“What is thus sought, what the painting is seeking, is the mutual visitation of a spectator and a painting…so that we might know how to see the invisible and bring about an anamnesis that arises before birth (or at the far end of death).” Jean-Luc Nancy, “The Visitation”.
Nancy is talking specifically about the painting by Pontormo (The Visitation), but the relationship of viewer to the art work is, I think, always one of a “mutual visitation” – an examining, an experiencing, a becoming aware. Does the object stare back? Can it? What does it want?
There are no ageing bodies in Greek classical art. Eternal youth, proportioned to perfection, graces the corridors of that ancient history, and interestingly enough, does it not continue to haunt the contemporary mind? It was with relief, that I found a poetic fragment by Sappho that actually speaks of the ageing body. (text fragments of Sappho; Carson, A. 2002).
Cloth, light, flesh and color are again under discussion in Nancy’s engagement with Pontormo (as it was with his exploration of Caravaggio; cf. my posts of March). Air and voice become the vehicles of the invisible, the hidden, the secret. The ample robes of Elizabeth and Mary float and swirl around the solid forms, the spirit incarnate, a moment frozen in mid air. Bill Viola, in his video re-interpretation of this painting, “The Greeting” of 1995, picks up the metaphor of the swirling cloth – figures and garb moving in extreme slow motion, placing the weight of the meeting on the flutter and movement. Viola also adds a enigmatic voice to Mary, “Can you help me, I need to talk with you,” Mary whispers to Elizabeth, leaving the viewer puzzling over the message.
I found a fragment of Sappho’s poetry* which references the Graces, and since the Graces figure in Nancy’s discussion of the Visitation, I couldn’t resist adding the fragment to my project. The mention of the rose metaphor intrigued me – and even though it is a superficial connection – I’ve used the image, appropriating Sappho’s words, and combining the phrase with a second fragment, “I would not think to touch the sky…” Anne Carson’s collection of Sappho’s poetry is written with the original Greek and the English translation side by side and often, there is only a single phrase or sentence on a page, leaving the rest of the page an open space, inviting an image or a drawing.
* Carson, Anne, translator and editor. If Not, Winter: fragments of Sappho. Vintage, N.Y. 2003.
This blogging project based on drawing and text, using a variety of drawing media including the inscribed, tattooed white rose petals creates a space that in turn allows for elaboration and exploration in other directions. Here is a new project I’ve recently undertaken which has arisen from the essay I’ve been working on for the past while, “The Visitation,” by Jean-Luc Nancy.
In the biblical tale of the Visitation, the meeting of Mary and Elizabeth affirmed the physical presence of the double miracle – the virgin conception and the equally miraculous pregnancy of Elizabeth, a woman already past childbearing age. From that meeting, came the iconic Christian prayer, said to have been spoken by Mary upon greeting Elizabeth – the magnificat. The prayer speaks of love, of duty, of the handmaiden chosen and exhaulted above others: “…from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.” It is a beautiful, patriarchical document of belief that focuses on the power of the father and positions Mary as a vehicle of divine will. I have chosen to explore some of these ideas – love, the body, the concept of the feminine as creator, and have begun a project that reinscribes into the original words, a new voice, made of even older words, those of Sappho, along with my own dialogues that address my own realities of embodiment – via memories and present experiences of ageing.
This work in progress, I am producing on my studio wall – utilizing the inscribed petals as vehicles for the texts, and, as a counterpoint, I am drawing with graphite and acrylic onto the wall.