Expanding Connections: Please Touch the Art

As artists, sometimes we assume that we understand our creations. Connecting with an audience shows us the things we miss.

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Andrew Myers makes clever paintings by screwing screws into a wooden base and painting them. He was deeply moved when a blind person attended one of his shows and was able to experience his art by touching it. Struck by the lack of tactile art and the prevalence of a hands off policy in museums and galleries, he wanted to do something to reach out to those who could not partake in the visual aspect of the art world.

George Wurtzel has spent his life working with wood. He is a craftsman, making fine furniture and other projects, and teacher. In the summer he works at Enchanted Hills Camp in Napa Ca, a camp for the visually impaired, where he inspires blind folk to make things with their hands. He does this by example, as George is blind.

This wonderful project brings these two talented artists together.

 

What an incredible gift to be able to “see” things differently! When art can bridge boundaries imposed upon us by our nature and our nurture, it is a transformative experience that changes us forever. I wonder how musicians might use vibration to reach out to those who cannot hear, how dancers might move with those who have movement issues, how singers might make sounds with those who cannot form words. Our art and culture could not help but be enriched by new perspectives and the therapeutic value of these endeavors would be tremendous.

Maybe you are the next artist to reach out and connect with an unexpected audience. I can’t wait to see what you will do!

All images and video used in accordance with fair use policy for educational purposes.

Patterns of Connection: The Land Art of Dietmar Voorwold

Why should modern humanity regain and hold on to its connection with nature at a time when technology seems omnipresent?

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AmWeg207 © Dietmar Voorwold

I have always loved making things: textures and patterns create a sense of calmness for me. In my early years I made a texture book into which I glued pieces of fabric. I would spend hours rubbing my hands over the small swatches. Geometric patterns, fuzzy fake furs, textured weaves… they were all delightful. I think I must have worn that book out at some point, but I never lost my love for fabrics, texures, patterns and colors. This love would resurface from time to time. A few years later in grade school I would get in trouble for filling my desk with pretty rocks from the playground.

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AmMeer71 © Dietmar Voorwold

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AmWeg97 © Dietmar Voorwold

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AmMeer430 © Dietmar Voorwold

These creations by German land-artist Dietmar Voorwold take me back to my childhood. Trained as a photographer and graphic designer in Dusseldorf, Voorwold returned to school later to study Art Therapy at the Institute for Humanistic Psychology (IHP) in Eschweiler, Germany. For several years, he spent time working with children, adults, and people with special needs in educational and therapeutic institutions in Germany, Holland and Great Britain, focusing on “self-expression, joy and inspiration.” He found great satisfaction and collaborative potential in making patterns from stones, leaves and other natural materials. In 2008 he moved to Scotland and began to concentrate on making temporary outdoor installations.

Nature is the perfect stage and canvas for the beauty and lightness that I like to express. –Dietmar Voorwold

Land art, the arrangement of collected natural materials into patterns and forms is increasingly popular. In a world that seems so technological and so regimented, it becomes more and more important that we cultivate the simple side of ourselves, that we recognize who we are as part of nature. Otherwise, it is simply too easy to get lost on the sea of social media, to become ungrounded and feel that we are being carried away on the current. Nature is far more difficult to fake than our daily online lives and it offers us a tactile, physical relationship that we cannot replace with virtual reality. If we are clever, we can find ways of using technology to help us record and memorialize those moments of synchronicity and meaning that are the fruits of that relationship.

 

 

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AmMeer578 © Dietmar Voorwold

Thankfully we have rebellious artists like Dietmar Voorwold to take us down the paths less traveled to those places where everything connects. The result is never quite what we expect, and that is the allure and magic that keeps us interested in the world around us. Call it enchantment, call it synchronicity, but do not let it pass from our existence.

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AmWeg193 © Dietmar Voorwold

All images used in accordance with fair use policy for educational purposes. Please spend some time on Mr. Voorwold’s website, where you may purchase prints of his luscious work.

 

 

A Testament to Motion: The Art of Toots Zynsky

Have you ever created something that made you feel more alive? Amazing things can happen when we follow our passion.

 

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Delizioso, Image © Dane Gallery

 

Mary Ann Toots Zynsky, known as Toots, decided as a pre-teen that she was meant to be an artist, beginning her creative life as a painter and sculptor. She attended the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), which she had been told was the best of the best. And yet, nothing really sparked her interest; everything felt stilted and quiet. In fact, she planned to leave the school at the end of her Freshman year in order to pursue studies leading toward medical school. One day she grabbed a map and decided she would visit each department, perhaps hoping for a reason to stay. Everything changed as she walked down a hallway to a room that had been deliberately placed far from the main studios. Here, loud music played and hot glass swirled in the air, manipulated by artists that moved together to make colorful shapes that solidified into glass. I’m sure the music was loud and the atmosphere somewhat wild… it was 1970 after all…but the voice inside of her must have spoken with a voice to match. The next week, after classes ended, the glass studio, which had recently gained independence from the ceramics department, opened its doors to anyone who was interested. Toots Zynsky did not miss her opportunity.

