lights camera sound actions | time-based contemporary art

Breath and the Heart, Listen – Artist Statement

Artist’s Statement
This work constructs a way of seeing a commonality between two nature-based cultures which the dominant western culture has attempted to destruct; the two being a British pre-Christian earth goddess culture and a North American indigenous culture.

I have chosen two texts on the subject of healing. One is an incantation which was recorded in a twelfth-century British medical treatise. The other is an excerpt from The Voyages of Jacques Cartier in which the explorer records an event in which the diseased crew is healed by medicine provided by the leader of the St. Lawrence Iroquoians (later rewarded with his abduction and death in France). The incantation is taped and heard through headphones which alludes to oral tradition. The other text is placed in a display case which alludes to cultural authority.

Beyond the texts is a curtain hung between two theatrical, faux tree trunks. Two shapes, a human heart and lungs and an ear are cut out to reveal a videotape image of tree branches. I intend this miniature proscenium as a cultural metaphor and the videotape and cut-out component as a reminder of our own nature, our connection to nature.

I previously worked with these sources and materials in a performance, Theatrum Silvaticae, created for Two Row Wampum in 1992.  This is the first time I have represented the same material in two separate works and media.

An aside
I would like to comment on my use of the words, “commonality” and “connection”. It appears to me that such words and the desires they represent are today viewed with great suspicion. Contemporary cultural theory has unmasked the patriarchal Eurocentricity of modern humanism; it has exposed the racism and sexism in what has previously passed as “universal”, and raised the issues of social context in opposition to the absolute notions accepted earlier in this century.

However, the need to establish the recognition of difference seems often to be coupled with the notion that polarized discource and adversarial action is the only acceptable method to establish difference and work for social change. Within this theoretical construct, a desire to seek common ground between differences (or self and Other) is viewed as a denial of difference and complicit with an oppressive status quo. Surely this polarization is but another expression of the cultural construct of duality of which racism and sexism are manifestations.

I embrace the unmasking, but not the position that social change such as anti-racism and anti-sexism can be achieved only through an insistence on irreconcialable difference and unresolved conflict. It seems to me also that the post-modern intellectual climate is obsessed with the notion of “Other” to the exclusion of notions such as commonality. I entirely believe that mush of what in the past passed as “human nature” or “universal” was the expression of a dominant white, male power structure. I do not, howver, support the notion that such terms are only social constructs and effective impossibilities. Simply put, I believe there are universal human values and I believe one of them is a preference of peace and construction over conflict, dysfunction and destruction.

Another way of framing these thoughts for me is that much of what has been embraced in our time as desirable politics is empty of spiritual shaping. My own position is that politics and spirituality must inform each other, and they are not inevitably different.

10.3.94

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