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artist, drawing, wood, stone & music
By J. S. Porter, Hamilton, Ontario – www.spiritbookword.net
A woman—sometimes in white, sometimes in red—sits down on one side of a rectangular table. She has her eyes shut, her head lowered. Slowly she raises her head, opens her eyes and looks directly into the eyes of a stranger who sits across from her. This process of reciprocal eye-gazing goes on for a minute and then another stranger sits down and looks into the woman’s eyes.
Some people cry, some smile. No one seems to leave without being touched by the experience in some way. Maybe some see their mother in the life-worn face of the woman, or their sister, or a lost or deceased friend. No one leaves without emotion. The woman’s face draws out the soul of those who look on it. Guilt and fear and joy and sorrow play out visibly on their faces.
The woman is Marina Abramović, a Serbian-American performance artist. The film is The Artist is Present. The location is the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City in the spring of 2010. The power of an aging woman’s face. The power of intimacy, even if it’s fleeting, even if it’s with a stranger.
There are, of course, degrees of
intimacy. A drawing seems more intimate
than a painting. The hand seems more clearly visible in a drawing, with fewer
intermediaries. A painting relies on a brush or knife, a palette, a selection of paints. You can see, and feel, the pressure of the hand in a drawing. A thought or emotion moves from the mind to the hand to the page with the velocity of a well-thrown javelin.
Some things say they’re intimate, but they’re not. Paul Gauguin’s Intimate Journals implies intimacy, but the book isn’t intimate, at least not in the writing. The writing is bombastic, defensive, combative, self-justifying, over the top. The writing is his black sun, his venom and bile. The journal’s drawings, on the other hand, are his golden sun, his capacity for reverence. They’re intimate partly because he has four small sketches of his son Emil with different haircuts at different ages. The sketches appear to be drawn from memory. The drawing by a father of a son’s hair seems intimate.
A pencil drawing to me is usually more intimate than an ink drawing. Art critic John Berger says that drawing is like making notes, a step on its way to being something else. Sometimes. Other times drawing is the hand wanting to be lips, wanting to kiss. A light touch, intimating our fragility, how easily we’re erased.
Radio is more intimate to me than television or cinema because radio speaks directly to my ear. Is the ear not our most intimate erogenous organ? Theatre seems more intimate than film partly because the performing bodies on stage are real and the performing bodies on the screen are photographed and hence images of the real.
Wood generally feels more intimate than metal. My eldest grandson sometimes eats with bamboo chopsticks and sometimes with a metal spoon. The wooden instrument seems to enter his mouth more sensuously; it seems gentler, more pliant, closer to flesh.
Wood seems more intimate than stone. Wood has connections to the body. It has limbs, rings and a heart; it grows; it bleeds. Stone is cold, hard, unyielding. And yet, for me, stone is more intimate than wood because I associate it with my father. Stone calms me, reassures me, makes me feel at home. Like my father and his father, I was born under Belfast’s Black Mountain, and think of my father as stone: smooth, dark, eternal. Few sights delight me quite as much as a stone – water-washed, sundried, windblown – flecked with the scars of life.
Some disputes regarding intimacy are almost impossible to resolve. My wife regards the sound of the reed instruments – the woodwinds – as the most intimate experience in music; my friend Dale votes for the strings. For Dale, a hand plucking a string conjures immediate intimacy. For Cheryl, lips blowing into a reed is the ultimate intimacy, a kind of kiss, a re-enactment of the first act of creation when the Creator blows the world into being by His articulate breath.
J. S. Porter - www.spiritbookword.net §More columns by J. S. Porter
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"The civilized have created the wretched, quite coldly and deliberately, and do not intend to change the status quo; are responsible for their slaughter and enslavement; rain down bombs on defenseless children whenever and wherever they decide that their "vital interests" are menaced, and think nothing of torturing a man to death: these people are not to be taken seriously when they speak of the 'sanctity' of human life, or the 'conscience' of the civilized world." - James Baldwin, Source: page 489 of COLLECTED ESSAYS (1998), from chapter one of "The Devil Finds Work" (orig. pub. 1976)
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