31 March 2012

Hyperkulturemia and Duende

Defined as "a psychosomatic illness that causes rapid heartbeat, dizziness, fainting, confusion and even hallucinations when an individual is exposed to a large amount of beauty in one place," and also known as "Stendhal's Syndrome" and "Florence Syndrome," a naturopath friend told me that "hyperkulturemia" translates directly to mean "too much culture in the blood." In some writings, symptoms are extended to include depression and disenchantment that can come from returning home to an ugly place after experiencing the beauty of a place like Florence (Italy, not Oregon!)

I first experienced this when I was 17. I had partied all night with a bunch of older punks who worked at the same restaurant as me. Around 4am we decided to pile into somebody's Pontiac Firebird and drive from Long Beach out to Joshua Tree, about 3 hours away. We arrived as the sun was rising, and when we pulled into the jumbo rocks campground, I was overwhelmed by the beauty and strangeness of the giant stone formations. I kept saying "the rocks look fake!" And my friend Kirk kept saying, "No Heather, the rocks at Disneyland look real." It was a profound moment for me.

Several years later I took myself on a museum tour of Europe.  And although this "syndrome" is aptly called Florence Syndrome, my Italian experience of it was in Rome, when I first saw the Sistine Chapel. I had gotten up at dawn to get in line at the Vatican. I was about the 40th person into the museum, a massive labyrinth about 9 miles long (if you go into every salon.) I took the shortcuts and ran (as fast as the guards would let me) to the very end: The Capella Sistina.

29 March 2012

Self Portrait in 7 Levels

I have been working on the little box I got at the Goodwill, making a self portrait in seven levels. I researched the seven chakras, and in each little section of the piece, I am assembling a symbolic representation of seven aspects of myself as artist. I also like the number 7 because that's my birthday, July 7 (7-7; same day as Ringo Starr and Marc Chagall!). So it is a good number to use for a self portrait.

For each section, I am doing a short mediation on the nature of that chakra, and manifesting a background image in a different medium. Here are some photos of the work in progress, starting from the root:

1. Root Chakra, representing the earth element, my passions, and the gardener side of myself. For this section I made a lino-block print of a five-petaled flower, in tribute to the rose family which provides so much of our food. I colored in the background with colored pencil and painted over in acrylic.

2. Base Chakra, representing water, creativity, and the side of myself that loves to paint. It is curious that I did not realize this chakra existed until I began this project, and yet I am considered a very "watery" person. More on that, later. For this section I painted a tiny self portrait in oil, with a field of marigolds in the background.

3. Solar Plexus Chakra, representing fire, energy, and those more practical things that I do with my hands, such as ceramics, sculpture, mask-making, jewelry-making, sewing, etc. I used the Hand of Fatima image in this section because it is a symbol that comes up in all aspects of my life. I drew and colored it with pencils.

4. Heart Chakra, representing air, touch, trust, and the side of myself that is a dancer. For me, dancing is all about opening your heart, trusting yourself, letting go of the need to keep defenses. For this section I made a stencil of an abstract heart with wings, printed it onto the linen paper, colored it with pencil, and painted over that with acrylic.

5. Throat Chakra, representing ether, sound, communication, and the musical part of me. I sketched a graphic that implies a banjo, and will paint it in acrylic. I envision installing a tiny audio player so that people can push a button and hear a sample of my work.

6. Third Eye Chakra, representing intuition, wisdom, and my writerly nature. So many aspects of myself come out through my writing that I couldn't settle on a symbolic image other than that of the eye, with my own shape reflected in the iris an and eight-pointed lotus around it to represent the crossroads at which I so often find myself. I drew this image in ink, colored in with pencil, and added acrylic paint some sections.

7. The wooden shelf I started with only has six sections, so I needed to create a seventh level to accommodate the crown. I built a little shrine for the crown in papier-mache and painted it in acrylic. Then I made a little paper flower with seven petals, and glued it in.

I also wanted to associate each of the seven sections with a different aspect of my genetic and cultural self: Mexican, Spanish, Cree, Chihuahua, Irish, French and American. Further, I want to infuse symbols that speak of the seven virtues/vices...I haven't quite figured out how to incorporate it all just yet...

26 March 2012

Cthulhu, The Birds, and Exquisite Corpse

I have started this inquiry into ecorevelatory arts, and am casting a wide net. Sure, Andy Goldsworthy and the green building movement are obvious examples.

But also, I have been thinking a lot about how stories like Lovecraft's Cthulhu and Hitchcock's The Birds are also ecorevelatory, in that they take humans out of the center of things. I am curious about this exploration, this direction of it. I am curious about the monsters.

23 March 2012

Painting down the bones

I've been reading Natalie Goldberg. She wants me to write about the light coming in my window. The windows in my new apartment are old and get covered with condensation and it drips down onto the windowsill and then onto my bed. I don't mind. I like living alone. The price is right and, though north-facing, my apartment gets a ton of light. I'm not crazy about the neighborhood but I am revelling in the sanctity of this little apartment; having a place to work, to write, to host friends and lovers. It makes me feel like a grown up. I guess it seems ridiculous to say that at forty years old but I'm just now starting to feel like an adult. I feel capable and willing to do something meaningful with my life.

When I was in my twenties and an activist, I talked a lot about meaning and empowerment but there was so much ego in front of it. I was always trying to prove something. Now my actions feel like they are infused with actual meaning in themselves. It's not about proving anything to anyone it's just about doing the act.

(So I wrote the exercise above, from page 20 of Writing Down the Bones, using dictation software for the first time! It was super fun and reasonably accurate. )

I spent the day painting. My friend Eric came over this morning and we chatted while I put the finishing touches on a portrait of him I started five years ago. I used copal resin as a medium for the oil paint. I had never used it before and it opened up a whole new world. Normally I don't do such accurate portraits, but this one came out easy. After he left I just painted and painted. It has been a really long time since I painted all day. I feel blissed out now! And spent.

The first picture is what it looked like this morning, second picture what it looks like now.

20 March 2012

Design a Recliner

I took the day off from studies. Well, kinda. I met with Susie Low-Beer about doing a mandala garden in her front yard as part of the Village Building Convergence in May. I am going to design and install the garden for her and teach a workshop.

Today Susie and I came up with a plan to do a yin-yang garden, filled with medicinals and surrounded by fruits like figs, kiwi, currants. I think it is going to be a lot of fun!

We are also going to do a sister-workshop at Brenna's house, part of the Portland Collective Housing project. It will be interesting because the microclimates of the two sites are very different but both households want attractive, productive perennial gardens. More to come on that one...

Today I went down to the farm and picked up a few things. I miss being out in the country, chopping wood, hanging out with little baby plants all day. Agriculture makes these rainy days of early spring go by so fast. Hopefully the Equinox will bring some sunshine.

17 March 2012

Down the Rabbit Hole

The books about crazy people came today. I am diving into an inquiry into the connections between Art and Madness. Wish me luck....

16 March 2012

The Icarus Project

I stayed up late last night reading articles from the Icarus Project. I was inspired by that facebook discussion, and especially about how Kehben was saying that the audience for your art becomes the grounding point for it. Fascinating. and the Icarus Project seems to harbor some great writers as well. I found the following several to be especially interesting, and I liked learning about tools for helping others (and yourself) navigate through a "madness process."

Art Journaling by Fly

An Integrative Approach To Transformative Madness by Michael Cornwall

Somatic Experiencing and the Roots of Our Illness

Focusing: Felt Sense Meditation