Video via Corning Museum of Glass on YouTube

It is fascinating to note that Toots was not drawn so much to the final product as she was mesmerized by the process. It was the music reverberating in the space, the concept of collaboration as a kind of dance, the roar of the furnace, the hot liquid glass in motion and the counterpoint of color that quickened her pulse. When art comes from this kind of place, the final form it takes is secondary. It also didn’t hurt that this was a new medium for art and there were few rules to be broken. It was an exciting time to work with glass. On top of that, she earned her BFA working under the guidance of Dale Chihuly, who remains one of the biggest names in glass art worldwide.

In the early 1970s, along with Chihuly and some fellow RISD graduates, Toots was part of the founding team of the Pilchuck Glass School in Washington state. Her work was groundbreaking: experimental installations featuring slumped plate glass and forays into video and performance art in collaboration with artist Buster Simpson. Finding new and interesting possibilities, she wasn’t sure she wanted to stay with glass. She returned to the east coast to pursue new projects in new media.

“I started wondering what I was doing with glass and why. There were other materials and ideas that fascinated me, and I started working with cloth, light, wire, and barbed wire. I was interested in barbed wire because it’s such a powerful symbol of the failure of humanity— that we had to come up with this material to keep each other apart.”

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AWOL, 1982 © Toots Zynsky

In 1980, Toots became assistant director and head of the hot shop at the New York Experimental Glass Workshop in New York City, now UrbanGlass. Here she pioneered works that combined glass with barbed wire, pulling her interests together. She began to work with nets made from heavy glass threads which she dubbed filet de verre. These threads were fused and shaped inside of a kiln. Her first piece made entirely from filet de verre was Clipped Grass (1982). It is a beautiful, humble work of realism, glass fashioned into the image of a nest made from grass clippings. This simple piece was the precursor to the fanciful colored forms which would become Toots’ signature work.

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Clipped Grass (1982),  Image © The Corning Museum of Glass

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Spring Grass (1983),  Image © Yale University Art Gallery

In the early days, she had to employ teams of assistants to pull the glass into threads using an old Venetian method. This took time and resulted in unevenness. There was also a limit to the length of thread that could be produced. When Mathijs Van Manen, an inventor who had also worked with special effects for film and television, came to New York from Amsterdam to check out her work, he was amazed at what she was doing and dumbfounded at how she was doing it. Within 24 hours, he rigged a machine to turn rods of glass into threads. Toots took a trip to Europe to collaborate further on the design of this machine and stayed on the continent for 16 years. Together, she and Van Manen produced a series of kilns which she still uses in her work, although these instruments now incorporate cutting edge software and electronics. She also has special heat resistant gloves that allow her to reach into the kiln and twist the work into shape. These are the product of a desperate moment in Italy when, showing her technique to Italian craftsmen, she plunged her hands into a kiln to rescue a piece that was going awry.

“The architects were so curious and I was so nervous and the piece just wasn’t going right. All of a sudden, I reached into the kiln, grabbed the vessel, and gave it a big squeeze. Finally, I had the form that I wanted! And I thought, Why didn’t I think of this before? I was fed up with the piece, so I tried something different because I had nothing to lose.

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Contrappunto, 2015 Image © Habatat Galleries

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Davvero, 2014 © Habatat Galleries

There is more to her work than technique, innovation and boldness. There is a great deal of sensitivity. As a synesthete, Toots relates sound to color. The rhythms of music are translated into patterns of colored glass that are like frozen portraits of sound.

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Pajaritos en la Cabeza and Cabellos de Angel (“Tierra del Fuego” Series), 1988 © Toots Zynsky

 

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Sottacqua, 2005 Image © Hooks-Epstein Galleries

After going through a period of loss in which she no longer felt like dancing, or even moving or listening to music, she began to create darker pieces with fewer colors and more shading, explorations not of music rhythms, but of the feelings she had for people she had lost. What an honor to be remembered in such a personal way by such a great artist!

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Avvincente (left), Avviluppare (center), Avvio (right)
2010 © Toots Zynsky

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Rondine, Image © Echt Gallery

Toots Zynsky continues to make beautiful things that fill a need in her life and delight others. She has collaborated on costume and scenic design for theatrical works and continues to explore what glass can express. Please check out more of her work on her website.

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Riposo, Image © Echt Gallery

 

 

 

 

Underwater Visions: Water and the Human Form

Underwater landscapes provide interesting places to explore dreamlike images and archetypes. What range of imagery and emotion are artists creating?

I would like to introduce you to three stunning artists making underwater photographs in the world today. If you see an artist that moves you, please take the time to click on their name and view their website. Buy a print or a book if you are so moved.

