.
  • I am for an art that catalogues thoughts with made-up systems that take a lifetime to learn.

Cote’ is clearly able to think freely, imagine freely and speak freely. Her creative expression has not been netted by artspeak. Perhaps in the same way Mudge, safely hidden from artspeak in her treehouse, therefore is able to create her subversive pieces. At least here, language is hers to speak even if spoken differently in the [art]world.

LASERS IN THE JUNGLE: An Exhibition of 27 Vases by Lucinda Mudge, The Gallery at Grande Provence, Franschoek South Africa. 20 April 2014
LASERS IN THE JUNGLE: An Exhibition of 27 Vases by Lucinda Mudge, The Gallery at Grande Provence, Franschoek South Africa. 20 April 2014

For Claire Cote’ s full manifesto: here.

dot 34: empathy

And how does it feel as a viewer to be shown how that war felt to them that survived it?

 – Mariama Ross –

This question applies as much to us today in South Africa as it did to viewers of the exhibition Representations of Violence: Art about the Sierra Leone Civil War (2005). Here, the art coordinator for the show, Dr. Mariama Ross, questions the position of  those  ‘bearing witness’ to images of violence.

Having been exposed to the atrocities of the current South African xenophobic attacks via the media over the last 2 weeks or so, it has been horrifying to witness the level of unchecked hatred for fellow Africans by other South Africans. Reminiscent of the 2008 xenophobic upsurge I am again at a loss to understand how a nation – having exited from apartheid themselves – are able to inflict the same evil towards their fellow African brothers and sisters.

Monday April 20/2015  Photograph: James Oatway
Sunday Times: Sunday April 19 / 2015                                          Photograph: James Oatway

As a fellow South African, this image depicts one African murdering another. The victim is Mozambican Emmanuel Sithole. How, as the viewer of such an abominably violent image, should I feel? What have I borne witness to? In ‘Bearing Witness’ Ross’s article in the exhibition catalogue and conference proceedings of the afore-mentioned exhibition, she asks:

How can we attempt to grasp what these images are saying? How can we begin to understand them in ways that make sense to us and our circumstances?

Disappointingly, there seems to be little response to this issue coming from the fraternity of art and image makers. Perhaps the preparations for the South African Pavillion for the 2015 Venice Biennale has taken up time and focus. A person who has clearly spoken out however, is the political analyst, Justice Mahala. In a brutally honest article entitled ‘We are the barbarians’, Mahala takes issue with those that are guilty of witnessing the Sithole murder. Making no attempt to intervene the fatality as they watch, a singular man stands out in a heroic act to stop the killers. This man, simply referred to as ‘The man in the leather jacket’, does what no-one else does.

The Times: Monday April 20 / 2015  Photograph: James Oatway
The Times: Monday April 20 / 2015                                                 Photograph: James Oatway

The leather-jacketed man is mobilized through empathy for the victim. Moving from her position as art educator, Ross suggests the following:

I believe empathy must be achieved before understanding is possible. But in this case our empathetic reactions are also for ourselves as we contemplate the reality of our conjoined existence with the rest of the world.

As South Africans we are in this xenophobic upsurge together. We share a conjoined existence, seeped in apartheid, yet this can never excuse the current state of xenophobia. As witnesses to what is happening around us, it would stand us in good stead to remind ourselves with Ross’s parting words:

What we do with [the] information in terms of how we think, talk, teach and act is yet to be determined by each of us, but we can no longer say we did not know.

As artists, are we trying to understand …?

dot 34: in[cub]ation

‘I waited for the idea to consolidate, for the grouping and composition of themes to settle themselves in my brain.’

– Claude Monet  –

I’m assuming that most creatives are ‘waiting’  for works to settle and consolidate in their brains, much as Monet expresses.  I know that this is certainly true for me. But how long does waiting take, and, if nothing it forthcoming, ought one to abandon such an idea ..?

