In previous writings, there has been a preoccupation with trying to define absence, to define something that is in constant flux and contextually dependant. In some ways, absence has been connected to notions of transience and impermanence, while thought has then been placed on its shamanic value. So when such notions of absence, its shamanic value and/or its relation to the spiritual experience are ascribed to a piece of Contemporary Art, it becomes a discussion of aesthetics, of the materiality of the artwork and how that then is indicative of the spiritual experience.
More recently I have been interested in objects and their counterparts with relation to an exploration of the ‘sacred’ by taking seemingly empty space, juxtaposed with physical matter, in an attempt to make the intangible tangible. Through the use of cast space, poetry and found objects I attempt to describe a sense of ‘otherness’, and explore the distinction between the known and unknown that is directly linked to my research of the ‘sacred’. These mere encounters with material and language sit in the hinterland between that which is considered earthly and the ethereal.
There are various words within my current research and practice that are of on-going interest:
I have recently taken part in a residency in which some of these words took precedent in order for the residential space to be read as sacred, words such as vault, room, light, and altar. The simple, meditative process of placing objects or materials could also be described as a counterpart to the creation of an object or art work or as a counterpart to the space itself. The pebbles, for example, varied in their composition. On the first instance, they were placed around the perimeter of the compartment to form a threshold, on the fourth day of the residency they took a meditative walk to form a spiral. Also the placement of salt in one of the compartments of the residential space, transformed an empty space into something contemplative and alluding to an ‘otherness’ on par with notions of the sacred.
Referring to materials, objects and space as a counterpart for something ‘other’ can be seen in other works of art. In the work of Ana Mendieta, for example, the use of earth, water and other natural materials as a counterpart for her body in her Silueta series to evoke ideas of ritual, life and death, and absence.Figure 2: Ana Mendieta. Colour photograph documenting earth / body work with sand, pigment, Old Man’s Creek, Iowa City, from the series Silueta works in Iowa and Oaxaca Mexico, 1976-1978.*
Previously, I have used the word ‘shamanic’ to describe her work, not to describe the shamanic person or being, but rather in the sense that the work is communicative and evocative of that liminal space between two states of being, between presence and absence. Its relation to ritual and ritualistic tendencies within the human psyche heightens the contemplative, spiritual nature of the work. It is Mendieta’s earth-body works that, in particular, draw upon folklore, ritual, embodiment and death.
Such ideas described in this brief discussion of materials and counterparts, with reference to research and practice concerned with the sacred, are open to further exploration. It is the idea that some of the most everyday materials and objects can be communicative of something more ethereal and contemplative that I find to be most prominent in my thoughts on aesthetics.
* Image sourced from:
Colour photograph documenting earth / body work with sand, pigment, Old Man’s Creek, Iowa City, from the series Silueta works in Iowa and Oaxaca Mexico, 1976-1978. Sourced from http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/349.1997.7/. Last accessed, 05.01.2016.
Author: Bethany Murray
Images & Content © 2016 Bethany Murray