Tuesday, April 24, 2012

One Thousand Arms of Compassion*

 A collaborative piece with Earth

One Thousand Arms of Compassion is an installation continuing my work that began in 1987 with Earth, Water, Peace and the Alphabet. Working with the visible relationship between letterforms and nature, this project consists of thousands of forked branches in part installed in concentric circles in the tradition of the mandala.**
It all began with a powerful encounter with a tree some years back. This tree, shaped as a Y, spoke of arms raised in praise. Later, I looked at my wood pile and there was a small version of the Y-shaped tree. From that time on, I found this new 'material' (Ys) in my many hikes in the Santa Fe mountains. Earth generously supplies the forked branches that are perfect Ys in abundance. This is a message of importance that I must heed. The Earth is my teacher and guide. By providing material that doubles as a universal expression of prayer, She strengthens the connection I have for the metaphysical/poetic side of life: Y-shaped branches have become a deep personal symbol of meaning and healing.

In forms reaching across art and the spiritual, this project celebrates the wonder of creation while mourning what has been lost or destroyed. One Thousand Arms of Compassion offers the deep reconnection with the wondrous miracle that is our planet. By standing within the circles of branches, by placing our center in the center of the greater circle of Nature, we open ourselves to receiving Nature's creative force through her tree emissaries. We can expand our understanding of life to include more of the infinite circle that is the Universe. If we stand under, we understand.
Art is a prayer supported by the Earth.
* One Thousand Arms of Compassion refers to Avalokiteshvara, the Boddhisattva of Compasion in the Tibetan tradition, who is represented by a thousand arms with which to help the suffering multitudes.

** In the present struggle of the planet the mandala presents itself as the seed-symbol of a more harmonized world-order. “Mandala” by Jose & Miriam Arguelles.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What is a 'heartist'?

Dear Readers, After a six-month hiatus due to a hiking accident, I am back with part of an interview published by the Art and Healing Network when AHN awarded me, along with Vijali Hamilton, the 2010 award for Ceremonial Art. See whole interview at http://www.artheals.org/about/ahn_award.php

QUESTION: You have written that “My medium of choice is listening... I dream middle way solutions, but mostly I create space for a deep listening to the heart.” And you describe yourself as a “heartist.” Could you talk a little bit about what it means to be a “heartist” and how your work invites “listening to the heart.”

ANSWER: My work as a “heartist” is about creating a quiet, tender space, a sacred space. In the ritual performances, people create the container within which the ritual is happening by forming a circle around the space. Whatever the ritual involves, spoken words, being present to silence or allowing sounds of nature and life to penetrate that silence, the audience focuses on me: they listen to my listening, and maybe they'll listen more deeply. In the silent object they can focus on what evokes memories, pain as well as joy. The listening is internal but also external.
Dreaming “middle way solutions” comes from an older statement when I still did not understand that the main thing I can do is sharing my heart. To celebrate creation or feel the pain: the natural beauty of broken places, like the Santa Fe River voted the most endangered river in 2006.

For heartists of all paths (be it art or life, or life as art,) the heart--a receptive station where body, mind and spirit meet--is the ultimate guide and feedback. However, there may be something else happening: synchronicity, which in art circles I enjoy referring to as "my best critic." In the words of anthropologist Michael Harner, "Synchronicities are the signals that power is working to produce effects far beyond the normal bounds of probability. In fact, watch for the frequency of positive synchronicities as a kind of a homing beacon analogous to a radio directional signal to indicate that the right procedures and methods are being employed."
Being a heartist is to be concerned with the moment. Being in the moment is not some vague new-agey pronouncement. It is being deeply aware on a micro/personal as well as on a macro/historical level, seeing the patterns that rule us whether we are a family or a country at war..

One innate mark of humanness is the ability to do ritual, "a confluence of forces and patterns." In the early societies, the word art did not exist; it did not need to. Art, life, and spirit were one. Not only were those societies marking time and space with formal ceremonies, but daily activities were also imbued with ritualistic flavor. Heartists of life and art recognize the sacredness of ordinary activity. Ceremony, whether personal or communal is grounded in an attitude of intention and intuition.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Aesthetics of Poignancy

Dominique Mazeaud

I have been on a quest for the spiritual in art in our time for 30 years. A quest is the pursuit over a lifetime of the answer to one question. The answer (at least a thread of it) comes through a process of listening to outer voices and inner messages.

