Santa Fe Art Institute Residency [summary]

 

Sante Fe Art Institute Art Studio: Mixed Media work – “The Three Architects”

I attended the thematic “Truth and Reconciliation” art residency at the Santa Fe Art Institute this September.

I participated in an exhilarating dialogue with international artists regarding this complicated theme.

Voices participating were from Colombia, Israel, Native American, South Africa, Taiwan. etc.

From my Notebook:

As artists, we do not always have the answers but we do
make the unconscious conscious.

To make art you first need to consume yourself.
Devouring your own flesh until personhood is gone.
Only then you become the other.
When you are the “other” you are not the artist
you are part of the collective heart.

Jung said that until you make the unconscious conscious,
it will direct your life and you will call it fate.

Antonin Artaud declared that art was the double of life, a
duplicate reality. “We have a spirit so made that
it spends its life looking for itself … In becoming
conscious, it duplicates itself.

Artists as witnesses are duplicates,
they contain both the subject and the object.
the self and the other.
the truth and the lies.

Santa Fe Art Institute Art Studio – Work in Progress

By |2018-12-04T09:38:45+00:00September 25th, 2018|

Libation for the Lineage of the Unlived [video art]


The Mountain Without a Shadow, or, Unfinished Business

I once walked past your front yard.

You waved me in.

 

Something appeared on the horizon when you looked out your living room window that day.

You had to show me.

 

A mountain, overnight, bricked itself in the firmament, cemented tight by cloud.

 

“Look!” you say.

“I did not see that yesterday, but when I woke up today, there it was!”

 

I felt the boulder stack more than I could see it, but yes,

it was there.

The way you can see a brain tumor in faltered speech.

 

You poured us each clear spirits in Mason jars and invited me to sit

outside on lawn chairs.

Together we watched the sun compete with stone.

 

The sun did not appreciate this new roadblock, it lamented.

 

“What do you think you are doing here? Can’t you see, I have

somewhere to be?”

 

The mountain sat mute.

 

The sun tried its work, this way and that, up, down, but was in a cul-de-sac.

 

It was then that we realized that mountain did not cast a shadow.

Its weight, without shade. Its demeanor, soundless.

 

But deep inside a fissure in its craggy side, we heard an old voice sing.

It was so familiar, I could smell my Mother,

It was so innate to my bones, I could feel my Grandfather move under the ground.

 

A song of displacement.

Of fallen soldiers,

grieving children,

wounded women,

caged animals,

and decapitated forests.

 

Most of all, it sang about its persistent thirst.

Parched and filled with yester-dust.

A silo throat devoid of unharvested maize.

 

This song of yearning urged us to get up and emptied our Mason jars.

Pouring the clear spirits onto the soil, seeping away.

As the mountain drank from our jars and right before it faded, we stood for a tick in its newborn shadow.

 

All that remained was the backside of the sun on its way.

 

By |2018-05-28T12:56:59+00:00April 2nd, 2018|

Strand of the Ancestral [catalog]

ELEVEN VOICES was a group exhibition of South African and African Diaspora Artists presented by the Deering Estate in Miami curated by Kim Yantis of the Deering Estate and Rosie Gordon-Wallace of the Diaspora Vibe Cultural Arts Incubator.

Artists include:
Nicholas Hlobo
Anton Kannemeyer
Anja Marais
Judith Mason
Claudette Schreuders
Rowan Smith etc.

The full catalog of the exhibition is available now online.:

VIEW CATALOG

From the Catalog:

A LONG, THIN STRAND OF THE ANCESTRAL

by Anja Marais

In 1994 as an art student, I stood in front of a painting and it left a crack in my young mind where the light started to seep in. The Pretoria Museum of Art was particularly quiet that day and I found myself alone in a room with a work by Judith Mason. A quiet escape from external harshness.

It was a lush painting. Each brush stroke spread like warm chocolate over the canvas building sediment that formed a topography reminiscent of Africa’s many valleys and plateaus. I got lost in this landscape of paint which shaped the body of a Wild Dog bitch. The Wild Dog was a mother with heavy teats, filled with milk. Her pups are not in the picture but her teats were suckled raw and red. She was standing alone in an alerted pose during the hour of twilight – the most dangerous time to leave your pups alone while hunting. She looked strong and vulnerable at the same time.

I have never met Judith Mason but I was one of many artists in South Africa that suckled inspiration from her protean body of work. In my mind, she was Africa’s Mother of Contemporary Art. She spoke up as a female, an artist, a white, a role model, against the misguidance in our society without ever being pedantic or condescending.

“The Wild Dog” painting is one of my favorite works by Mason. It is a metaphor for being an artist. It speaks of the strength and power of servitude. Artists provide nutrition to souls that are hungry and in need, even as the artists themselves are solitary figures that are ambulant in both the light and the shadow of their own psyche. Being always alert while understanding that their vocation comes with a responsibility to the earth and future generations.

