Sunday, August 11, 2019

looking out/ looking in (part III): notes from the ordinary

The previous post was an homage to the question about gazing outward to look inward. The third and final assignment was to look at how this question shows up in the day-to-day. Here is what I wrote.

I The pulse of ordinary life: 
Half asleep, I could hear a steady sound: ksshhhhhhhhhh 
(air conditioning? cars whizzing somewhere?). 
I thought of John Cage, in an anechoic chamber, realising there is no such thing 
as real silence.*

II Extraordinary ordinariness: 
The evening light on the dining table was liquid gold. Crumbs cast long shadows. 
Andrew Wyeth’s work came to mind: The Blue Door; dark recesses of the shed, radiant light on the door. 
Not a ‘perfect’ beauty, but an imperfect one. 
Wabi sabi.

III Eternity on the wall: 
The sun sets on the same wall each day 
regardless of the season. It’s a big window and a big wall. 
If the house were to live for an eternity, we can safely assume that the evening sun will 
always fall on that wall. 

IV White light flight: 
My eye caught a flock of white birds flying north. 
They seemed to be flying in slow motion; their bodies glistening with each flap of their wings. 
The monumental in the most ordinary of sights. 
Their formation looked like this:
 |> |> |> |> 
    |> |> |> |>  |> |>
|> |> |> |>
      |> |> 

V Chop wood, carry water: 
Most days look like this: 
wake up, shower, breakfast, work, lunch, work, coffee, dinner, sleep. Repeat. 
I wonder what it all means.
Zen masters say chop wood, carry water

VI The fruits of insight: 
Cézanne’s fruits vibrate with a palpable energy. 
I look at the fruit in my kitchen; 
the plums have to go. 
Life, even in death, is full of life.


 Kay Larson, Where the Heart Beats, John Cage, Zen Buddhism and the Inner Life of Artists, 2012. Note: In the anechoic chamber (which blocks all external sounds), Cage heard two sounds, a dull roar and a high whine that came his body. The first was blood rushing through veins. The second was the firing of neurons. Larson says, “In the anechoic chamber, Cage sought perfect silence and instead found the pulse of ordinary life.”

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

looking out/ looking in (part II): a view of the horizon

the wall (absent)
acrylic on canvas, 36x48", 2019, © priya vadhyar

Continuing from the previous post, the second assignment was about writing an homage to the theoretical question distilled from the art review. We were asked to create a collage of "beautiful sentences" from art theory, literature, music, the internet, etc., and to to play with those sentences while thinking more about the question. 

Antony Gromley’s sculptures at the ruins of Delos seem to gaze outward. And in doing so, notes Rachel Spence, “…our eyes turn inward.” Virginia Woolf in To the Lighthouse also speaks of gazing outward and being transformed by the act: “Losing personality, one lost the fret, the hurry, the stir; and there rose to her lips always some exclamation of triumph over life when things came together in this peace, this rest, this eternity; and pausing there she looked out to meet that stroke of the Lighthouse, the long steady stroke, the last of the three, which was her stroke… Often she found herself sitting and looking, sitting and looking, with her work in her hands until she became the thing she looked at - that light, for instance.” 


Becoming the thing she looked at. Does the sublime evoke a similar becoming? Does one become the horizon; the expanse of time and space? Does one lose personality (the minute details of one’s life) to become that vastness? Back at Delos, I imagine a visitor examining one of Gromley’s figures and stepping between the figure and the view of the horizon. The gaze is obstructed, and now the figure gazes at the visitor. Who is looking at whom? Marina Ambramović’s The Artist is Present comes to mind. Looking into Ambramović’s eyes, and being looked at by the artist in return. A mutual gaze. What kind of transformation are we witnessing? “Time went by and the man at the table was no longer weeping. He was leaning in toward the woman. Everything between the man and the woman became microscopic. Levin felt that something was lifting right out of the man and creeping away. … The woman seemed to become enormous, as if she stretched out and touched the walls and stood as tall as all six floors of the atrium.”* 


We are transformed not only by what we look at but also being looked at in return. Do powerful works of art do just that? Do they look back at us? At our inner world that is just as vast?“For there was an entire universe in that room, a miniature cosmology that contained all that is most vast, most distant, most unknowable. It was a shrine, hardly bigger than a body, in praise of all that exists beyond the body: the representation of one man's inner world, even to the slightest detail.” Anais Nin says, “We don't see things as they are; we see them as we are.”** 

On the wall.

Why do we gaze outward to gaze inward? “I do think that there is a way in which the outer presence, even through memory or imagination, can be brought inward as a sustaining thing.”*** To ask questions to answers we already know? To remember when we forget? Again. And again. And again.

* Heather Rose, The Museum of Modern Love  
** Paul Auster, The Invention of Solitude
*** John O’Donohue in conversation with Krista Tippett

Thursday, August 1, 2019

looking out/ looking in (part I)

'6 times left', by Antony Gromley. Image: Financial Times
I recently signed up for an online course, Theoretical Thinking and Writing in Arttaught by An Paenhuysen. Each week we have an assignment. For the first assignment I had to read an art review and distill from it a theoretical question. I had to pay attention to the language used and mull over how the writer expresses her thoughts. And then my own thoughts that emerge. Here is what I wrote.


Financial Times, June 14, 2019, by Rachel Spence 

Is a work of art an isolated ‘object' to be ‘admired’ in any unspecified space? Or can location transform the work to reveal or heighten its meaning? Or can the work of art and location feed off each other to create a new reality? 

Reading Rachel Spence’s review of Antony Gromley’s show Sight, set in the ruins of Delos (Greece), one cannot help but feel that it is the latter that is true in this instance. Spence draws the reader in right at the start: a solitary figure (Gromley’s sculpture) on the peak of Mount Kynthos looking out at the Aegean sea. Immediately she evokes both a sense of the romantic and the sublime. The contrast between the smallness of the individual and the vastness of the beyond is unmistakable. Spence talks as much about the venue of the exhibition, the ancient ruins of Delos (a Greek island 'steeped in myth’), as Gromley’s work. Contemporary art meets ancient culture to create an otherworldly (or perhaps a more true-to-the-earth?) spectacle. The island’s ‘primal solitude’ mirrors itself in Gromley’s figures. Spence calls the island being an ‘evocative venue’ for Gromley’s ‘timeless vision’. She then goes on to talk about ‘retinal tricks’: Gromley’s figures that sometimes blend and sometimes stand out in the ruins and landscape of Delos. Spence’s imagination takes flight at the sight of these figures in the unlikely setting of an island with rich history. It also alters her perception of time as she considers one of the figures and remarks on Gromley’s ‘gift for temporal sorcery’. 

Spence considers how we view art, interact with it and are transformed by it. Gromley’s figures seem to gaze at the horizon; and in considering this gaze, Spence makes a note about Gromley’s show title, Sight, and how the figures gazing outward “turn our eyes inward.” I imagine a visitor examining one of Gromley’s figures and stepping between the figure and the view of the horizon. The gaze is obstructed, and now the figure gazes at the visitor. Who is looking at whom? The concept of ’darshan’ comes to mind: of seeing and being seen.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

opening reception: continuum [the illusion of edges]

Part two of the Continuum project opens this week at Carroll Community College. Continuum [The Illusion of Edges] will be on display between April 26 and May 30. The opening reception is on April 26 between 5 and 8 pm. I'll be giving a brief talk at 6pm. All are welcome!

Venue Details:
Carroll Community College 
Babylon Great Hall Gallery, A Building
1601 Washington Rd, Westminster, MD 21157
Opening Reception: April 26, 5-8 pm