How do I feel about lying? It depends on the context. And when is “lying” just fiction? There is no “LIES” sign over the fiction department in the book store. For me, the distinction depends on the motivation. A lie is manipulative and individually self-serving, and fiction opens the imagination or exposes truths through a story.
I see such art is fiction. Sometimes historical fiction, as in the Amerindians performance. Artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña and writer/artist Coco Fusco locked themselves in a cage and assumed the characters of two members of a recently discovered (fictitious) indigenous tribe that had been isolated from the West, with the exception of items that washed ashore. Historically, “exotic” indigenous peoples were exhibited in cages for entertainment in the US and Europe until the early twentieth century. White people like to think that they are far removed from those times and that they have no superiority complex today, but the way people reacted and responded to these indigenous people on display proved otherwise. If the purpose of art is to provoke, this was certainly provocative. The belief systems and paradigms of colonization are clearly alive and well today. Art can succeed where reportive writing cannot. Art invites the person to see themselves or others in action, to see archetypal dynamics where appealing to the intellect fails to get past the ego barriers.
I have no use for lies that people use to avoid responsibility, but “lies” of provocative fiction can be very powerful!
I pulled “marijuana” from the lucky paint bucket of collage topics. Cannabis sativa has been documented as being used for its fibers ten thousand years ago in China. In the next few thousand years, it was used for some five thousand products. It has fibers that make for superior ropes, nets, and paper, and since at least 2,800 BC, it has been used as a medicine.
The Spanish brought hemp to the Americas in 1545, and the English introduced it in Jamestown in 1611, where it became a major crop. By 1890, it was also used in medicinal preparations, but its use was minor compared to opium and cocaine in medicines. Some think marijuana’s use as a recreational drug became prevalent in the 1920’s, in response to Prohibition. Recreational use was limited to mostly Jazz musicians and people in show business. Marijuana clubs popped up in major cities, but were not considered a problem, and marijuana was not considered a social threat. The campaign to stigmatize marijuana started in the 1930’s by what is now the U.S. Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 effectively banned its use in the U.S.
Marijuana is still demonized as a “gateway drug,” and its illegality in most states makes it a wonderful source of revenue for the prison system, and it drives illegal sales and trafficking. Many also believe that hemp oil cures cancer and other conditions of abnormal cell growth. I have a friend in another state who was left disabled by her aggressive cancer treatment. Because disability benefits were not enough to live on, she turned her basement in her old rental house (which was in need of many repairs) into the most beautiful and sophisticated marijuana farm. Growing and selling marijuana allowed her to take care of herself, and the small amount of marijuana she smoked helped her manage pain. She now believes that hemp oil could have cured her cancer without the permanent damage that surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy left her with. Her dream is to distill and offer hemp oil to anyone who wants it.
I believe its competition with cotton as a fiber and its un-patentable medicinal properties are why it is illegal. I grew up in Florida in the 1970s, and marijuana was good, cheap, and easy to find. It is not my drug of choice – generally I prefer wine. I wish, though, that it were legal everywhere, and that its medicinal uses were explored further. Anything that is abused is an issue, be it a legal drug, illegal drug, or even table sugar. It’s past time to legalize marijuana again and end the stigma. Grow hemp, weave superior cloth, and alleviate suffering.
Our Totem Project has us considering the personal symbolism of materials we use to create art. I hadn’t thought of materials themselves as metaphors before, just the sensory experience of materials. Joseph Beuy sees materials also as things that transcend matter, perhaps as physical and metaphysical. His concept of finding a solution between two poles reminds me of a quote that I remember, but can’t remember who said it. It is that the answer is contained in the question.
To me, depending on its form, fat is a fuel, a lubricant, a reduction. It is a carrier of other things. Felt is entropy to the point of entrapment. It is a normal process (such as shedding) bunched up on itself – it is time to shave the dog.
What non-traditional materials do I respond to aesthetically? Anything silky, for sure. Glitter. Is glitter traditional? Bottle caps can be interesting. Mirrors. I love little mirrors. I don’t know that I can connect them with my person history, besides always loving shiny things. I am very touch/texture oriented, and had sort of a renaissance of the tactile when I grew up, after being told not to touch things for so long. As an adult, I can touch things, dammit! I love artwork and museum exhibits I can touch. (Now I am a massage therapist – I touch for a living.) I do love metal as a medium. Between the elemental quality of it and its diversity, it is very attractive to me. Again, I can’t see how it relates to my history.
My totem will have a part to be touched. It relates to my grandfather and the rubber grapes in their coffee table centerpiece that I often tried to squeeze, but he always stopped me. We may now squeeze the grapes to our heart’s content! Squeeze, baby, squeeze!