Wild Dog, 1962, OIL ON BOARD, 91 X 123CM, COLLECTION: PRETORIA ART MUSEUM

In Eleven Voices I had the opportunity to exhibit alongside South African artists but it was profound for me to have Judith Mason in the exhibition. Her work and her history have become a cyclical thread in my own journey as an artist. She taught me to have a voice as a young art student and to have our voices brought together became a poetic confirmation of my art practice.

In the exhibition, my work “Unforeseen Snow” is a video installation that speaks of utopian pockets amidst the charged politics of South Africa. How love can exist untainted in the darkest of hours. The video is from 8mm film footage of my Mother and Father in love and wooing in the early sixties.  The installation also includes found objects like suitcases, bones, and books that refer to history. Ancestral history of genes, ideas, travels, knowledge, and wisdom. If tomorrow is ambiguous but we are sure of our past, can we carry that with us to make our future clear?  Or is it better to forget our past indiscretions?

I further speak about ancestry and their footsteps in the series “Sole Journey”. In this series of six, the bottom of the inner sole of used shoes is pulled out and displayed. It reveals the hidden pressure, weight, imprints, and stains of the wearer during their journey. What would I have done in my Mother’s and Father’s shoes? An easy question to ask oneself out of context but hard to maneuver in the enclosure of relevant time.

One of my motivations as an artist is aiming to take responsibility for my own history to be the generation that can follow in the shoes of progenitors like Judith Mason and to continue questioning the cycles of cultural inheritance and leave sustenance for artists and generations to come.

Unforeseen Snow, 2016, Video installation and found objects, 51in x 26in x 30in

Unforeseen Snow, 2016, Video installation and found objects, 51in x 26in x 30in

 

By |2018-04-05T10:59:37+00:00January 19th, 2018|

Ucross Spring Attendance [Art Residency ]

I came to the residency with a folded piece of paper with my “How to” questions inked on it. Questions that I wanted to think about while working for a month in my Wyoming studio that overlooked the creek and the snowy hills.

Questions in how to conduct myself as an artist, a woman, a humanist in these ambiguous times:

How to be cerebral without intellectualizing?
How to be spiritual but not religious?
How to be intuitive but not sentimental?
How to feel without emoting?
How to be an observer without being an intruder?
How to be kind without enabling?
How to be ambitious without succumbing to narcissism?
How to be motivated without being obsessed?
How to forgive without becoming a doormat?
How to be tolerant without justifying mediocrity?
How to love without being submissive?
How to be still without being petrified?
How to be immersed without drowning?

Midway through my residency walking through a fallow field with mud caked boots I saw an antelope. We both interrupted our momentum and stared at each other. Her black eyes were dull yet dense with awareness. She did not see me and at the same time, she saw all of me. She was an animal that contained countless ancients under her tick ridden coat. Before she continued on her way she gave me the most beautiful gift. I returned to my studio with an empty mind. Amnesia should be the way of the mind while in the studio.

 

By |2018-04-05T11:02:12+00:00March 15th, 2017|

Sedona Summer Art Colony and Redreaming the World

Arriving at Sedona Summer Art Colony 2016

This July I was in the inaugural group of artists invited to the Sedona Summer Art Colony in the foothills of Sedona’s Red Rocks. I arrived with a plan of how I would use this secluded month towards my upcoming art project. I had a Plan A, and if I had enough time I even had a Plan B. Needless to say these notions were out the window within 24 hours.

I got swallowed whole. The vast landscape squashed my ego, my importance, my mind. The openness unshrouded the sky, leaving my head vulnerable to the heavens. My lungs strained wider for the indifferent dry air. My pale soft body mocked by the ancient red rock formations. Stupendous decaying boulder teeth protruding out of the Earth’s skull. My identity dissolved into the abyss of the desert. Poof.

Sedona Summer Art Colony view

Sedona Summer Art Colony View

The Sedona Summer Art Colony was bursting with talent, ideas, and characters. Musicians, painters, poets, writers, dancers, performers, visual artists, and cultural managers. All hungry to share and shake hands. Pure unfiltered ideas spilled out of them onto the desert floor and eroded it with powerful possibilities. It made me feel strong, alive and insignificant. Not from insecurity at being in the midst of these talents. No, rendered insignificant by the power of the collective creative in its pure unadulterated form. Amazement filled me for the human being in its creative mode. My mind was swimming in harmony with a school of kindred minds. I have not felt this nondual and unpolarized for a long time. That was until the delivery of the package.

Splitting our hearts and minds.

In the middle of the night, the world left a subpoena on our front doorsteps. While we were blissful, the murdering of innocents happened. While we were listening to the moan of the violin, the dueling of the poets, the outside world was hemorrhaging all over the floor. Racism, sexism, fundamentalism, terrorism, zealots – humanity in his most undiluted hatred. Violence. This contrast polarizing our hearts and minds – splitting our songs, our poems, our paintings into fragments. The poets jumped onto the tables with crescendo tongue to open ear and eye demanding how can we allow treating the black man to be less than the white man. The performance artists brooded over altars and sulked in dark corners. The writers drank a bit more than usual and the music shifted to minor arrangements. Anger blanketed, rightfully so.

altar

Summer colony altar for recent victims of violence in the United States.

Redreaming the world.

My Sedona Summer Art Colony experience started to shift as well. Something strange happened to me. I could not stay in a nondual state, that would have been irresponsible, but I just could not join the polarized psyche either. I started sleeping poor, with many unnerving dreams turning into nightmares. I began to have out-of-body experiences. I saw my ten-year-old self in South Africa with its racism, its superiority complex, its heavy embroidered history. I became a spirit child that was half human and half dream. Surrounded by millions of people, each one that had ever lived in South Africa. Crowded and loud. Everybody was speaking at the same time wanting to be heard until I would bleed from my eardrums.

In a crude reduction, the reenactment of history played out in front of me. A flickering stop-motion animation train moving over the desert in a dust cloud. The millions of loud people started to board the train in a chronological order. Each wagon was a diorama. Wagon A: Filled with warrior Zulus that displaced all the Black Tribes of their land. Wagon B: White Pioneers showed up in ships fighting the Zulus for their land. Wagon C: The White English colonized and put the White Pioneers in concentration camps for their land. Wagon D: White Pioneers said ‘Fuck you’ to the White Queen and reclaimed the land. Wagon E: White Man segregated Black Man to hold on to its new land. Wagon F: Black Man stood up and won over White Man and reclaimed their land. Wagon G: Black Man xenophobia murdered other Black Men to hold onto their land. Etcetera.

The train cleaved through brush as its pistons hissed. The iron wheels crushed rock underneath its weight. Going: black-against-black…white-against-black …white-against-white …white-against-black …black-against-white …blackvsblack. .whitevswhite. whitevsblackvswhitevswhitevsblackvswhite. The train has reached exponential length and speed. It trampled the desert. It maimed the fauna it flattened the flora.

cactus

View from Cathedral Rock

What next?

Today back home I am left with an intense want to be able to see this destructive train of duality and not to board it. Not to buy the ticket. In my art, it has been important for me to speak out against displacement, against creating outcasts. With these intentions, I recognized that I am still on this perpetual train of duality. As an artist, instead of being ‘against’ something or ‘for’ something how can you ‘be’? How can we break the dark cycle of human destruction without being part of it?

We are left with the lasting words of others who have gone before us and faced the same questions. I’m thinking particularly of the Nigerian novelist Ben Okri. I always have his book “A Way of Being Free” within reach.  In his essay “Redreaming the world” he talks about transcending the destructive cycle of humanity:

 “The oppressed lives within the stomach of their oppressors. They need the thinking and the structure of their oppressors to transform their realities. The oppressors need the blood of the oppressed for the rejuvenation of their spirits. The spirits of all become weirder…It would appear that they [the oppressed] have to compete in this world, but not necessarily on the sullied terms of the world dominators. They have to fight for their places in the modern proscenium. They can no longer, it would seem, hold themselves down with rage about their historical past or their intolerable present. But they have to find the humility and the silence to transcend their rage, distill it into the highest creativity and use it to reveal the greater truths.” (1)

He gave us further guidance in his Steve Biko Memorial Lecture:

“The idea is passed along that we can transcend our tribalism without losing our roots; that we can transcend our religion without losing our faith. The idea is passed along that we can transcend our race without losing its uniqueness; that we can transcend our past without losing our identity.”(2)

A similar message was conveyed by the philosopher Alan Watts, a believer in natural homeostasis (literally ‘standing still’ — describes the mechanisms by which all biological systems maintain stability):

That some way or other the human race has to learn how to leave the world alone. The problem is that we do not know how to stop, we got something started and we see it is going in the wrong direction. There is an old Chinese saying that when the wrong man uses the right means, the right means work in the wrong way. In other words, there is something wrong with the way we think. It is shocking news for us and our human pride that we will only make a mess by putting things straight. When we stop, we will find a world that is happening rather than being done by and to us.”( (3) Watch the linked video for his full explanation of this complex yet simple thought or read his” The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are“)

Back in my studio.

Filled with the sublime of nature and the human condition I left the Sedona Summer Art Colony in a fog of dreams and questions.  How I will transcend my art making is yet to be seen, but this experience will definitely impact my studio practice in a positive way. Sedona Summer Art Colony flourished as a natural homeostasis where artists could find stability between exploring creativity and dealing with the harsh challenges of the outside world.


A Way of Being Free, Ben Okri, 1997, Phoenix Publishers. pg. 130 -131
** Ben Okri, 2012 Steve Biko Memorial Lecture. (You can read his full inspirational lecture here.)
*** Alan Watts. 1971, Conversation with myself. Youtube  (quote transcription from video and emphasis my own)

Anja Marais working at the colony

Working at the colony

 

By |2017-09-27T12:52:20+00:00August 8th, 2016|