Lying Fallow

lie fallow  Lit. [for farmland] to exist unplanted for a period of time.

I am the empty cup.

While attending a workshop on Creating One’s Own Sabbath Experience with Tom Bassarear and Yvette Yeager, I was asked to select from a table of items the object that represented myself – in that moment. I chose the empty cup.

http://www.amazon.com/Sabbath-Finding-Renewal-Delight-Lives/dp/0553380117/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1378156657&sr=1-1&keywords=muller+sabbath

Long-term projects – raising children or maintaining a house or recovering from an illness or caring for a parent or making public art – consume personal, physical and spiritual resources. Juggling 2 or more of those activities at the same time can deplete us.

 I am the empty cup.

 Nature Abhors a Vacuum

According to the ancient philosopher Aristotle, “Nature abhors a vacuum.” Aristotle based his conclusion on the observation that nature requires every space to be filled with something, even if that something is colorless, odorless air.

 I am the empty cup.

At my core, I am a maker: I make sculpture. I make movies. I make food. I make time for others. I make plans. I make decisions. In this moment, I want to make time to ” fill my cup” with whatever comes along.

What if that involves picking up a friend at the airport and then taking a 10-hour drive? What if that is living with 100+ people I have never met? What if that is honest and authentic sharing – with strangers. And what if that is a week of really good food someone else has prepared?

Indra’s Net in Massachusetts

I was invited to be a Conference Speaker at the 2013 Northfield Conference. The Northfield Conference is an annual week-long event that has taken place in western Massachusetts since 1893. http://northfieldconference.org/history/

It’s difficult to explain a place that is an intentional multi-generational community for individuals and families. It takes place on a small private school campus along the Connecticut River. The conference is all-volunteer.  The program originates from the participants and throughout the year planning meetings take place.  I was invited to speak about my art work – specifically the Invisible Legacy Series

The theme was Indra’s Net  – a metaphor that demonstrates the principles of Interdependent Origination.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indra’s_ net. Indra’s net is conceived as a net, or web.

•     at each juncture there lies a jewel;

•     each jewel reflects all the other jewels in this cosmic matrix;

•     every jewel represents an individual life form, atom, cell or unit of consciousness;

•     each jewel, in turn, is intrinsically and intimately connected to all the others;

•     thus, a change in one gem is reflected in all the others.

My friends think of me as a consummate networker. Whenever they need to find specific help, borrow something, know something, or find someone, they come to me. I am often less than 6 degrees of separation from anyone I meet – no matter where I am. I am the Kevin Bacon of my circle of friends and associates. http://oracleofbacon.org/

I decided to “disconnect” for the week- no cell phones or internet. I wanted to be fully present at the event.  (My friends took bets on how long I could stay unplugged. I lasted the week but the first 3 days of withdrawal were tough.)

We now have the ability to be connected and interconnected with friends, family, even strangers. We believe that we have more intimacy in our lives. We believe that being accessible 24/7 make us less lonely. There is a Toyota car commercial featuring a young woman sitting behind a computer worried that her parents only have 19 “friends.” Her parents are shown going off on a bicycle adventure. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TUGmcb3mhLMhave She is depicted sitting alone, inside, accompanied by her laptop.

In his article: Is Facebook Making Us Lonely, Stephen Marche writes:

Yet within this world of instant and absolute communication, unbounded by limits     of time or space, we suffer from unprecedented alienation. We have never been more detached from one another, or lonelier. In a world consumed by ever more novel modes of socializing, we have less and less actual society. We live in an accelerating contradiction: the more connected we become, the lonelier we are. We were promised a global village; instead we inhabit the drab cul-de-sacs and endless freeways of a vast suburb of information. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/05/is-facebook-making-us-lonely/308930/

Loneliness and being alone are not the same thing, but both are on the rise. We meet fewer people. We gather less. And when we gather, our bonds are less meaningful and less easy.

For an hour each morning at the Northfield Conference, a conference attendee is invited to give a scheduled talk that pertains to the theme. The talk is intensely personal and allows listeners a glimpse into the lives of others. Sometimes speakers reveal secrets; sometimes a life- altering event; sometimes a struggle in the moment.

Whatever is shared during this special hour is held in deep respect and provides the topic for small group discussions following the presentation.  Invisible Legacy examined the lives of my great grandmother and grandmother who lived most of their lives in the Augusta Mental Health Institute in Maine. (AMHI)

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAI never had a conversation or a connection with either. I learned about their lives in the papers of the AMHI archives. I learned my grandmother was an entrepreneur, consummate salesperson and seamstress. My great grandmother was self-reliant. She raised 9 children while her husband sold surplus goods from a wagon.  I learned about how their lives were reflected in mine in ways I could not have predicted.

pcfront Invisible Legacy is an installation of antique furniture reupholstered in canvas upon which images, stories, medical reports, interviews, photographs, drawings related to the lives of women I never knew are printed. The work creates a conversation about, not only their lives, but the lives of others like them. http://www.joisraelson.com/Sculpture_Invisible%20Legacy.html

The invisible legacy continues even in death. It is estimated that there are 300,000 unmarked graves on the grounds of former and even current psychiatric hospitals throughout the US. http://www.pressherald.com/news/forgotten_2012-05-27.html?pagenum=full

In shutting down an upstate New York institution thousands of empty suitcases from patients were discovered in the attic. Each suitcase was a testament to a life restrained – disconnected.

For several days after my talk, many Northfield participants would talk to me about a mother – a father – a sibling – who suffered from mental illness. More often, they would reveal their personal struggles with this ‘invisible’ disease.

These were conversations about anger and sadness – loss and change – hope and survival. Each conversation was a reflection of another. “A change in one gem creates a change in another…”  I was changed – by the depth of interactions – and the forging of new connections.

Indra’s Net in Maine

I walk across the island to the ferry, take the 20-minute boat ride across Casco Bay and then walk the mile+ to my mom’s apartment on Munjoy Hill.

There have been many changes along the street that leads to the ‘Hill.’ Dark bars have given way to upscale coffee shops and organic bakeries; used furniture stores to high end yarn shops and strip dives to a pizza place with so many topping options it makes decision making almost impossible. http://www.ottoportland.com/

At the corner of North and Congress – in the window of a former bakery – hangs a very large stained glass mosaic made of jewels and silver wire. It is a physical manifestation of an Indra’s Net.

I opened the door to the shop and felt genuinely welcomed from the moment I entered. Laura Fuller has been working with glass for seventeen years. She began putting three-dimensional objects in her stained glass panels while still in school. Although discouraged by her instructors from pursuing this innovative technique, she continued to incorporate found objects into her complex glass reliefs.DSC_0005

There is a pixie-like gentleness combined with a deep intensity that emanates from Laura when you are in conversation. That combination of lightness and strength belies, or maybe reflects, the loss of her child to a rare disease. http://laurafullerglass.blogspot.com/

Each unique piece expresses not only her story, but also that of the objects incorporated within. For Laura, each object is a reflection of the complex narrative of life — past, present and future:

Objects are our representatives. ‘Living’ solid, fruitful, domestic, useful lives: independently functional. These objects, having given 2 to 200 years of faithful service, became hidden. In drawers, closets, dumps, underground, and in the ocean – waiting.

I will send Laura objects to use in a piece that will reflect my interconnectedness with others and myself. I am the empty cup that is now being filled with intimate and heartfelt conversations with strangers.

I am part of Indra’s Net.

Beginning: At Last

When the unconscious speaks, I listen with trepidation. For when it talks, I will have to respond. Sometimes the message comes in the form of a dream. It might be the remains of a disturbing image that lurks beneath my eyelids when I awake. Sometimes it is a missive disguised as a poem or song fragment. Other times, there is only an inkling, an itch, a sense of an unfinished moment that runs rampant throughout the day. I know it is time to go inside myself. And then, I proceed. www.joisraelson.com

Making art is often lonely. I sit in my studio (or more often when I am driving) and jot down ideas, make a quick sketch. Mostly I think. Ideas sometimes come from something I read or a lingering image from a dream. I think about the space; about possible designs; about materials; about the feeling of the work. All this takes place in my mind – alone. From the outside observer, making art can appear to be selfish.

I’ve been watching Art 21- a PBS program featuring artists of the 21st century www.pbs.org/art21/. As I listen to William Kentridge or Louise Bourgeois describe their work or discuss their process, I grow more comfortable with my own approach to art making. I often look to history for the origin of my ideas and link seeming disparate “memory artifacts” into a whole. I draw (no pun intended) great solace knowing that I have kindred spirits, even though we  work in separate worlds.

BUT

Creating public art requires a different process, a different set of skills and a different way of working. Creating a public art work can not be idiosyncratic. When creating a public work, I attempt to integrate the history of the place and sense of the space with a conceptual foundation based on research. When working in stone, frequently the stone will also ‘participate’ in the creation of the work.

At a Visioning Meeting with the Carroll County Pubic Library Sculpture Garden Committee, the ideas generated were as diverse as the community from which they arose.

The members shared images of favorite sculptures and brainstormed artistic styles that ranged from figurative to abstract; historic to futuristic; organic to formal; monumental to life size.  There seemed to be no common ground.

There are more than 175,000 residents of Carroll County. 17,000 of those inhabitants live in the city of Westminster. Countless folks enter or walk by the library everyday. The performance area and a completed sculpture garden will encourage patrons to spend more of their time outside, as well as inside, the library.

At this point in the process, it seems an impossible task to integrate all the ideas from a 7-person committee – let alone a city of 17,000 – or a county of 175,000 to create an integrated sculpture. But that is the task before me.

Fortunately, when members of the committee described the ‘space’ in which the piece would ‘reside’ – they generated these common elements:

  • a sense of openness
  • a gathering place
  • a focal point, an anchor
  • a peaceful feeling
  • a sense of whimsy and surprise.

The inkling of the idea I had while in my tree pose combines with the sense of space. Now I must trust the process.

To be an artist is to trust in a deep and profound way in the process of creation. I must be willing to discard the work that does not feel complete. I must be willing to disregard first attempts. I must be willing to be gentle and not berate myself. I must be able to persevere in the path of disappointment or to revel in the exaltation of achievement. I must believe the process is the meaning, not the product. And then, I work.  www.joisraelson.com