Elena Kalis

Born in Moscow, Russia, Elena Kalis trained as a painter, but a move to the Bahamas provided her with an alternative canvas– perfectly clear water. Her first set of photos featured her daughter Sacha, a natural swimmer and excellent model, as Alice in Wonderland, along with a few friends. This wonderland was under the sea instead of down a rabbit hole and was an immediate success with viewers all over the world.

From Alice © Elena Kalis

 

I often feel like I am in another dimension, just like Alice who found herself in a strange place when she fell into the rabbit hole one warm afternoon. A place where reality subsides and the closeness of water envelops you, where sounds are distant and light plays tricks with your eyes and perception.

–Elena Kalis, Huffpost Books

Elena has continued to produce stunning work that grows ever more enchanting and nuanced. As her daughter grows up, her photographic style is also maturing and changing. The Dark Water and My Fair Ladies sets are my personal favorites, picturing the vulnerability and promise of adolescence. There is a part of every woman that trembles to remember that time, when the sense of self was new and the world was wonderful and terrible all at once. Such evocative images, both delicate and emotional.

Howard Schatz

Chicago born Howard Schatz was a successful opthamologist and retina specialist in San Francisco when his wife, Beverly Ornstein, the head of news and current affairs for PBS in San Francisco, encouraged him to pursue his passion for photography. They worked on a project together called Gifted Woman in 1992 and things began to take off. Howard took a sabbatical to further explore what had once been a weekend pastime. He never went back to the high stress medical profession. In photography mistakes are a part of the learning process, which was liberating after years of striving to get everything right. He did miss his patients, though, and the human connection he had with them.

Howard became interested in underwater photography by accident while playing basketball in his indoor pool. After getting water in his eyes he put on a pair of goggles and dove back underwater.

I realised this underwater world was magic. I could see that under the water there was this beautifully weightless environment. So, for the next six months, I began to explore ways of making images underwater. Nobody could help me with the technique either, because all the other underwater photographers I knew went deep underwater with scuba gear and lights – whereas all I wanted to do was shoot human beings.

–Howard Schatz, Canon

His first shots featured Katita Waldo, a prima ballerina from the San Francisco Ballet. The image above is his very first underwater study of the human form– downright incredible! The textures in these photos read so clearly that you feel as if you could reach out and touch the model.

In 2002, Howard and Beverly bought property in Connecticut and had a special pool made there, rigged as an underwater studio with glass walls and a dome above, as well as the best available lighting equipment. As you can tell, he doesn’t do anything halfway. The pool creates a controlled environment, eliminating anything that might distract from the subject and creating an extremely focused vision.

In the photo below, model Amanda Cobb was pulled across the frame using a transparent belt attached to a black cord, making the ribbons float behind her. The use of reflection as a tool to create mystery is spellbinding. Movement and dance have remained paramount in Howard’s work, which is, at its core, a celebration of the body in all its glory, strength, delicacy and beauty.

Zena Holloway

At the time of her birth, Zena Holloway’s parents, an airline pilot and hostess, were stationed in Bahrain as employees of Golf Air. She spent most of her formative years in London, a bit of a rebel and wild child, then embarked on an international career as a scuba diver and instructor at the age of eighteen. Her mother bought her a small underwater camera, a humble plastic Motor Marine, for her birthday while she was working as a scuba guide in Egypt.

Three years later, at twenty-one, Zena would begin looking for jobs in the field of underwater photography. She had no background in shooting out of the water, or topside, as she calls it, and was told she would never make a living unless she learned to do more than underwater work. To Zena, work on land is full of noise and distraction; she enjoys the challenges of underwater work, challenges that produce focus and efficiency. Luckily, she managed to snag an underwater project for Fabergé and has been proving the naysayers wrong ever since.

From Waterbabies, © Zena Holloway

Keeping a heavy schedule of editorial and advertising projects, Zena has also illustrated a glorious edition of Charles Kingsley’s Water Babies, a classic written in 1865, and is very much interested in telling stories. Her goal is not the factual and representational, but the surreal and evocative that is contained in those moments when the human mind is half awake.

I wish that I was less ordered, less literal and more radical, however the upside is that I’m content to let the ideas or the situations to create arrive in their own time. I need to create but not in a way that is destructive.  One of the great things about working solely underwater is that I can pull references from all sorts of sources and once applied to an underwater environment the results take on their own direction. On an editorial shoot where creativity is allowed to evolve and the water plays its part there are lots of opportunities to create something different. The trick is to recognise when the accidental process is going in a good direction and when a different approach is needed. The more references I start with, the more ideas I find to move the work forward.

Zena Holloway, Well, why don’t you

Zena’s photography is a source of surprise and inspiration. The best part is that we are included, that she is sharing her dreams with us– her moments of synchronicity. There is nothing more precious an artist can give.