In October 2009 a word, not unlike a star shooting through the sky, fell into my heart/mind where it ignited a fiery exploration. POIGNANCY. The 'word' came through Buddhist teacher Stephen Batchelor, who proposes that poignancy might be a better translation of dukkha, the Pali/Sanskrit word usually translated as suffering. Trying to grasp Mr. Batchelor's rich thoughts on the subject, I jotted down in my notebook, “Touch something deeply/ Poignant/ Aesthetic appreciation.” To cultivate my understanding of dukkha, I transcribed the full passage from the Upaya Zen Center podcast. (A central tenet of Buddhism is life is dukkha.)

“Fully know dukkha, turn into it. It's about focusing our attention into the heart of darkness, into the heart of the world. As we do this and as we deepen our embrace of ourselves and of the world, we become more conscious of everything changing, shifting, moving, nothing stands still. There is nothing we can cling to to give us some sort of permanence, it's not going to work. As we deepen our experience, we become more aware of an extra poignant quality. This is why I want to get rid of the word suffering. When we look at suffering we also get in touch with something poignant. I like the word poignancy. We open up to another aesthetic appreciation of life. Some of those beautiful moments which we as a culture we admire are rooted in a sense of the tragic, like the great plays by Shakespeare: King Lear, Hamlet. These are not spin-ball romantic comedies. When we witness these works of art, we experience what moves us most deeply, what is most beautiful, and yet it is also inevitably tied in a sense with what's most tragic about the human condition, to the very core of our human condition. Beauty and dukkha do not contradict each other.”

Feeling an instant resonance upon hearing these words, I added in the margin my own question, AESTHETICS OF POIGNANCY?

What to do with such a resonance? First let it 'vibrate...' By that I mean I let it dwell within myself, simply notice where the energy takes me. A few months later, I got a remarkable echo. I had been invited to participate in MEANDER, an exhibition celebrating the Santa Fe river. To describe “River's Call,” the installation I created for the 8' x 5' space assigned to me in the group show, the reviewer used one adjective, and it was “poignant.”

“...The river has already been the focus of attention by artists like Dominique Mazeaud, who began her project of cleaning the river's banks and its riverbed over twenty years ago. (“The Great Cleansing of the Rio Grande.”) Some of the objects Mazeaud collected in her performance-based project - things she tends to think of as gifts from the river - are part of her poignant installation at Meander.” (Diane Armitage, THE Magazine, June 2010.)

When such 'direct' response is given, I take it as a cosmic affirmation, a sign that it is the right thing for me to be pursuing.

In “The River's Call,” I tried to capture the emotions the river awakened in me. Doing the piece every month for seven years, they were many. Was it a new kind of feeling? Rivers were not totally new to me, but how to describe the mysterious something stirring my soul so deeply and kindling the passion that kept me in the river all these years?

It often takes time to name things or to penetrate the deepest reality of life. I feel poignancy includes that level of meaning: the hesitation, the wondering... The “Is it possible? Can there be such beauty/pathos, freshness/decay, light/darkness? Poignant, from the French poignard, dagger, hints at the heart, and we know how many tones of feeling it exudes! “(Poignancy) also specifically implies a power to pierce the mind or heart so that the reader, hearer, or observer feels acutely as well as with aesthetic pleasure the emotion aroused...” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary of Synonyms.)

My earlier installations were more representative of my outer experience. Not unlike a scientist, I tended to display the artifacts of my work in the river. I had shown the many gifts, especially the children's shoes in prior exhibitions, but now I was ready to share my vulnerability: How one pair of little Mary Jane shoes - white, the leather of their tips worn, abandoned on a sandy patch - affected my core. How that one find opened me up to a transmission of the future. How little children, the children of the world, their innate perfection, the suffering they endure in poverty or war touches our own inner child. How this dual aspect of child became central to my work.

