Carbondale art exhibit seeks to address life’s big questions
Art seeks truth in the mind of the viewer, long after the artist has vanished from sight. Through the exhibition “Rudis (Origin, Interpretation, Place),” opening Friday, I am asking viewers to question their path to this truth. How is it that each individual considers an object or an assertion (origin), processes that stimuli through their various filters (interpretation) and ultimately arrives at a perceived meaning (place)? And how safe, solid or stable is the place at which they’ve arrived? These are questions that alternately haunt and excite me on a daily basis, and have served me greatly in the pursuit of universal truths. These ideas, of course, are not new; and my path to them is well-trodden.
In November 2013, my wife (the endlessly supportive Eden Marsh) convinced me to attend a talk offered by local mindfulness and Dharma teacher John Bruna. A friend recommended his teaching to her, and I somewhat reluctantly tagged along for the evening. Looking back, I recognize that as our starting point of a fruitful dialogue with the philosophies of Tibetan Buddhism.
Over the past three-and-a-half years, we have struggled, rejoiced, despaired and played in the field of spiritual discovery. For me, a particularly challenging question on this path has been this: “How do I reconcile my desire to create works of art with my mission to transcend grasping altogether?” Recently (thankfully!) I’ve found a place where the two pursuits overlap and meld — the ongoing human search for truth and meaning in the midst of the vast and the unknown. Having arrived at this awareness, it now seems terribly obvious! Though that seems to be a paradoxical hallmark of a path to discovery, doesn’t it?
I’ve recently begun to research a historical artist/philosopher whose work I think illustrates the crossover between Tibetan Buddhist philosophy and the history of making art. The artist is Albert Camus, lauded French writer and philosopher and contributor to the philosophy known as Absurdism. Throughout his writings (and I’ve only just begun), Camus addresses the absurdity of a human consciousness that cannot be wholly certain of its reason for existence. Faced with this paradox, Camus asserts that happiness is the most reasonable response. After all, if there is truly no knowing, why not be kind and generous; why not seek out a genuinely happy existence? These are important questions for the Absurdist and the Buddhist alike.
How to pursue that happiness? I look to Buddhism. That’s also the basis for my decision to curate “Rudis” at the Launchpad. It has become my understanding that genuine, lasting happiness begins with an ability to be careful with your thoughts. How is it that we decide? Are those decisions fueled by openness and curiosity? Or are they in turn fueled by a desire to know for certain that everything is in its place (and staying there!)? I believe these can be deeply productive questions, and have had the personal experience of becoming happier and more satisfied through the process of asking.
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As for the work in the exhibition, it was my goal to curate artists whose work may support the viewer’s experience of seeing openly in several different ways.
My installation addresses the question of symbolic power, and where that power truly lies. I’ve created five small sculptures that are meant to symbolize various concepts or familiar terms in an intentionally unfamiliar way. The sculptures are also “trapped” inside glass bell jars as a way of illustrating a primal human desire to hold fast the phenomena of our world, so that we may feel safe and comfortable in our knowing. The glass jars slightly obscure the sculptures from view, which also seems apt.
Sam Harvey (ceramic sculpture) and Andrew Roberts Gray (painting, multi-media components) represent another approach. Their contributions offer little in the way of representation, allowing for the freest associations in the exhibit. I encourage viewers to stand with their works without the nagging impulse to decipher original intent. Both Andrew and Sam are compelled by various historical references, artists and phenomena, but I think they would agree that these compulsions are unimportant at the moment of first interaction. Their work offers mystery. Can you sit with it for a while?
Finally, there is the work of Elizabeth Ferrill, former head of painting and printmaking at Anderson Ranch, current resident of Los Angeles and brand-new mom. I find Liz’s attention to detail and craftsmanship exquisite, and graphic composition and use of color and shade inspiring. Liz is offering the most representative work in the exhibit, mainly street scenes from her time adjusting to a new life in L.A. It asks poignant questions with its juxtaposition of organic, living forms and the concrete, glass and other materials that make up an urban landscape. Liz poses these questions subtly, elegantly. I hope visitors will take the time to appreciate them completely, for both skill and deeper content.
Jay Phillips is a Glenwood Springs resident and curator of the exhibit “Rudis (Origin, Interpretation, Place).”
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