In the Darkness and Light project I represented myself symbolically as the anchor of the picture and core of the concentric circles. I used my camera to represent my passion and way of seeing. The dragon is my magical self and Chinese year. The Eiffel Tower represents my travels and masculine side. Kali at the top is the creator/destroyer/mother of Shiva. She is fierce and compassionate, as I am. She is also reminiscent of the sun in position and shape in the image. The eye then follows to the orchid. I grow a few orchids and they represent my feminine, more “Georgia O’Keefe” side. Interspersed in their appropriate directions are Serpent, Jaguar, Hummingbird, and Eagle/Condor from the Four Winds Society teachings Dr. Alberto Villoldo brought from the Peruvian Andes. They are my grounding, spirituality, my valuing of being in “right relation” with myself, my environment, and others.
Light and dark take turns and are generally balanced, as the yin/yang symbol is. Each symbol (except for me) exists in more than one concentric circle. Most of the images reverse light and dark as they lie in one circle or the next, except for Kali’s face and the orchids, which are more in the light/positive, independent of the rings, as they also refer to higher realms. My image is also represented with more light than dark. (Most of the dark there is required to hold things together! Maybe that’s a symbol, too.)
In this assignment, we are considering light and dark and their associated dichotomies. In conjunction with our light project, we have two excellent readings, “A Negress Speaks out: The Art of Kara Walker” by Annette Dixon and William Kendridge’s “Black Box: Between the Lens and the Eyepiece.”
Kara Walker’s “Negress” installation series uses the old craft of silhouetting to describe power dynamics of race and slavery in The South, pre-Civil War. The seductive Negress is both powerful and powerless in relation to her white master. (In looking for the male equivalent of the word “mistress,” I realized that there isn’t one. The words “lover,” “paramour,” and “gigolo” fail to match the connotation of “mistress.” How interesting.) Walker also uses the swan to reference the classic story of Leda and the Swan, where Zeus assumes the form of a swan to seduce Leda, the wife of the King of Sparta. She bore two of Zeus’ children. Plantation owners often impregnated slaves to create more slaves, and a “black swan event” is one in which the unexpected has big consequences. Power is often like that – hidden, creating change where and when it is not expected.
William Kendridge’s take on light and dark moves from considering it literally to considering it metaphorically, as with Plato’s analogy of the cave as it relates to the concept of “forced” enlightenment, “enlightened” despots, and colonization. Personally, these days I have been thinking a lot about the human assignment of meaning to things and events and how we use that to justify events or our actions. I have been thinking about the platitudes people offer to those who hard things have happened to. “It was God’s will,” “it was/wasn’t meant to be,” and “it was their time” are platitudes that are actually intended to make the speaker feel safer from tragic events. It generally does not soothe the recipient. At least not me. It reminds me of the concept of Manifest Destiny, where Europeans’ crimes against indigenous peoples were justified by the concept that because God allowed it to happen, that it was supposed to be that way. I can’t buy that, big scale or small.
This assignment also reminds me of a line in the new Star Wars series of movies that I saw in January. Early in the movie, it is explained that both the light and the dark are required to maintain balance in the Universe. In a more yin/yang way, I agree that expansion and contraction balance each other – for every in-breath, there is an out-breath. All that arises shall pass. I know that there are alternate versions of Star Wars where the Dark prevails over the Light. The statement that dark and light keep each other in balance feels to me more like justification of bad behavior. I don’t believe that peace requires violence or that joy requires suffering. I just don’t.
Visually, though, areas of light and dark help to define each other to our eye. We rely on contrast (or lack thereof) to perceive forms to which we assign meaning. This is how most of us navigate the world. Kendridge also said that we can’t help but suspend disbelief when an image registers to our brain as representing a particular thing. We can’t not see it.
Light and dark is a fascinating topic. We can look at it literally or figuratively. It is easy for me to get lost in color, but simple light and dark is really powerful.
The question I have been asked to answer is why color is such a powerful force in visual art.
Because we are animals that see certain colors. Dogs enjoy a wide palette of scents, and we converse in colors. Color helps us find fruits and things that are good for us, and we lack the ability to sniff them out.
Color seems wired to the brain in humans. This wiring is plastic, as no color is really assigned a universal meaning. “I am Red” has color speaking in first person, connecting itself with passion, anger, sex, heroism, romance, aggression, life, and fire. And where those associations are common, they vary culturally. In “Made in the Shade; Annals of Commerce,” Leslie Harrington explains that “‘in India, red evokes romance or happiness, but in Korea, it evokes romance or fear.'”
Assigned meaning of color can change in a short amount of time, as illustrated in “Code Pink,” where author Lauren Sandler explains that assigning blue as a boy color and pink as a girl color is only maybe 70 years old. It had been switched previously, and before the 20th century, there were no gendered colors.
From 1997 until 2008, I worked for Kinko’s, now FedEx Office. I ran the color department, and printed many signs and banners. I love color. Love it. I used to wonder if I was one of those people with an extra kind of cone on their retinas – super color seers. I took an online test, and I am not. I do pay a lot of attention to colors, though.
