In memory of a cherished friend and mentor, Cheryl Mezsaros. The force of time, almost ten years have passed.
I have been collecting botanical specimens for some time now. The idea of ‘collection’ as a form of knowledge is of interest to me. What happens when one attempts to recreate nature by bringing as many objects as possible into one space? How can renmants and fragmentary things represent the whole or the real?
This past week I have been looking back, returning to and re-encountering work that last year I had packed and stored, tucked away from visibility and memory. This image below is part of a much larger project on bees called “not by chance alone,” which was exhibited at the RAG in the fall of 2015. After the show came down, I started to rework parts of the project, turning the work’s initial impetus and focus away from honeybees, and solely towards native bees and pollinators. Although native bees were already a large part of the original project, I wanted to reconfigure the content with native pollinators as the dominant thematic.
I extracted this section from the motifs of the big project–it represents an interpretation and conflagration of several mythical figures: she is Flora, Persephone, Cloris,and Melissa. Metaphorically, she is spring, abundance, fecundity and renewal. I based her face upon Botticelli’s Primavera.
She is composed entirely of tiny bee imprints created on 45 sheets of translucent gampi paper. Each individual sheet is 18×24,” making the completed work, 12’x13′. The warm tone of the paper is enhanced by dipping the sheets into melted, unrefined beeswax.
The text which surrounds her, celebrates the arrival of springtime. It is taken from a beautiful Italian madrigal, for 5 voices, called “Ride la Primavera,” . The first line is usually translated as “Spring is smiling,” although ridere in contemporary Italian means to laugh. But hey, the language gurus know their Renaissance stuff! The music was written by Heinrich Schütz in 1611; lyrics by Giambattista Marino.
A rough translation of the madrigal here:
“Spring is smiling, for beautiful Clori is returning, Listen to the little swallow, look at the grasses and the flowers, But you Clori, more lovely in this new season, Keep old winter, for your heart is girded by eternal ice. Will you, cruel Nymph, for kindness, hold the sun in your eyes, And April in your face?”
Cento: a patchwork, a poem created entirely from lines quoted from other poets.
The other day in conversation with a group of women friends, I brought up the question of identity and the role that appropriation plays in the construction of self. My view was that we quite literally produce an every-changing sense of self through and in the work of others (books, the arts, conversation, etc.). In my case, I feel there is nothing of my own in this ‘self’, (ie. original) but that all of it, all of it comes from others. To me this is clear from the way I create my drawings. They are quite literally drawn from the writing of other authors and the image making of previous artists. That is, the production of self, both individual and shared, is a becoming, through and with interactions with others – choosing, acting, living—composing a life within a social context, an inextricably social context. Even if most of my work is produced in isolation, its source is always dialogic.
I’m working on a variation of the what then series, this time starting from a lightjet image and then adding scribbles and text drawings overtop. This is the technique I’ve been using for 3 years now (cf. the Withdrawn:scribing Nancy series). The collaged bits of magic tape are new to this project, but not new to my working process. The tape adds another dimension to the petals, and gives me another opportunity for adding text.
The process of working on/with an expensive medium such as the lightjet print creates an interesting tension. There’s no erasing possible. The ink and dip-pen overdrawing has a will of its own, with dribbles and blobs an inevitable part of the process. Sometimes the blobs add their own charm, other times, I’m not so lucky. Regardless, it is this tension, this dialogue between medium and hand that keeps me coming back for more encounters.
I’ve been reading Nancy’s Being Singular Plural these past weeks and was struck by his argument for understanding ourselves as beings together, always beings—that before anything else, before individuality, before being in the world, there is plurality. The very essence of existence is plurality. There is no such thing as one, alone, existing in the world, in any form of life. I am of course, reducing Nancy’s complex ideas of relationality and ontology into a form that I can grasp, so my apologies here, but, this fundamental concept of our existence gets to the very ground of relationships. We view ourselves as separate individuals, and so we are, but at the same time, we are inextricably bound to one another through the very fact that life is always already together, and without that, there would be nothing, no world, no life. We try so hard to remain separate, I and you, we and they, one and others, my country, your religion, their class, her gender, his appearance, etc., the list is long. And at the same time, we try to negotiate togetherness within the perceived separations. A tricky balance.
My friend, Cyndy Chwelos photographed the inscribed rose petal maple leaf a week after it was made, and sent me the photograph, very kindly allowing me to post it here. It’s interesting to see the transition as the rose petals shrivel, get blown away by the wind, and the stems dry out. That’s the pleasure of ephemeral projects, the cycle of return continues on and their being slowly becomes memory.
I’ve taken these words from the opening paragraph of Jean-Luc Nancy’s essay “Paean to Aphrodite,” (Multiple Arts, Muses II). Taking one concept, one name—Aphrodite, he traces an intricate map of the goddess and her trajectory (physical, linguistic, mythic) through her various appellations and manifestations. He asks, “But why does the beautiful never let us go? When everything is ugly, all that remains of it is a memory.” I am interested in that phrase, “what remains.” Renmants— unsaid, undone, unknown, invisible. What remains?
The text in the image above, I’ve drawn directly onto my studio wall. The small pile of objects that form part of this installation are the renmants of the dried, inscribed, white rose petals I used for the magnificat project that I did last year. (See my post of May 11, 2011, “re-inscription in progress”).
“What, then calls me into question most radically?
These are the beginning words of a paragraph in Maurice Blanchot’s The Unavowable Community – one of the books on my Bibliography: the return project list. As I was browsing through the book, reading snippets, looking through the chapters and searching for a place in which to place an inscribed rose petal, Blanchot’s question caught my eye – especially as he asks this question under the subheading of “Someone Else’s Death.” Intriguing concepts Blanchot puts forward – that of death, of witnessing, and their relationship to identity and community.
Blanchot writes the first part of the Unavowable Community in response to Jean-Luc Nancy’s work, The Inoperable Community. The thought of literally ‘returning’ a fragment of Nancy text back into Blanchot’s book – in the form of an incribed rose petal, made me smile.