All images are used in accordance with Fair Use Policy for critical and educational purposes.

 

 

Bruce Mozert: Pioneer of Underwater American Glamour

Most people follow prescribed paths, trusting that life will be fulfilling. Sometimes an enterprising spirit and persistence have more success.

Born Robert Bruce Moser in Newark, Ohio in 1916, Bruce Mozert’s first job out of high school was that of a truck driver carrying coal to the northeast. Declaring himself “too sensitive” for that line of work, he soon moved to New York City to live with his sister, successful pin-up model and illustrator Zoë Mozert. She introduced him to Victor de Palma, a lead photographer for Life magazine, who recognized his enterprising spirit, hired him as a film developer and helped him get started in photography.

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Johnny Weissmuller’s iconic Tarzan call

In 1938, Bruce was on assignment in Florida when he heard that Johnny Weissmuller was filming Tarzan in Silver Springs. The Florida Chamber of Commerce asked if he would visit the set and take some publicity photos. He jumped at the chance. At the time, underwater photos and film were taken from a inside a submerged barrel fitted with a glass window. This meant that there was only room for the film crew’s cameraman. Frustrated at not being able to shoot underwater, Bruce constructed the first known waterproof camera housing on the spot from scrap sheet metal and plexiglas, with a couple of nails for a viewfinder. His father and grandfather had been inventors. Bruce had been tinkering with machinery since he was a boy. As he would do over and over again in his life, he saw something he wanted to do and created the technology to do it.

I went out in the backyard of Silver Springs one morning after I had made the camera case and I found an old inner tube. That was back when they were made out of real rubber. I fitted it on my arm and my arm fit tight. I attached it to the housing and took it down in the water. (“Tarzan” star) Johnny Weissmuller was there. They all laughed at me, but all 12 pictures came out clear. They ended up sending them to Hollywood.”Ocala Star Banner, 2013

This was long before the Go Pro, folks. The photos were so good that MGM paid Bruce Mozert to use them in their promotions of Tarzan. He was encouraged to patent his invention, which allowed a photographer to get much closer to his subjects and make much better pictures, but he couldn’t afford the $900 it would have cost to do so.

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Bruce Mozert with one of his later homemade camera housings

In the midst of this, Bruce fell in love with Silver Springs, famous for crystal clear lakes, streams and artesian springs. He was to be the official photographer of Silver Springs for four and half decades, excepting for a few years in the Army Air Corps during World War II. Never a snob, Bruce even ran a concession business in the park, taking photos of patrons. His staged publicity photos were sent out across the country as advertisements for what was, at the time, the premiere tourist destination in Florida. These shots required planning and direction, and Bruce’s imagination and work ethic were ideal for the task. Most consisted of glamorous young women– and the occasional brawny male– doing everyday things underwater.

Images © Bruce Mozert

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© Bruce Mozert

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© Bruce Mozert: The “smoke” is condensed milk, rising from a punctured can.

Mozert’s work is lovely and good natured, with just a dash of whimsy. Much of it, while delightfully kitschy, seems a little dated, meant as advertising and filled with pin-up models and a 1950s sense of glamour (and sexism), but some pieces, especially the work he did with model Ginger Stanley, who was a stunt double for Creature from the Black Lagoon, have an artistic quality and clarity that remains arresting, even when compared with photography done on modern equipment.

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Ginger Stanley in Underwater Ballet: Bruce Mozert/Three Lions/Getty Images

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Ginger Stanley in Underwater Ballet: Bruce Mozert/Three Lions/Getty Images

Bruce would remain a pioneer and innovator in the field for many years, creating new camera housings, high speed underwater cameras, and lighting devices. Television networks and film companies required his expertise and hired him for underwater projects as a photographer, a film cameraman and consultant. Gregory Peck, Lloyd Bridges, Jane Russell and Esther Williams were just a few of the celebrities with which he worked. His images graced the covers and pages of magazines such as LifeLook and National Geographic. Another passion he enjoyed was aerial photography, which he picked up while in the Air Corps. He was known to take a plane up for shooting when he was in his nineties.

Bruce Mozert passed away last October at the ripe old age of 98. He worked in his studio, digitizing old film, until near the end. His is a truly inspiring American success story.

 

Want to read more about underwater photography? You can read our introduction to the subject here. We’ll have more on the subject later this week.

Beneath the Surface: An Introduction to Underwater Photography and the Human Form

Well-crafted portraits capture not only physical attributes, but hint at hidden truths. Underwater photography can provide unique and challenging perspectives.

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Public Domain Image via Pexels.com

 

There is something about being submerged in water that dials directly into the human subconscious. When we view someone through water, especially when they are suspended in it, we feel as if we are seeing something very personal and private. The vulnerability of the human form is readily apparent underwater: movement is more languid and dreamlike, breath is made visible through bubbles, hair is carried away from the face and head while clothing may float away or plaster itself close to the body. Water imparts a sensuality and softness, further enhanced by the blue green light that reaches into its depths.

The challenges of underwater photography are many, even with modern equipment like the Go Pro camera. That blue green light I mentioned can be penetrating, but reds and oranges are lost as we descend, distorting skin tones. Many photos are taken a just few feet below the surface. Shooting close up with a wide angle lens is a must, as shooting through more than a few feet of water creates cloudiness. Costuming can create beautiful effects, but the photographer and model must understand how the fabric will behave underwater and how best to maximize its potential. Models have to be aware of their breathing and how bubbles impact the shot. They also have to be able to hold a pose– and their breath– while slowly floating up to the surface. If they aren’t specifically designed for underwater use, cameras must be waterproofed, which can make them harder to handle. Everything has to be done while the artist and the model are swimming and paying attention to their surroundings, with a minimum of vocal communication.

When it all works… magic!

Over the course of this week (and several posts) I’d like to introduce you to some fantastic artists and encourage you to visit their websites and become more familiar with their work.

Our first post will feature pioneer underwater photographer Bruce Mozert and will focus on photos made in Silver Springs, Florida in the 1950s, when pin-up models went underwater to advertise the premiere tourist destination in Florida. You can read the post here.

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© Bruce Mozert used in accordance with Fair Use Policy

Water and Light: This is how I get to you by Tuba Sozudogru

Our most important thoughts and feelings are those that are hard to put into words. Can art give them voices?

Tuba Sozudogru presented her devastatingly beautiful and profound self portrait, This is how I get to you, at synkroniciti‘s Open Mic, Broken Pieces, on January 9th, 2016. In writing the overview for that evening, which you can read here, I found that I had too many thoughts about this remarkable painting struggling through my mind to put down in that post.

She dreams that she is drowning, sinking beneath the surface never to rise again and yet, surprisingly, at peace and surrendered. Smiling, she listens as all voices are silenced and the water hugs and cradles her to its breast. Light streams about her and she rejoices that she will never have to hide again. Here at last she can be her genuine self and trace the connections between the living and the dead, the seen and unseen. There is a noise, a motion from the outside world. As she wakes she feels both relief to experience another earthly day and sorrow to be separated from that wondrous light and water.

Being underwater requires a different mode of sensation and communication, something primal that eschews words. This is why it has so often been used as a metaphor for the subconscious mind. There is so much that we experience as human beings that evades description. Could it be that these are the very experiences that connect us with one another and with the creative spirit most tightly?

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This is how I get to you is painted in bright, glowing colors upon a piece of scrap cardboard. The cardboard was damaged, the top layer removed over a portion of the surface to reveal a corrugated texture. Once painted, this texture recalls both an architectural quality of fresco painting, in which the building surface sometimes shows through the artwork, either from age or design, and the natural texture of reeds growing next to a pond. The entire piece is permeated by a sensual atmosphere of decay and transformation.

Our heroine lies exposed, cradled by bright blue water, surrounded by a brilliant yellow light that suggests an illuminated emotional state more than a sense of place. Her body is aroused and yet at peace, a contented smile upon her lips which reassures us that nothing is wrong here. A school of fish swim about her legs. These are a particular species of carp that eat away old, dead skin. The dead parts of herself are being eaten away, a disturbing and yet pleasurable experience. The cells of the human body are constantly dying and being renewed; the human self image is constantly being torn down and rebuilt. Death and life are the same process.

Not far from her body lies a figure, a totem which hints at personal tension and evolution. A human body is stretched, dancing, between a large birdlike skeleton and a transparent, winged creature that seems to be a fusion of bird and fish, perhaps even a dragon or mermaid. Birds, fish, mermaids and winged dragons are all beings that have spiritual connotations through their form of movement: flying through the air or swimming through the water. They are not earthbound beings and Tuba makes a strong case that we are not truly earthbound either.

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During the death/life process, part of us decays, leaving behind only skeletal remnants, while another part, ethereal, is released, an energy that flies or swims away. It is a constant dance between that which will decay and that which will escape. There is also a profound tension between these two realms, the physical which is so obvious and yet short lived and the spiritual which is hard to define and yet enduring. We can fully describe the remnants of our past because we have lived them, but it is the future that contains our hope.

Even as we age, change and ultimately die, there is a part of us that escapes, remaining unique throughout this transformation. It is that part that we cannot fully describe in words or paint with our brush. Despite all our efforts we can only trace its outline as it moves into a place we have not yet visited. We can long for that homecoming even as we enjoy or endure our physical life.

Tuba has given us one more clue, an inscription which reads “I am what I am Written in the skies Once was love Always light”. Everything we see here is Tuba, from the brilliant yellow light to the pool, from the woman lying before us to the strange evolutionary figure. Her words remind us that the blueness of the water can also be interpreted as sky. After we leave the womb, the protective power of water still surrounds us, now as vapor. In a sense, we are all water spirits. We never leave water, but the element is diminished to a level that our consciousness and physical body can handle. Once the physical body is left behind, we do not know where the light of our existence will take us. Tuba has great hope for that journey and she is ready to share it.

Artists are often highly intuitive and expressive people who experience life in unique and individual ways. While many of us push away thoughts and images that make us explore our own death, Tuba has the gifts to explore these dark places. More than that, her art is able to reassure us when words and consciousness fail. It really does get to us.

 

Connecting Broken Pieces: Synkroniciti’s Open Mic

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Synkroniciti held our latest Open Mic on Saturday, January 9th. It is always exciting to see connections and understandings appear in a group and this gathering was especially rewarding as half of us were “regulars” and half were brand new to synkroniciti. I am so grateful to those who shared themselves and their art.

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We began with an experience inspired by the Sonic Meditations of Pauline Oliveros. The human voice carries a great deal of vulnerability, as you might guess from the number of people who fear public speaking and singing. I asked our guests to sing together, picking a random pitch on my cue, then to listen and let that pitch settle and move (if they felt like moving). We did so a few times, and the sonorities we produced were truly beautiful and magical, combinations that contained a measure of stability and richness as well as tones that reached out of the texture. The enchantment we felt didn’t come from the execution or the quality of each individual voice, but from the unity and uniqueness of the total sound.

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Ofelia shared Dripping Diamonds, a striking photograph paired with a wistful poem. One day, on her way to work in the midst of a Houston rainstorm, she leaned forward while stopped to capture a watery, misty view of the trees through her windshield. Her poem encourages us to notice how our environment cares for us, supplying us with water, light and other things vital to survival. The miracles that allow life to go on are so seldom celebrated, but we rely on them completely. You can read Dripping Diamonds here.

Saba read The Keeper, which she wrote in response to Anila Quayyam Agha’s artwork Intersections, a large carved cube suspended from above and lit from within. Intersections was displayed at the Rice Gallery last fall and The Keeper was featured in a Words and Art presentation which asked poets and writers to explore their reaction to Agha’s luminous work. This sensual villanelle is an exploration of what it means to be a woman in a society that crafts beautiful places where women can be “kept”. The refrain of “lady, stay” drummed on our ears, pleading for all women to stay in their place, to keep the order that society has sculpted for us. Such places may be lovely, some may even be safe, but because they do not allow us to form our own personal connections to society and the world, they can only become prisons, even if they are made “of a thousand daisies”.

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Intersections by Anila Quayyam Agha at the Rice Gallery Image by Katherine McDaniel

After sharing her poem, Saba spoke of the burqa, the traditional garment worn in some Islamic countries to cover women from prying eyes and promote female modesty. She led us to understand that it could be repressive in some situations and a provider of safety in others. We spoke of divorce and the challenges that it provides for women, challenges that can build our self image and personality even as they leave marks that harm us. Women have to live submerged in these paradoxes every day. We grapple with these issues in the West and in the East, although our cultures manifest them differently.

How do we live in a society in which women are required to make up for the lack of modesty and self control in men? I believe that women hold a missing piece that can help repair the human relationship to nature and the world around us, but we have to find a way to integrate it into a society that is polarized against us.

 

Tuba shared a self portrait entitled This is how I get to you. It is a vision of life, death and transformation. An intuitive soul, Tuba has dreams of being submerged in water, of being at home yet dying there and feeling that she is released to communicate her voice and her truth there. It is hard for those who are sensitive to currents in the spiritual and mystical plane to communicate these things to other human beings, who tend to miss these currents entirely and can react with fear and anger. I am reminded of the myth of Rusalka the mermaid, who wanted so much to be human, but had to give up her voice to become so. There is something about water that implies a different mode of sensation and communication, something that does not require words.

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Our subject lies in water, a smile upon her face. The fish that swim around her thighs are a type of carp that nibble away dead skin. They are taking away the old self, making room for the new. The image is both uncomfortable and pleasurable. Tuba’s inscription reads “I am what I am Written in the skies Once was love Always light”. As we evolve and change there is a part of us that remains unique throughout our transformation. If you would like to explore this artwork with me in more detail, I will be posting about it later this month.

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Michelle read A Ghost Story, a personal experience from her youth. As she related the events that followed the acquisition of a statue of a woodsman from the next door neighbor’s garage sale we all got the chills. The story unfolded with exquisite detail and cunning humor, building in suspense to the point that more than one of us remarked that we would have a hard time getting to sleep that night. At least we weren’t reading it at 3am.

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Everyone catches glimpses of strange things that happen at the corners of our experience, things that we blink away because they don’t make sense. Michelle’s story took us to a place where these things came into focus, where they persisted despite all of our blinking and wishing. The menacing figure that stood at the end of the bed and the statue that moved by itself hint at an enmity that stood between men long since dead and point to a reality we can’t comprehend. We are all vulnerable in the face of the invisible and the unreal.

Kelly walked right into the valley of the shadow of death with The First Anomaly, a poem that voices the thoughts of a woman faced with breast cancer. Even though it is still in the finishing stages, this poem rendered us almost speechless as she recorded the otherworldly strangeness of searching for a tumor with ultrasound in the same way that ships at sea find enemy vessels. We usually call that application sonar, but it is very much the same technology.

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Coral Snake © LA Dawson, Austin Reptile Service with CCLicense

In breast tissue ultrasounds, yellow and red areas show areas of above average hardness, i.e. anomalies which could be cancer. Kelly wove this together with a nursery rhyme for distinguishing the Coral Snake, which is extremely poisonous, from the King Snake, which is not. “Red touch yellow, kill a fellow; red touch black, friend of Jack” runs the childish verse. The red touching yellow on this ultrasound indicates a malignant tumor. The only hope is radiation, with its yellow, not red, and black symbol. Our heroine seems doubtful that it will prove strong enough to “bring her back”. We would like healing to be magical, a silver bullet, and although it is miraculous, it is never as clean and easy as we hope.

I shared my painting The Execution of Peace, which shows a landscape threatened by aggression and hatred. You can read my earlier post about it here. There are three areas in this picture. The upper portion shows a storm brewing, a dove being shattered by lightning and a sun enlarged to a supernova. An umbilical cord separates this portion from  the central area, which is dominated by red robed figures who fight it out with lightning bolts among the clouds while another figure is either collapsing or holding on to something between them. The bottom area shows a grey and blasted earth. There are orange shapes standing on that earth. At one point I saw them as privileged people who look on while others are killed, but these viewers saw something different. They saw warheads.

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There is so much human beings could do for one another and for our planet, yet we always seem to end up fighting. Those who will not fight are often sacrificed. Whether we cause the storm or whether the storm moves us to violence the effects are the same. I painted The Execution of Peace after meditating on fear and have always found this painting difficult to love, but my friends showed me that there is hope in it. It may be that we are all warheads ready to explode, the killing blow lying within each of us ready for detonation. We can choose to stay our hand and hold on to mercy and kindness. Perhaps this is enough to stay the apocalypse for now.

Connecting with each other is the most important thing we do each day. We may do so by words or actions, by means of art, music, dance, or any creative expression. We can also find connection by getting to know our world better. No moment connecting to our planet or our fellow human beings is wasted.

Will you build bridges with me?

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Neil and I would like to send a gigantic thank you to everyone who came to Broken Pieces: Exploring Vulnerability: Saba, Tuba, Laura, Michelle and Dave, André, Ariel, Kelly, and Ofelia. This was a very special evening and you are all precious to us. Our next Open Mic is entitled Building Bridges: The Power of Human Connection and will happen on February 20, 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Building Creative Resilience: Strategies for Cultivating Enchantment

Adversity and boredom can strip away our joy and creativity. Can a sense of enchantment improve our resilience?

Boredom © Jae with CCLicense
Boredom
© Jae with CCLicense

Have you ever felt as if you were missing something or merely going through the motions of living? Sometimes this happens as a result of a catastrophe in our lives, but it can sneak up on us when things seem to be going well. Boredom and apathy can make life miserable and contribute to a host of health issues and destructive behaviors. One way to combat the turmoil they create is to focus on enchantment.

I don’t mean that we should walk around under a spell that blinds us to reality or that we should do only what we please, but rather that we cultivate a peacefulness, joy and wonder for the world around us that doesn’t completely fade when we meet adversity. How do we do this? Here are a few strategies.

Temper authenticity with kindness

I firmly believe that there are no bad emotions, only emotions which are expressed in ways that are not useful. Being angry or scared may save your life when well expressed at an opportune time. Feelings exert pressure on us to behave differently, to act in new ways that change the outcome of the world around us. If you don’t feel like smiling, don’t smile. Denying your angst will shove it deeper into your psyche, where it will grow and leak out at unexpected times, poisoning your experiences. Strive to be honest with yourself, with those you love and, to a certain extent, with the people around you, but temper that authenticity with kindness and empathy, even when dealing with yourself. Honesty without those things can be a sharp sword and should be used sparingly.

Train yourself to see the good things

We all know that person who constantly expects the worst so that they never experience a negative surprise. If you choose to embrace this philosophy, realize that it may help you to manifest your worst thoughts and nightmares. We often take steps to avoid the uncomfortable realities we anticipate and these steps can actually create those realities, either externally or internally. If we expect something to be unpleasant or expect someone will not like us, we emit signals that make those events more likely to happen. Our attitude has energy that can bless or poison the lives of those around us. This is our magic. In addition, life is able to surprise us with circumstances which are worse than we can imagine. We are not going to be able to avoid disappointment completely, so we might as well look with joy on that which is good.