My favorite use of color on the internet is the Color Oracle at astro.com. (It’s under the “free horoscopes” tab.) One at a time, choosing from a grid of colors, you choose first the color you like the best, and then choose the color you like the least. You repeat this until you have filled all of the blanks. Then it interprets what is going on in your head right now. For me, it is eerie right. And when I feel differently, I make different color choices. Try it out!
Funny you should ask. I have been asking myself the same thing.
I am someone’s daughter
grandmother, niece, mother-in-law.
I am someone’s lover
I am someone’s student
confidant, best friend, moral compass, ride to the airport.
But I am not just that.
a fish owner
I am a fire walker.
There is no essential “who” that I am. My present self is a culmination of relationships, times, events, and dynamics mixed with my general temperament. I am an ego taking care of my spirit-mobile, trying to find my way. Wherever we’re going.
My favorite answer is this. I am a beautiful skin sock holding water and farts.
So y’all who know me know I find walking fire really fueling. The Light Institute in Galisteo, NM, hosts the New Year’s Eve Fire Walk every year, and it is facilitated by the lovely Gwen Feisst.
This year two friends joined me, which was wonderful! It is easy for people to say they want to go, but actually showing up is a very different thing! Kudos to Lori and Lory! So I gathered my friends and we headed the hour and some change northeast to Galisteo. After we settled in and three other brave souls arrived, Gwen began the workshop.
We head out into the clear winter night when it is time to light the fire. The wind has slowed, but is still blowing pretty hard. The cedar is stacked beautifully, in two rows of stacks. We place the kindling along the bottom, and Gwen stuffs balled-up newspaper strategically among and behind the kindling, and then douses the beautiful creation with vegetable oil. We distribute books of matches, and get to the business of lighting the fire.
In spite of, or perhaps with the help of the wind, it lights quickly and easily. A year ago, the year of the bitterly cold NYEFW, it was very stubborn and difficult to light, and behaved much like the year we walked into – intense, sometimes chaotic and unpredictable. The fire grew amazingly quickly, and along with the wind and the roar, seemed like a train traveling so fast that flames frantically lapped its exterior. (Forward explosion, as Chris Griscom referenced in the New Year’s Day Knowings the next day.)
I love this time of being with the fire. I love being mesmerized by the flames, looking at the colors in the flames, the shapes, the invitations. I sit with the fire from different angles. Fire is my teacher. This one is hot and furious. Strong and unified.
We have had rain and snow several times over the past few weeks, so the normally hard ground is soft and wet. I volunteer to tend the fire while the others return to the building and do some activities. I love this time alone with the fire. I do my own exercises, releasing what no longer serves me to the fire, bringing in the new.
Shortly before midnight, Gwen and the group return. Gwen grooms the coals, raking the pile into a long, narrow line. Another woman and I carry the large pieces away. Three others, fire walking veterans, join us. We take our shoes off, join hands and practice breathing through the soles of our feet, feel the oneness with the coals, and all who walk fire before us and after us. We take turns patting the coals with a shovel. The wind has almost completely stopped.
Then it is time for whoever feels that it is their night to walk first, to walk across the fire. Not even a minute passes, and our first walker crosses the fire. Then the second. I love this time. I look in, ask my Higher Self. She says, “Yes, now is a good time.” I walked a short distance. This fire is soft, gentle. Not particularly hot, though I know it is really sizzling hot. I feel excited, magical! Others are walking, laughing, too. Walk for family, for love, for conscious evolution! I walked the full length several times – it feels great! By now my feet are getting really cold! It is about 20 degrees, and the ground is moist. When everyone who wants to walk the fire is done, we hold hands and whoop and holler through the fire! Woowoowoowoowoo!!!!
Oh, it is great fun to find my boots and socks in the dark. When I set them down, I always think I will remember exactly where they are. Ha! I could bring a flashlight, but what would be the fun in that?
We wander back up into the building, into the warmth and light. We celebrate with sparkling cider and decadent chocolate cake! The resident dogs offer to help with the cake. We sit on blankets on the wood floor, sharing our experiences. Gwen gives each of us a souvenir post card – we have walked fire, we perform miracles! After helping to pick up and many hugs, we load back in my Nissan and head home to Albuquerque.
Off with the smoky clothes, into the shower. It feels so good to shower the soot off my miracle feet! They are fine, perfect! Rosemary mint soap smells and feels delicious!
My friend Anne and I returned to the Light Institute the next day for Chris’s New Year’s Day Knowings. I always feel uplifted when I go. I endeavor to maintain that feeling, and not just bask in it for an hour or so, and then slip back into the same old same old.
Welcome, 2012! You promise to be strong, transformative, magical! And thank you, Gwen, Chris, and my fire walking sisters and brothers – past, present, and future!