Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Regeneration: A Meditation on the Creative Waters and the Chaos of Earth

An artist statement by Joan Scaglione

Long ago our ancestors practiced sacred rituals to understand humanity’s relationship with Nature. They recognized a spiritual power intertwining the Earth and the cosmos, the plant and animal kingdoms, and human beings. In today’s global culture, human activity is largely driven by technology, economics, and war. We find ourselves bereft of primal myths that previously wove sacred meaning into everyday existence. The planet we inhabit is in critical condition. Both humans and the Earth seem to be in a dark night. We are scrambling for solutions to curb our endless appetite for war and terror. “First inner disarmament, then outer disarmament,” says the Dalai Lama while pointing to his heart. Inner disarmament necessitates divesting the soul of jealousy, hatred and violence toward others. If we are to survive and evolve to a more enlightened state of being in our interconnected world, there is no choice but to disarm the ego and be transformed by the power of our creative imagination.

My work, Regeneration, constructs interplay between piles of brick rubble and earth, an iron bed, images of water and breath, and swimming figures and trees. Regeneration wrestles with chaos in the Earth while offering an experience of silent regeneration through immersion in the creative waters of our imagination. It seeks to revision humanity’s broken connection with Nature. The elements of the work – the bed with the video, Breathing, the underwater video, Water, and the figures in the trees, are like journeys that overlap and intertwine moving the viewer into different metaphorical spaces. Nature has become an important element in helping me locate, metaphorically, our relationship to the Earth and to the wilderness of our interior experience.

Dense piles of bricks and concrete fragments embedded in mounds of earth, charred wood remnants, and artefacts laden with histories sprawl like a landscape between the rusted head and footboard of an old bed. Bricks have traditionally been a metaphor for culture, for our homes constructed of baked earth, which once linked us to the land where clay deposits were dug. These bricks are no longer whole or ordered, but broken remnants alluding to once stable structures of family, and to a more attuned relationship with the Earth. This particular bed is a “dissipative structure,” a term geologists have used to describe the constant configuration from chaos to order into chaos. The bed offers another level of meaning, as well. It is a meditation on the interiority of the psyche where dreams transport us through the chaos of our psyches into symbolic territories of the dark and light; where regeneration occurs through sleep. In creating this bed of earth and brick and cast-off objects, my intention is to draw us deeper into the Earth through the apparent chaos into the subconscious – the interior wilderness where our primal instincts are stirred.

Embedded in the earth and bricks (approximately where the heart of a sleeping person might be), there is a small monitor featuring the video image of a breathing mouth. The image begins with a close-up. The stark black interior of the mouth opening is accompanied by an audible cadence. As the breathing continues, constellations and nebulae appear intermittently in the cavern of the mouth during inhalation and exhalation. I wanted this work to visually create an intersection between the act of breathing and the cosmos. The very breath we draw and expel is more expanded than we normally conceive.

Many spiritual teachings focus on the importance of breathing consciously because breath, like the pulsing of the heartbeat, reflects the primordial rhythms of life. Consider the movement of the tides, the lunar, solar and planetary cycles, or the seasonal changes. By filming up close and slowing down the action, I have invited the viewer to become more intimate with, and conscious of breath, as a cosmic pulsation. Water and Breathing allude to the four primal elements as life-sustaining. Both videos affirm that what the ancients intuited as a matter of sacred interconnectedness is what scientists have developed as a quantum worldview. Elizabeth Boyle reflects that “when scientists replaced the classical universe of solid objects with an invisible network of energy particles, fields, waves, flows… every speck of physical matter [became], in fact, a minute, even subatomic event within a vast web of activity.” [1] Water reveals some of these intriguing sub-atomic events as the figure swims but in the altered time of slow-motion simple actions become more intriguing. An intimate human scale is established between the swimming figure and viewer. Breathing implies a cosmic scale in a human context. The viewer is up close to the breathing mouth. As the mouth holds the universe within, the idea that we as human beings embody the far-flung cosmos is to be considered.

The video, Water, presents an image of a single naked figure moving underwater in which the projection is slowed down to almost complete stillness. Water is a metaphor for complete immersion in the primordial waters of ritual purification, the materia prima of life. Referencing the Genesis creation story, Water symbolically expresses the regenerative powers of the creative imagine essential to revitalizing humanity’s soul. The narrative is simple: the figure enters the water, swims into the depths, explores the subterranean cavernous spaces, breaks the surface, and descends again into the depth. The Zen-like movements of the figure have the power to mesmerize the viewer onto stillness. Dramatically slowing down the image allows one to perceive the visual information that is present yet not available at our “normal speed” of perception. At times, the figure seems suspended in outer space and encircled by planetary nebulae rather than being immersed in water. Expelled breath and graceful gesture become energy made visible.

The final component of Regeneration takes images of the figure from the underwater video and place them amidst the trees of a small pine forest -- Alumni Green [located between Duckworth Hall and MacNamara Hall]. These are material images cut from wood and painted. The atmosphere they float in now is very physical and of this world. Regeneration moves between the material and the metaphysical regions of our psyches. Boundaries between the visible and invisible worlds are permeable. Our ravaged Earth and fragmented lives will be ultimately sustained by the maternal life-giving waters of our spiritual imaginations.

-- Joan Scaglione, September 2008.

The artist would like to acknowledge the generous support of the Saskatchewan Arts Board and the University of Winnipeg in bringing this exhibition to Gallery 1C03.

[1] Elizabeth Michael Boyle, Science As Sacred Metaphor: An Evolving Revelation (Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2006).

No comments: