Human history can be viewed as a slowly dawning awareness that we are members of a larger group. Initially our loyalties were to ourselves and our immediate family, next, to bands of wandering hunter-gatherers, then to tribes, small settlements, city-states, nations. We have broadened the circle of those we love. We have now organized what are modestly described as super-powers, which include groups of people from divergent ethnic and cultural backgrounds working in some sense together — surely a humanizing and character building experience. If we are to survive, our loyalties must be broadened further, to include the whole human community, the entire planet Earth. Many of those who run the nations will find this idea unpleasant. They will fear the loss of power. We will hear much about treason and disloyalty. Rich nation-states will have to share their wealth with poor ones. But the choice, as H. G. Wells once said in a different context, is clearly the universe or nothing.
I used many times to touch my own chest and feel, under its asthmatic quiver, the engine of the heart and lungs and blood and feel amazed at what I sensed was the enormity of the power I possessed. Not magical power, but real power. The power simply to go on, the power to endure, that is power enough, but I felt I had also the power to create, to add, to delight, to amaze and to transform.
Train the body and develop stamina and endurance. But the spirit of competition and power that presides over them is not good, it reflects a distorted vision of life. The root of the martial arts is not there.
— Taisen Deshimaru, quoted in Armed Martial Arts of Japan: Swordsmanship and Archery, G. Cameron Hurst
Life, death, preservation, loss, failure, success, poverty, riches, worthiness, unworthiness, slander, fame, hunger, thirst, cold, heat – these are the alternations of the world, the workings of fate. Day and night they change place before us, and wisdom cannot spy out their source. Therefore, they should not be enough to destroy your harmony; they should not be allowed to enter the storehouse of the spirit. If you can harmonize and delight in them, master them and never be at a loss for joy; if you can do this day and night without break and make it be spring with everything, mingling with all and creating the moment within your own mind – this is what I call being whole in power.
Synchronicities, those times when an outer event resonates mysteriously and powerfully with what’s happening inside, are more numerous during great shifts and upheavals. If we pay attention, if we approach them as symbolic and revelatory, they will often illuminate a way for us.
― Sue Monk Kidd,The Dance of the Dissident Daughter
Objects have connotations unrelated to their purpose. Art can stretch these personal and universal undercurrents into something that celebrates life.
Federico Uribe was born in 1964 in war-torn Colombia. The Columbian Conflict, as history books name it, began in the mid-sixties and continues today. His homeland has been ravaged by armed warfare for the entirety of his life. You might think that this would make a broody, angry artist, and he was such for a time, but he decided that, in order to live, he needed to celebrate the life he was given and reconcile with his past. The key to that was to look at the world around him with new eyes and to use his hands and creativity to remake the world around him with humor and beauty.
Uribe has also made fantastic animals from colorful shotgun shells, turning something ugly and violent into something beautiful and playful. It is by remembering how to play that Uribe triumphs over the darkness and regains his childhood. That childhood is imbued with a reconciliatory power that shows us we can change our world by changing our perspective and helping others to see our vision. As Uribe puts objects in new contexts, we can put ourselves in new relationship with each other and with nature. The way to capture this energy of transformation is not through political statements, but through authentic feeling.
In Good Faith, Federico Uribe
Mahatma Ghandi once said “We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.”
Please visit Federico Uribe’s website to see more of his wonderful vision.
Being connected to modern culture requires a certain amount of screen time. You and I, in order to share these musings, which are surely worthwhile, have to spend time on a device. The paradox of our reality is that, the more time we spend in this two dimensional, textureless yet very real place, the less time we spend interacting with our neighbors and our local, three dimensional environment. What do we do when we need to remember to get out of the box?
My cats remind me by snuggling up to me at the keyboard, rumbling, enticing me with a friendly purr. My husband and friends remind me when it’s time to go to the store, or hang out, or take a walk. Then there are those quiet moments that we long for: at the beach, in our backyard gardens, climbing a mountain. There are also moments brought to us by art. At a museum, in our own homes, in community spaces, physical art, especially sculpture, reminds us of our desperate need for texture, touch and connection. It helps us get out of our shell.
Placuna Anima Maris (Oyster Soul of the Sea), Rowan Mersh and Bob Lorimer. Photo Credit Frankie Pike
I’d like to share the immensely beautiful and exquisitely textured art of Rowan Mersh with you. The irony of sharing pictures of physical art online does not escape me, but the beauty of the internet is that it can show us things that would not enter our normal day to day lives.
Rowan Mersh is a multi-media sculptor living in London. A graduate of the Royal College of Art, he has created a variety of work, from kinetic and interactive installations to textile sculptures. Today I will concentrate on his work with shells.
Asabikeshiinh V detail
Mersh slices the shells, which are sustainably harvested, grinds and polishes them and reassembles them by hand into structures and patterns which he then coats with a fluorocarbon resin that preserves and fuses the piece. It’s a painstaking process; the larger pieces take months to create. These Doxander vittatus shells, common name Vitate Conch, look as delicate as lace. I love the way Asabikeshiinh V seems to flow and move. Do you see a school of fish, or maybe tropical foliage?
Asabikeshiinh II. Photo Credit Frankie Pike.
Asabikeshiinh II detail. Photo Credit Frankie Pike.
As the shells fit together, they determine the design of the piece. The turritella shells in the piece above were laid with the largest in the center and the smallest at the outer edge. Asabikeshiinh II recalls the graphic designs of M.C. Escher, but with the magical addition of texture. Seen up close, it looks remarkably like a lace textile.
Here’s another variation on the theme, this one resembling a light and airy chrysanthemum in full bloom. Does it surprise you that asabikeshiinh is an Ojibwe word for “spider? The legend of the Spider Woman who protects the Ojibwe people tells that, as the Ojibwe became scattered across North America, the Spider Woman instructed women to construct dream catchers to filter out bad dreams and hold them until the sun could destroy them. I knew this legend only vaguely through commercial efforts to sell tourist goods and trendy healing products. Mersh’s works seem to reclaim some of the dignity and significance of the original story. Can you see the webs?
Asabikeshiinh Praegressus shows the evolution, or progression of the dreamcatcher idea. This time, Mersh has allowed the form to curve in on itself, creating a sort of nest or basket. The turritella shells here look more plantlike, almost like reeds, but still retain their weblike pattern.
Placuna Pro Dilectione Mea II
Placuna Pro Dilectione Mea II detail
Placuna Pro Dilectione Mea II detail
Placuna Pro Dilectione Mea II looks as if it is made of soft feathers, but it is actually made of the shells of the windowpane oyster, the same shells that we often see in windcatchers. The hard, brittle, transparent discs, also known as Capiz Shell, are abundant in the Philippines and Southeast Asia. The title translates Oyster(shell)s for My Love.
Turitella Duplicata II
Turitella Duplicata II detail
Turitella Duplicata II detail
Returning to the turritella shells, Duplicated Turitella II leaves them mostly whole, sticking out like some strange sea plant or perhaps a nappy animal pelt. The closer you get, the sharper and more amazing the spines look. An illusion of motion is created by gradually varying the angle of the shells. Mersh’s talent for shaping, which involves thinking of each shell as a painter would think of a brushstroke, is astounding.
Pithváva Praegressus I detail
Pithváva Praegressus I
Pithváva is a deity of the Yurok people of the California coast. He created the dentalium, or “tooth” shell, considered by the Yurok to be sacred. Dentalium shells were frequently traded among First Nations People. This piece is an exploration of both the dentalium and the god, a physical representation that is almost kachina-like in its significance. It is Rowan Mersh’s connection between his material, the natural world and the metaphysical legends of the past that give his work not only beauty, but a reverant resonance. You long to reach out and touch it, and through it to connect to nature and the past.
All images used in accordance with Fair Use Policy for educational purposes. Please spend some time on Rowan Mersh’s amazing website, where he has many more pictures and works to share.
I think we cry to release the animal parts of us without losing our humanity. Because
inside me is a beast that snarls, and growls, and strains toward freedom, toward Tobias, and, above all, toward life. And as hard as I try, I cannot kill it.
― Veronica Roth, Insurgent
The sea rose invisibly beneath us and the moon shone smooth and bright. A glossy flute of light, like velvet down a bridal aisle, lit the marlin scales and the backs of whales migrating a hundred miles at sea. The tides surged through the marsh and each wave that hit the beach came light-struck and broad-shouldered, with all the raw power the moon could bestow. Magically, an hour passed and we, ocean dancers and tide challengers, found ourselves listening to the sea directly beneath us as the waves began to crash in earnest against the house.
The structure of the house was hierarchical, with my grandfather at the top, but its secret life – the life of pie crusts, clean sheets, the box of rags in the linen closet, the loaves in the oven – was female. The house, and all the objects in it, crackled with static electricity; undertows washed through it, the air was heavy with things that were known but not spoken. Like a hollow log, a drum, a church, it amplified, so that conversations whispered in it sixty years ago can be half-heard even today.
― Margaret Atwood, “Significant Moments in the Life of My Mother”, Bluebeard’s Egg