Yes, there was suffering and darkness, but there was also undeniable beauty. For a river that had no water to speak of running through it (the Santa Fe River was named the most endangered river in America in 2006 by the American Rivers Associations,) there were all kinds of little miracles for eyes to see. The green shoots that sprout under the rotting newspaper readying for their journey upward. The new-born snake nestled in the hollow of a dead tree. The miracles were sometimes mysteries of a synchronous nature like finding a copy of the book of “Black Elk Speaks” when a class from the Indian American Institute of Art led by their art teacher Shelley Horton-Trippe came to see and experience my performance. There were numerous encounters that provoked serious meditations, like a statue of Jesus laying in the grass of the bare river or the plastic bags filled with sand looking like glistening body parts, equally eerie and intriguing. What I discovered about my river journey was that both darkness and beauty (in all their shades) were always present. Remembering the pain of the Earth had prompted me to be an artist and knowing that pain and grief had been the hallmarks of my life, this was a major realization that, in the long run, brought me much healing.

To mark my 30-year quest on the topic, I recently wrote a piece titled “What is the Spiritual in Art in Our Time” (see http://dominiquemazeaud.blogspot.com/.) Over the years I noticed that artists and critics have attempted to define the new kind of art being born at this time by giving it specific names. A couple that struck me were “The Aesthetics of Participation” and “Relational Art”, which certainly describe aspects of my work. I don't know if “The Aesthetics of Poignancy” will take hold. The main thing is that it speaks to me. Delving into the meaning of poignancy and its relevance in my path of art is a blessed seed that is growing and taking root, and for that I am deeply grateful.

In 2005, Bill McKibben, the author, educator and world climate activist wrote an article titled “IMAGINE THAT/What the warming world needs is art, sweet art...” At the time, I could not quite get the 'sweet' component of the title. Today, rereading the article I clearly seize upon a particular sentence, “To document the buzzing, glorious, cruel, mysterious planet we were born onto, before in our carelessness we leave it far less sweet...” My new understanding of dukkha resonates so much better, when I understand it within the context of a poignant perception of the suffering Earth.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Concerning The Spiritual in Art in Our Time?

Concerning The Spiritual in Art in Our Time?

From Kandinsky's abstraction to ecological art: Imagining an exhibition, 100 years after Kandinsky published “Concerning the Spiritual in Art”

What is the spiritual in art in our time? This is a question that has been burning in my heart since 1979. A few years later, it was my heart again, (a broken heart this time,) that turned me into an artist. I could no longer bear what was happening to the Earth. From my despair came the revelation that my form as an artist would be ritual. Recently, the old question that I first explored as a seeker and a curator was reawakened during a visit to the Wassily Kandinsky retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum. The artist's famed essay “Concerning the Spiritual in Art,” published a hundred years ago, is the seminal work on this subject. (1)

In this essay Kandinsky says that interpretations of art reflect the evolution of consciousness and culture. Kandinsky's understanding of the spiritual was rooted in 'perennial philosophy' or 'ageless wisdom'. (2) One of the 'perennial' spiritual principles (whatever tradition it comes through) is that of the oneness and interconnectedness of all things. The spiritual and art do not limit their search to finding interconnectedness among like or similar cultures. Rather, they reveal the oneness beneath apparently disparate and conflicting statements. But how could one exhibition express such complexity and oneness? Today, the global nature of our world makes us aware that oneness must be expressed through multiplicity and diversity. So, to reflect our time, an exhibition on “The Spiritual in Art” would have to include many different approaches and media. As Kandinsky states at the beginning of his essay, “Every work of art is the reflection of its age... It follows that each period of culture produces an art of its own...” But beyond the multiplicity of this era, how would an exhibition single out the art movement which defines multiplicity. Can any art find the soul of our complex world?

This is where words can be numinous. While some synonyms of spiritual are oneness, interrelatedness, others are (unconditional) love, compassion. When the impulse for art is compassion and love, the resulting expression becomes universal, no matter how seemingly unique the culture that produced the art may be.