Listening to what the composer Steve Reich has to say about the imaginative process, my question has been answered. Recently speaking about his haunting composition WTC 9/11 at the Harvard School of Design two weeks ago Reich offered to share the temporal creative process with regards to the 15 minute piece, which he wrote during the construction of the 9/11 memorial.

Although Reich was approached to create a work about 9/11 years previously, he had declined at the time. When approached by Kronos Quartet in 2009 to do a piece on pre-recorded voices, Reich accepted without the remotest idea of what he would do. Then, several months later in January 2010 it came to Reich that the voices would be from 9/11, and from that point on he started creating this memorial piece played here by Kronos Quartet.

The point for me is the 7 year time ‘wait’ taken by Reich. Even though his own home was a mere 4 blocks away from the World Trade Centre at the time, Reich didn’t push himself into creating a piece that wasn’t ready for birthing. Instead, he allowed it to happen at its own time and as the work revealed itself to Reich instead. Having to ‘represent absence through sound’ of a human tragedy of such an enormous scale must have been incredibly challenging, yet Reich writes simply that:

In this piece it was to be, and is, the means of connecting one person to another – harmonically.

Another artist who responded to his New York experience was the French painter, Francis Picabia. In contrast to the tragedy of Reich’s personal response to the 2001 twin-tower tragedy, Picabia responded to the experience of his first impressions of New York in 1913. In an article entitled How New York Looks to Me, Picabia feels the need to ‘… express the spirit of New York as I feel it, and the crowded streets of your city as I feel them, their unrest … I absorb these impressions.’

Like Reich, Picabia needs time to absorb the impressions, whether good or bad, and expresses the need for incubation of such impressions:

I am in no hurry to put them on canvas. I let them remain in my brain, and then when the spirit of creation is at flood-tide, I improvise my pictures as a musician improvises music.’

Incubation pays off the moment creativity flows:  I need to remember this.

Currently exploring the possibilities of sonification of my thought drawings, I am inclined to push too hard instead of allowing it to ‘remain in my brain’ and consolidate.

Current explorations  Photo: Sonya Rademeyer
Current explorations                                                                                  Photo: Sonya Rademeyer

……………..

Futher reading of the connections between music and the visual arts:

  • Vergo, Peter. The Music of Painting  (2001) Phaidon Press Inc, NY. ISBN: 978 07143 6386 3

dot 33: [not]seeing

I shut my eyes in order to see.

– Paul Gauguin –

In describing Leonardo da Vinci’s fascination with water and fluids, the science writer Phillip Ball describes how seeing interfered with Leonardo’s perspective. In his book Flow, Ball explains that Leonardo ‘had to sit and stare for hours: not to see things more sharply, but, as it were, to stop seeing …’

In my own art[making] I have noticed  that my best drawings are those that have originated in blindness. I am not visually impaired in any way, but in either closing my eyes or blindfolding myself I have produced what I regard to be my most honest work. In some strange way seeing interferes with my feeling of authenticity.

Seeing restricts me.

Over time I have become increasingly interested in ways in which my body either traces or translates sensory input. When [not]seeing is in response to sounds, thoughts or imagination there is little doubt that I experience enhanced fluidity of gestural motion. I would like to think that I am what the writer-artist Siri Hustvedt terms as an embodied creative see-er.

Whilst in the process of performing embodied seeing, my focus naturally navigates towards tracing my body’s inner, rhythmic patterning to the sensory input I am receiving. To obtain a deeper sense of my own corporeality I typically close my eyes. Mostly, the visual output of [not]seeing evokes deep validity for me.

Why is it that I need to shut my eyes in order to see?  As a visual person, should seeing not be evoking the opposite reaction? Why does seeing create doubt? How important is perspective in seeing? In Living, Thinking, Looking Hustvedt is of the opinion that the loss of perspective is a desirable state:

Losing perspective is an intellectual virtue because it requires mourning, confusion, re-orientation, and new thoughts.

