Shelley departs from a story about St. Paul, himself another traveller who paused in Malta for a few months. She asks the same questions put to him in the context of an earlier journey to Damascus: Did I remember to feed the poor? Did I remember to clothe the naked? Did I remember to make the pillow for the weary? Did I remember to protect all living things? These questions she inscribed into stone in words that are decipherable only through the thin shadow thrown by scratched lines.
–Theresa M. Vella
National Museum of Fine Art, Malta
With the demise of the letter as both personal memoir and historical document we are left in the 21st century in a vacuum of denial of artifact and of object as clue to the past. T he Ethernet of the mind literally dictating over matter is the currency of contemporaneity. Handmade is tragically passé and art often is idea and not substance, heresy with no mustard. But, humans long for eye contact and fingertips or fingerprints and smudges on paper, and hope for real wind through their hair and not the illusion of air. As art maker, I wonder about the role of artist and medium, the complexities of real time versus the timeless medium of the painting object, and the possibility of some amiable union between the document/object and the ephemeral time-based artworks of video. My work has continually jockeyed with the notion of the ‘medium as metaphor’. And it is my intended inquiry to continue my work to unify my two beloved mediums-painting and video installation. It is through the construct of the letter that I will form my investigation.
Through the act of letter writing, we have preserved the most personal accounts of history. In the on-going video series THE LETTERS, one is presented with subsequent moments lifted from the letter communications of George Sand, Virginia Woolf, Collette, and finally, the artist writing to Patti Smith, all about their personal accounts of war. Each is both a portrait and document using language and the overlap of sound to create a cacophonic audio effect. Questions arise about women’s roles in the complexity of social responsibility in time of war. Gender responsibility and gender voice are underlying themes in my work. Questions of power and the power of beauty are programmatical constructs.
But, as I arbitrate these thematics, I continue to come back to my primary medium, painting and pose these same questions of power and beauty and responsibility and personal response onto the canvas. The even larger, if not more complex question of time, time-based mediums versus the medium, which, as Joan Mitchell so aptly stated is beyond time, painting. Is there something complimentary that could happen, something transformative when the documentation of so-called real time through video meets the stillpoint? The suspension of time, even the ‘suspension of disbelief’ Samuel Coleridge speaks of in poetry, can this happen in painting as well? Can the video be the idea and the painting beyond the idea?
I propose to complete a series of paintings that will both accompany and compliment the video work the LETTERS. The completed body of work has promise to be exhibited at the historically relevant and site- specific venue, the bookstore, Shakespeare and Co. in Paris. Installed video projections in reading rooms and bookshelves will be exhibited along side the paintings, or even projected upon the paintings. The paintings may be directly painted in the books themselves. This project is tentatively scheduled for late 2008.
My personal experiment into document, time, and painterly response is very entwined. Being in the Process is the delving into the deep spot and questioning of the complexities of real time and the suspension of time. As my mentor, Gary Hill would say, “The life of the work is in the doing of it”. Making something tangible from the ephemeral is the job I take on.
This is my inquiry.
Or as Gaston Bachelard says in The Poetics of Space, ”Millers, who are wind thieves, make good flour from the wind.”
In 1999 I was invited to participate in the Edinburgh Festival’s Fringe. The Fringe Festival is the attempt by artists to take back the energy and the extremes of the original Edinburgh Festival. Many impresarios and art curators began commissioning artists, playwrights and the such to take works out onto the streets or into alternative spaces and so I was commissioned by Richard De Marco of the De Marco European Art Foundation to create an installation piece for the Edinburgh Fringe “99.
I had been studying the Knights Templar as well as the Knights St. John of the Cross in Malta. It fascinated me that so many Maltese, as well as Scots were descendants of a group of men who swore their souls to celibacy. How could this be true? Who were the women, the mothers of all these offspring? “Brides of the Knights Templar” suggests the many women who were compromised by these supposedly noble knights.
A rope of bridal veils sweeping down a knights Templer 7th century refectory on the outskirts of Edinburgh symbolizes an escape route from this female bondage and was my addition to the Fringe Festival and a re- configuring of history.