Is there any value in preparing to fight a dragon when the dragon turns out to be either a mouse or a train?

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Public Domain Image via Pixabay

Be Present

Focus on where you are and what you are doing right now. When you are driving to work, keep your attention on the road rather than your cellphone. When you are walking down the street or into a grocery store, notice the people around you and smile and interact with them. When you are eating, enjoy the texture and taste of your meal rather than focusing on work. This doesn’t mean you can’t sit down and plan for the future or think ahead. It means you are not dividing your attention in a way that makes you miss real life, which is nothing short of miraculous.

When was the last time you noticed the clouds, which are always changing above us?

Northeastern Wyoming © Katherine McDaniel, 2015
© Katherine McDaniel, 2015

Remember to Play

As we become adults, we tend to get serious about life. Some of this is required; we need to pay bills and take care of ourselves or enchantment ends abruptly. But we often go overboard, working long hours that become tedious, pushing far past healthy endurance and attention span, focusing only on that which gives us obvious profit. It is okay to spend some of our waking hours “wasting time” creating imaginary realities or doing something pointless. If we can plan play into our daily lives we give ourselves opportunities for rest and learning things in nonlinear ways, as well as outlets for frustration that mean we can be more productive when we return to work. If we can see some of our work as play (there will always be elements that remain hard work) we can even draw enchantment into our workplace.

Do you ever feel guilty for enjoying yourself? Could you give yourself permission instead?

Imagination: Life in the minds of children © mehdinom with CCLicense
Imagination: Life in the minds of children
© mehdinom with CCLicense

Find your Passion

What is it that fills you with delight? Nature is a great place to look for enchantment, but there are things to fall in love with everywhere, from doll making to architecture, from fantasy novels to technology. Those things that inspire joy and awe in you need to be part of your life, even if they aren’t part of your day job. Life is too short to ration those things that make you a better, happier human being.

© Lalit Shahane with CCLicense
© Lalit Shahane with CCLicense

In closing, I would like to leave you with one last thought. You are the protagonist of your story, a supporting character in several other stories, and an incidental character in many stories. Abdicating any of these roles has consequences. Revere the stories taking place all around you and embrace your own with relish and zest and you will be on the road to lasting enchantment. If you want to fully explore the enchanted landscape you should not close your eyes to darkness and pain, nor should you strive to never be angry. The best way to cultivate enchantment is simply to be enchanting, and that means being your most genuine, best you.

Best wishes on your journey!

kat

Grab Your Shovel: Guerrilla Gardening in Los Angeles

As the appearance of a community decays, its people decline too. Can collaborative gardening help restore community health and spirit?

Guerilla Gardening in Ghent, Belgium © Mathias Baert with CCLicense

Guerilla Gardening in Ghent, Belgium
© Mathias Baert with CCLicense

Guerrilla gardening is the planting and tending of gardens on public land, usually without permission. You might think of it as the green thumb version of graffiti, using plants instead of spray paint. Here are two wonderful videos about this global phenomenon from two very different communities in Los Angeles.

Kenneth Rudnicki decided to guerrilla garden for his birthday. Instead of going out, he invited his friends to buy plants and help him set up a garden on the street. The joy of planting that garden by night and seeing the neighborhood’s curiosity and wonder the next morning was extremely addictive. People enjoyed it so much that he started a business with his girlfriend, Rebecca Pontius, called LA Guerrilla Gardening.

Video via Soul Pancake on YouTube

LA Guerrilla Gardening has brought together people from all walks of life who are interested in gardening, or at least in beautifying and taking ownership in their community. These are people who would never meet in any other situation. Unattractive and trashy spots in the city have been converted into beautiful plantings of succulents and drought resistant ornamentals.

Ron Finley, a successful fashion designer for professional athletes, is from South Central, or South Los Angeles, an area famous for fast food drive-throughs and drive-by shootings. He began to realize that the drive-throughs were taking more lives than the drive-bys and decided to do something about it. He and his volunteer group, LA Green Grounds, planted a garden of edible plants along the street. The city promptly issued a citation and demanded the removal of the garden, threatening to issue a warrant for his arrest. Finley refused. His spirit and his humor are infectious, as you will see.

Video via TED on YouTube

There are 26 square miles of vacant lots in Los Angeles. That’s enough land to build 20 parks the size of New York’s Central Park. Finley sees these lots and other neglected spaces as canvases, where he can paint with plants and give people the wonder of growing things.  A generous artist, he plants the gardens where hungry people can get to them and harvest what they need. His work isn’t only beautiful and collaborative, it feeds people and trains people to eat well and become leaders in their communities. What inspiring resilience!

I wanted to share both videos with you so that you could see the universal nature of guerrilla gardening. It is therapeutic, nourishing and defiant. And, if you are interested, it is something that you can do.