Understanding the spiritual is a process of discovery (re-discovery), uncovering layers. A century ago, Kandinsky was affirming that art should come from an “inner need” which called for the artist to work solitarily. (In retrospect, it is understandable; the beginning of the twentieth century was the time to get away from the rigorist academic directives bearing down on society and souls.) Today, we live in a time when the pendulum swings back, inviting us to reach out rather than draw back. Science is helping us discover the world and the universe as a whole, fluid system. We realize another 'perennial' concept: that the “inner need” is not separate from the need of the 'other.' (3) Science and the shrinking global world are transforming our consciousness. It is not surprising then, that this evolving awareness must foster new form and content particular to our time.

The spiritual today is action-oriented. Some may call it service, which is an intrinsic part of a spiritual path. Artists may not put it in this way, but the heart, speaking in no uncertain terms, seeks a place to express compassion. Kandinsky's “inner need” of one hundred years ago may well be changing into a seed to find the self through service. It may be that art's inherent quality of unifying and healing is only now to be revealed. (Art italicized since the term did not exist at a time when the shaman was the main 'performer' whose task was to create harmony on the personal and communal levels.)

Humanity is reaching a “great turning' by realizing the devastation it has caused to the Earth. Before we lose her, (or we are lost to her,) we are being forced to wake up. In T.S. Eliot's words, we are “to go back to the beginning/And know the place for the first time.” What growing numbers are coming (back) to is that spirit is synonymous with Earth. We are finally understanding the indigenous intrinsic ways of oneness with the Earth. “The Earth and myself are of one mind,” said Indian leader Chief Joseph. (4) In Northern New Mexico, where I live, a statement in the Pojoaque Pueblo Poeh Center contains a profound truth: “Our ancestors' guide for living was to use the natural world as a model for structuring their world, the Tewa world.”

Ten years since the beginning of the new millennium, with the environmental crisis so much more blatant and acute, it is perhaps not far-fetched to conclude that the spiritual in art today may be the work of reconnection with and the healing of our relationship with the Earth. An art movement that concerns itself with Earth has been emerging since the sixties, not unlike a new spring flowing out of layers of humus. This new voice for art is not only about recognizing the oneness of community, be it human, animal, plant, mineral, or all, but also about participating in creating it. In what is referred to as ecological art,“a worldwide art movement that is encouraging the fusion of culture with environmental stewardship,” artists are creating community often by mobilizing it. It's about “the artist act (ing) as aesthetic choreographer of collaborative action as well as premier danseur.” (5) Just by itself the movement, which is leaderless, is a wide field from land art to ecological art.

In my view, to be called to the spiritual in art today is to work consciously toward establishing “the reciprocal connection between humans and the more-than-human world.” (6) Once, there was no separation between spirit and art. Prior to Kandinsky's essay the world had not seen the relationship between art and spirit as a subject for intellectual discussion. The essay revolutionized art. A century later, we are posing the same question in light of our times... our answer growing out of today's need is for humans to see themselves as part of a larger whole. As someone who always tries to grasp the bigger picture, this revisiting to me is a notch up on the spiral turn of evolution.
I am a seeker whose question about the spiritual in art in our time came from a deep personal quest. This journey compels me to send forth a cri du coeur. We must act as artists in service to the Earth. But, first I welcome a dialogue.

I would propose a second round of “Les Magiciens de la Terre,” an exhibition held at the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 1989, that asked one hundred artists to define art along with showing their work. I would simply change the question and ask artists to offer a definition of “what is the spiritual in art.” (7)
(1) Published December 1911, but dated 1912, from the book Kandinsky published by the Guggenheim Museum.
(2) Perennial philosophy (Latin: philosophia perennis “eternal philosophy”, also Philosophia perennis et universalis) is the notion of the universal recurrence of philosophical insignt independent of epoch or culture, including universal truths on the nature of reality, humanity or consciousness (anthropological universals.) (Wikipedia)
(3) Systems theory is the scientific explanation of what 'perennial philosophy' has known. Physics = Metaphysics. Interesting subject to be explored. The one great book about this (“one of the 10 great books of the twentieth century) is “the Dream of the Earth” by Father Thomas Berry.
(4) Quoted in “The Transformative Vision” by Jose A. Arguelles
(5) Marie Jo Aagerstoun, PhD
(6) The term “more-than-human world,” coined by the eco-philosopher David Abram, denotes “Nature” while pointedly including human beings within what people call “nature.
(7) The exhibition “The Magiciens de la Terre” (The Magicians of the Earth) asked the question, “What is art” from the one hundred invited artists (50 contemporary Western artists and 50 traditional non-Western artists) and every answer was different.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Ritual and Ecology

This essay was written for an anthology on Performance & Ecology proposed by the Public Art Research Cluster at Carnegie Mellon University and Earth Matters on Stage (EMOS) at the University of Oregon, Eugene.

What the warming world needs now is art...”
--Bill McKibben, author of “The End of Nature”

“The artist as painter, sculptor, yes, but also healer and lover. The role of the artist is exactly the same as the role of the lover. If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don't see.”
--James Baldwin

“One of the most basic human experiences, one that is genuinely universal and unites---or more precisely, could unite---all of humanity, is the experience of transcendence in the broadest sense of the word.”
--Vaclav Havel, former president Czech Republic

“We need an art that transcends the distanced formality of aesthetics and dares to respond to the cries of the world.”
--Suzi Gablik, “The Reenchantment of Art”

When both earth and humanity are suffering so greatly, when our very future is in question, not only is art needed, but art is pivotal. As we face our own suffering and that of our planet, our hearts break open. ART is the voice of the heart. I know this from personal experience. My heart is what gave voice to my art.

At “Earth Matters on Stage – A Symposium on Theatre & Ecology,” my topic was “The Nature of Ritual.” The program consisted of "The Point of Tears," a ritual performance which creates a space for deep listening in the heart. The title for this work comes from Albert Camus: “...to live to the point of tears...” I speak of tears of joy for the beauty of creation and tears of sorrow for the ills the Earth is suffering. At the symposium, the performance was followed by a discussion among the 25 participants. We sat in a circle on the floor of the Hope Theatre. In the center of our circle were remnants from the performance 'altar-ing' the space, a beaded globe, little children's shoes and candles. Participants gave voice to their experience of the ritual. “Your ritual marks the sacredness of life through artistic means” was one of the first comments made.

Ecology comes from the Greek eikos for house, household, housekeeping or living relations. It is the study of “the distribution and abundance of organisms and their interactions in the environment.” Deep Ecology, a more fitting territory for artists of my ilk, brings the human element into the picture. It is a way of thinking of ourselves in relationship to the natural world. As Fritjof Capra writes, “it is the study of the relationships that interlink all members of the Earth Household.”

Deep Ecology is a way of saying we are one web of life. It is a concept still central to indigenous people's philosophy and way of life. In our time of “great turning,” we need to cultivate the web of life, bringing it to our central consciousness.

I have noticed that ecology scholars and amateurs alike tend to choose different translations of the Greek root eikos, some use house, others household. They all work. As a deep ecologist I propose yet another interpretation, that this house is an inner house, one with four chambers - in other words, the heart! Ecology, whether deep or 'shallow' (the kind that analyses without including human beings,) relates to systems thinking, a new way of seeing the world, a science which, it turns out, very much parallels ancient spiritual wisdom - systems theory insists, as do the ancients, of seeing all things as an integral part of a larger whole.

Ecology recognizes inter-actions and inter-connections of living systems while ritual is based on the spiritual dimension of non-separation. Ritual's singularity is that it involves intention. Ecology is a science and ritual a tool for recognizing and re-membering our place within a larger whole. One in its mind way, the other in its heart way, they touch different parts of us. They make us see that everything is inter-connected. Eventually, each in its singular way, helps us re-discover the intrinsic richness and beauty of our world. Together they express a certain kind of “transcendence” that this “great turning” desperately needs.

By taking examples from my work as a ceremonial artist, I want to show how ritual and ecology corollate.

The words alter and altar comment on each other. But even more importantly our sentence syntax also changes. My mantra is “Life is Art/Art is Life.” Finding language that reflects these two integral levels of experience is difficult. The mantra demonstrates that art and life are actors. They are both subject and object simultaneously. As a human animal, I am part of the natural world. Thus, I could say that my performances are 'with' the river, or 'with' an animal, and not solely 'about.' My pieces may be about linking people like in “The Road of Meeting” and “Route 33: The Magic Road.” But they also link groups of people across national boundaries. In “Yitzak and Leila: The Romeo and Juliet of the Holy Land” and “The Hiroshima Peace Bell,” they touch on the need for healing between countries.

By nature ritual is participatory. My community-involving performances are about weaving the web. For example in my most recent work “60 Water Weaving Women,” I make the connection between rivers as threads of a great web enlivening the Earth and women as weavers of light. Two versions of this central idea were performed, one taking place in the Capitol of the State of New Mexico and the other by the Orilla Canal next to the Rio Grande in Albuquerque. The rituals in each place with different communities of women were the same in structure, but deeply different because the participants and the place fundamentally 'altared' the performances.

Shrines, processions and pilgrimages are terms I use to describe my work. “The purpose of pilgrimage is to generate energy that links men to the energy of the universe.” (Gita Mehta, The River Sutra.) “The Road of Meeting,” a one-month road trip in North Carolina, was a pilgrimage with a particular goal. The intention of my journey was to meet and honor environmentalists, an invitation to see one another as 'Earth colleagues,' a pilgrimage where meeting (listening) and finding commonality are sacred acts. (1993)

Life and art being one, I have created pieces connected to the priestess, the archetype I relate to the most. “Priestess of Generosity” was designed for the Festival of Giving, a public event held in a large park. To show the Earth's cornucopia, both the long green satin dress I was wearing and the basket I was carrying were adorned with fruit, flowers and leaves. The basket was filled with hundreds of little gift bundles. To ignite a more connected community spirit, my role of 'animateur' was to walk about the large park and engage park visitors while distributing the gifts. (2006) In “Kwan Yin's Priestess,” I was portraying Kwan Yin, the boddhitsattva of compassion, “the Perceiver of the Cries of the World” in the Buddhist tradition, an important theme in my life that I have visited three times in my art. (2007)

Spirit has many synonyms: oneness, interconnectedness, unity. Ritual, as a spiritual tool, aims at reaching dimensions beyond the self. With gestures (attention) and meaning (intention) a ritual sets up a structure and a container. In ritual, we can hear the sound of eternity that comes from afar... and also from within.

The sacred, another word for the spiritual, has been my life's path. Since 1979, my calling has been to find the spiritual in art, and my journey since has centered on uncovering the meaning of the word 'heartist'. The word came to me when I let myself feel the deepest sorrow for “the endangered planet...” With the sorrow came an unshakable resolution and a new inspiration to speak on its behalf. Poet/healer Deena Metzger's words, “Break your heart open, then come from love,” capture the path from sorrow to action.

It was by the Rio Grande river that I experienced a greater sorrow for the planet's environmental crisis than I ever had before. With it came not only the deep knowing that art would be my way of responding, but also that ritual would be my form of communication. Hence my first work, "The Great Cleansing of the Rio Grande," which I performed for seven years, from 1987 to 1994. Once a month, I walked the river's bed and banks, doing a literal but also symbolic cleansing, the deep-listening portion being as important as the collection of found objects. A journal “Riveries” chronicled my awe at the river's artistry and my song as a 'heartist'.

In “Listen, Listen... a Whale Ceremonial,” people from many different cultures and animals from different species 'walk' together in a procession celebrating the great Mother Blue Whale. In the installation, folks and animals, 'embodied' by hundreds of colorful, little figures, set on a spiral of land and sea, bring to life the concepts of interconnectedness put forth by the new sciences. (The New Bedford Whaling Museum, New Bedford, Massachusetts, 2000)

In “Route 33: The Magic Road,” I am traveling to every corner of New Mexico as an art pilgrim knitting together all 33 countries in a great weaving of some yet unfinished pattern. I dialogue about the art of peace and offer my ceremonial gathering “The Point of Tears.” (2004-in progress)

Ritual is about evoking, in other words remembering. “The Hiroshima Peace Bell/Heiwa no Kane,” marked the 60th commemoration of the bombing of Hiroshima. Through the miracle of technology, we literally attended the yearly Hiroshima City's ceremony without leaving the museum hall. Here in Santa Fe, New Mexico, down the hill from where the bomb was built, citizens and artists connect with the symbol of that remembrance, the Hiroshima Peace Bell and join in by ringing their own bells. Individual bells along with church bells all consacrating such moments, are rung at the exact time on both sides of the world (8:15AM, August 2005 in Hiroshima, Japan, 5:15PM, August 5th, 2005, Santa Fe.)

Collaborations being another intrinsic aspect of 'weaving the web,' this kind of work leads into varied and necessary teamwork. In this project, which I refer to as a global performance, I worked with the Hiroshima Day Radio Project, RCC/Hiroshima's Public Radio/TV station, KSFR/Santa Fe's Public Radio Station, KUNM/Albuquerque's Public Radio Station, and numerous churches and places of worship, along with my steadfast collaborator artist/activist Shannyn Sollitt.

Upon mentioning a favorite work of mine, “Yitzhak and Leila, The Romeo and Juliet of the Holy Land,” a participant in the EMOS discussion, rightly asked why I would include it as a performance, “after all it was an installation.” When one's work deals as much in life (intention) as in art (attention), an installation is by nature a (ritual) performance, each gesture constellating both dimensions. In this piece, I spoke of the sorrow I feel for the two battling countries of Israel and Palestine and my hope that they will overcome their differences and join in peace. I did it by creating the tomb of two young symbolic lovers who like Romeo and Juliet died because their clans could not accept their love. (International Museum of Folk Art, Day of the Dead exhibition, November 2004)

Returning to the beginning, the voice of the heart has changed and will continue to change the way we speak and eventually the way we perceive. For example, when I use 'invoke' and 'evoke' as ritual terminology, my mind goes naturally to 'provoke!'

Whether the focus is micro or macro, however, we are still speaking of art. The British eco-artist, Professor David Haley says, ““Art, according to its root 'rta' means the dynamic process by which the sole cosmos continues to be created, virtuously.”

“We need an art that transcends the distanced formality of aesthetics and dares to respond to the cries of the world.”
---Suzi Gablik, “The Reenchantment of Art”

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Invitation to ritual performance on Summer Solstice

Dear Women Friends,

You are invited to participate in 60 Water Weaving Women, a site-specific work inspired by the Albuquerque Bosque and La Orilla Canal. The ritual performance honors water with gratitude and encourages awareness of the tireless presence of this essential life force, so often taken for granted and therefore maltreated. Land-based art practice is done for the sake of the Earth and in service of Community, it will therefore take into account the issues threatening the waters of Albuquerque. Ritual performance is a form reaching across art and spirituality.

Please join Dominique Mazeaud, Bobbe Besold and Elizabeth Wiseman on Summer Solstice, Sunday, June 21 at the Open Space Visitor Center, 65 Coors Blvd. Participate in the ritual (no experience necessary) or just come enjoy a beautiful place and afternoon along the Rio Grande. For information and RSVP, please contact Dominique Mazeaud at 505-983-2443 or write to heartistdm@aol.com. Participants are invited to come at 1:00 PM for a 2:30 PM performance. For information on the Open Space Visitor Center, call Joshua Willis at 897-8831 (www.cabq.gov/openspace)


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The importance of art in challenging times

Hello everyone, As my first blog I am presenting an essay responding to Linda Durham Gallery's recent call on "the importance of ART in our Challenging Political, Social and Econimic World. dominique

“What the warming world needs now is art...”
--Bill McKibben, author of “The End of Nature”
“The artist as painter, sculptor, yes, but also healer and lover. The role of the artist is exactly the same as the role of the lover. If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don't see.”
--James Baldwin
“The rise and fall of images of the future precedes or accompanies the rise and fall of cultures. As long as the society's image is positive and flourishing, the flower of culture is in full bloom. Once the image begins to decay and lose its vitality, however, the culture does not long survive.”
--Fred Polak, “The Image of the Future”
“I am sure that only art will bring together all the peoples of the world.”
--Ousmane Dia, artist

When both earth and humanity are suffering so greatly, when our very future is in question, not only is art important, but art is at the center. As humanity lets us face our own suffering and that of our planet, when our hearts break open, there is nothing left to do than let our hearts speak. ART is the voice of the heart.

Conceptual theories about art are no longer sufficient. What has been missing from contemporary discourse is that art is the expression of spirit. Spirit, the gift that speaks through us, makes us reach beyond ourselves toward something greater. In a fragmented world wrecked by war and hatred, spirit implies oneness, non-separation, interconnectedness. It resides in the heart. As our world falls apart and our hearts break open, spirit guides us to make art that relates deeply to a world in hurt.

In a recent blog, the art critic Suzi Gablik writes, “In our catastrophic times, there is a remarkable dichotomy between artists who believe unfailingly in the autonomy and self-sufficiency of art, and those who maintain that art should have some socially redeeming purpose.” She captures it by quoting from her book, “The Reenchantment of Art”: “We need an art that transcends the distanced formality of aesthetics and dares to respond to the cries of the world.”

The Chinese word for crisis is made up of two characters, “danger” and “opportunity.” It is is time and opportunity for new beginnings. Standing still and feeling the entrapment of despair or denial, we recognize our longing for a different world, a better world. We are forced to take a deep look at everything, outside of us, but also inside of us. Along with our personal longing, we will recognize with author Marilyn Ferguson that “there's a paradigm shift in art from a deeply suffering approach to one that values healing... the role of art and the role of healing are the same: make whole. The artists' task is to discover that wholeness in themselves and to communicate their discovery.” Art and life will no longer be separated. “Art transcends our ordinary lives and lets us imagine what is possible.”

The crisis of humanity is multi-level, economic, social political... There's plenty of prejudice between members of kin, community, nation alike. With all the wars raging, the hate between tribes and nations have increased. Again if one looks at art through the lense of spirit, one sees great possiblity for “healing, comforting, inspiring or improving.” In the past, we have identified culture and art within the boundaries of race, nationality or religion. But we can no longer afford this narrow focus. Today we must look for a deep continuity that grows our humanity. In the early 80's, I was on the board of the Center for Peace Through Culture (CPC). CPC recognizes that “peace will come about when enough people realize that life on earth is one indivisable whole, and when they use their inherent creativity to serve the whole by restoring harmony and balance.” The CPC brochure expresses well what I firmly believe in: “Culture is the produce of the creative spirit in humanity. Because the source of this spirit is universal, culture is a universal language. It is a medium of communication that transcends boundaries of nationality, race and religion and creates unity. Inherently, it is a bridge to global peace. Through beauty, harmony and truth we understand one another simply because we are human.”

As ominous clouds darken our outer and inner landscapes, it will be important for art to be the celebrant that it is. We can't forget the beauty of our planet and all her beings, we must honor what we have been gifted with. At a time when we risk of being frozen by fear, our hearts need to be stirred and open nakedly bearing our awe and love.

Now is a time of crisis, war and catastrophes, but it is a time of possible transformation into a whole new direction. As we celebrate the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth, evolution is much in the news. I believe humanity is continuing on its evolutionary course... so is art. The speed at which we are realizing what's happening to the world is gaining momentum. In this time of upheaval, we, artists, the-perceivers-of-WHAT-IS that we are, are naturally going to respond to the situation. There will be a reuniting of what we have separated, art and life, but also art and spirit, art and science. New forms will result not only through the interfacing of different disciplines but also collaborations between the practitioners within these different fields, artists, scientists and other specialists (like city officials.) Seeds have been planted since the 60's with movements like political art and environmental art, but now there's going to be an explosion of forms of 'art for life's sake' and 'art for earth's sake.' Bertold Brecht said that “art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.” We will have, and still need mirrors held up to reality, but with pressing times upon us, art will become “the hammer” forming deep change.

As art is swinging between mirror and hammer, we will also experience an increase in the genres and forms that art offers. The oneness is the infinity, that is a mark of spirit, the commonality in the diversity. The new times may actually produce more art than we have ever seen before because there will be growing numbers realizing that the old forms of communication have not been working and that the universe is calling us to reach for each other and for the skies.