A willingness to lose perspective means an openness to others who are guided by a set of unfamiliar propositions.

To lose perspective by [not]seeing is, as Ball says of Leonardo ‘…to transcend the limitations of [the] eyes.’ Recently seeing The Refusal of Time  – Kentridge’s collaboration with Phillip Miller, CatherineMeyburgh, PeterGalison & DadaMasilo -at the IZIKO South African Gallery in Cape Town, I experienced such a transcendence of visual limitations. Here, seeing meant [not]seeing, as a torrent of multiple sensory inputs flooded my body.

I literally closed my eyes in order to see, thereby gaining confusion, re-orientation and new thoughts (which I traced).

IMG_0970
The Refusal of Time   (still image)                                            Photograph: Sonya Rademeyer

dot 32: ebb[and]flow

There is a recognizable ebb and flow to the process of recovering our creative selves.

– Julia Cameron –

Since starting this blog I have noticed a cyclical existence to my creativity, a coming and going of energy, attention and focus. Initially not paying much attention to it, the increase and decrease of creative force is becoming more apparent to me, perhaps as the time spent with myself in my studio increases.

ebb[and]flow is a well-documented phenomena amongst creatives perhaps especially highlighted in the work of the creative writer Henry Miller (1891-1980). Currently reading Black Spring Miller’s writing style itself is one that breaks along the shore line of both reason and imagination, not unlike oceanic ebb and flow. His is a cyclical way of making sense of a non-sensical, linear world in which he mingles a vast array of wonder, imagination, cynicism, critique, humour and individual wisdom. In all of this flux, however, Miller travels from his own position of personal acceptance, remaining the witness to the surrounding turbulence of life.

In Miller’s Wisdom of the Heart this somewhat distanced, witnessing position is one again well illustrated. Using terminology such as ‘metamorphosis’ ‘transformation’ and ‘flow’ has echoes of scientific thinking, an element which can benefit the creative process. According to Miller it is in accepting the flow and ebb of life that creativity exists:

The art of living is based on rhythm — on give and take, ebb and flow, light and dark, life and death. By acceptance of all aspects of life, good and bad, right and wrong, yours and mine, the static, defensive life, which is what most people are cursed with, is converted into a dance, ‘the dance of life,’metamorphosis. One can dance to sorrow or to joy; one can even dance abstractly. … But the point is that, by the mere act of dancing, the elements which compose it are transformed; the dance is an end in itself, just like life. The acceptance of the situation, any situation, brings about a flow, a rhythmic impulse towards self-expression.

Miller’s writing style reflects this forward and backward dance, seemingly writing whatever he is thinking of, in whatever way he might prefer, at any given time. What I find central in observing Miller’s  dance is the continual sense of presence (himself) and the performance in present time. There is an ‘easiness’ in the fluidity of expression that I am envious of … an oxymoron for me at present.

I have been wondering whether someone is born this way, becomes this way or chooses to be this way? According to Miller, it is none of the above but rather a surrendering to being who you are, wherever you are, doing whatever you are doing. In  The Angel Is My Watermark! a somewhat humourous chapter in Black Spring, Miller dedicates 19 pages to describing a painting he is attempting on canvas. His thoughts are utterly fascinating as he documents this wave of creativity, filled with wit, satire, humour, innovation and – above all – the ability to relax in this somewhat (recognisable) creative disaster he is witnessing. And yet he is experiencing wonder and joy which is the product of Miller’s surrendering:

 To relax is, of course, the first thing a dancer has to learn. It is also the first thing a patient has to learn when he confronts the analyst. It is the first thing any one has to learn in order to live. It is extremely difficult, because it means surrender, full surrender.

It is enough to say: ‘I am.’

…………..

  • Henry Miller:
  • Black Spring (1993) Harper Collins Publishers / ISBN: 0 586 03991 0
  • The Wisdom Of The Heart (1960)  New Directions Publishing / ISBN: 978-0811201162