A heartbeat, heard from a distance
Maggie Carson Romano’s Essay in response to Chantal Anderson’s exhibit ‘Rivers’
Images by Chantal Anderson
From the entryway of Vignettes, I was met with sounds of rushing water and far off, a distant drumming, which as I entered the room, revealed itself as a heartbeat, collapsing the space I had begun to imagine. We know, inherently, that a heartbeat is never heard from a distance. The sound then shifted back to the rushing of water as my eyes focused on the light source in the room, a video projection of an almost kaleidoscopic, shifting gaze of rushing water. The frame rested my view up river and framed it with channels of water flowing backward at its edges, the perspective occasionally shifting me closer to the water. The heartbeat returned.
This was where Chantal Anderson had unfolded her record of the conflict at Standing Rock on the walls and windows of Vignettes. I had arrived with only a surface, faceless understanding of the protest, that the Standing Rock Sioux tribe was protecting the cleanliness & sacredness of the river from being threatened by a new route of the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
In the room adjacent to the video, I was given faces. Black and white film photographs lined the walls depicting the perilous landscape of Standing Rock. I found myself meeting eyes with a woman as she braided her hair. I paused with a family on their way to fill a water jug. I observed broken reeds rising above moving water. I found myself transported without having trespassed into this sacred space. Here, Chantal informed me through the gaze of her subjects with careful intention. Her photographs spoke of their trust and permission for me know their stories. I was not a voyeur, instead, the figures in the images arrested me while they conveyed their purpose through the details of their surroundings.
The scenes before me described a truthful nativity that clears notions of the historically reduced, distanced, simplified Native American by situating them within a destabilized norm, one that looks far different than my reality and yet, provides compelling moments of cultural overlap, that once noticed cannot be ignored. The hood of a mustang appears in the edge of one frame, the silhouette of a port-a-potty looms on the horizon in another, placing the figures in the foreground here, not in some far off land but here in our shared world.
I felt a current of potent sacredness running through her photographs – presenting the rare value of physical purity in an emerging post-truth era that disregards historical promises. This work reminded me that when the core values held by one people is disregarded by another, profanity threatens the roots of our shared humanity, the strength of a foundation and a promise of a shared future. The protest at Standing Rock has been a request for the preservation of human, environmental, religious and historical rights — all stemming from the sacredness of water. Chantal’s aim was to illuminate this by reminding us of its universal value, allowing the river to play it’s many roles throughout the show.
This protest can be seen as the dawn of an awakening. As our nation rediscovers the value of protest, we must sharpen our tongues not only to be heard, but to fill the space created by ignorance with empathy and education. Empathy cannot be reached without first finding understanding. It is not enough to gather, truth must be used to collapse space. Chantal’s work brought each of these elements together, drawing connections that allow their purpose and struggle to become ours, connecting us with the strength of a natural emotional force.
As I left the show, I paused to observe the looping projection of the river, as it shone out into the night from a window above. I saw it as a marquee announcing the presence of a movement maintaining force – slow, constant, and powerful. The sound of the river was still in my ears as I walked up the hill, and then, also, a heartbeat.
Rumi Koshino | Red and Blue
Essay by Colter Jacobsen | Photographs by Maggie Carson Romano
Drawing and painting can be a very intimate thing. I found myself thinking this at a recent music show where the artist Rumi Koshino was projecting a collaborative video accompanying live music. A video camera had been set up to record in real-time Rumi’s watercolor composition while she painted slowly and deliberately. The live-feed was projected behind the musicians onto an accordion-like backdrop reminiscent of a Japanese screen.
There was something absolutely hypnotic about watching one color run into another. A red brush stroke slides across the paper, meeting a blue brush stroke. The two rivers collide in cataclysmic purple. It’s a gesture made by an artist but nature takes over in the wake. The surface of paper becomes a floodplain where the edges of least resistance burst into expanding rivulets.
I noticed that Rumi seemed unconcerned with the final outcome of the image: she used liberal amounts of water. Her marks felt close to music, a present-tense gesture/mark of the moment. I read into the two colliding colors as human relationships. I fell in love with a brush mark that was suddenly obliterated by a grey pool…jolted by the fleeting moment of it.
How quickly we, as viewers, read into the marks and movement. Every mark is a decision, every nuance is connected to a brain synapse. And it’s this exchange, from the artist’s synapse onto a picture-plain to our receiving synapse, which is so mysterious. What is it about our human nature that projects narrative and emotions from simple colors, shapes and lines? I am reminded of the poet Philip Whalen describing his own poetry as “a picture or a graph of a mind moving, which is a world body being here and now which is history…and you.” The dual projections of sending forth and receiving go back even earlier than shadows bouncing on Plato’s cave.
The word project comes from the Latin, projectum from the Latin verb proicere “before an action” while projection (mid 16th century) has the same Latin root as project, yet it’s meaning is to “throw forth.”
I think of the tapa cloth drawings by women of the Maisin tribe of Papua New Guinea. They don’t have a word for art, per se. The closest word they have is Saraman, meaning “think & do.”
Rumi recently completed a project that consisted of making one drawing per day for 100 consecutive days. In a Facebook post, she stated, “I started my first 100-day (sculpture) project on this day, February 18th, 2015, prompted by Debra Baxter. Somehow, it feels perfect to finish my second 100-day (drawing) project on the same day, a year later, completing a circle.”
From such an approach, certain qualities tend to come to the forefront: looseness, lightness, quickness (see the first essay in Italo Calvino’s Six Memos for a Next Millennium). A daily practice also keeps your chops up.
Rumi has lived in San Francisco for about two years. She moved from having a large live-work space all to herself in Seattle to a flat in San Francisco with three roommates. She has a small room and one closet. All this to say that she has substantially downsized. There is a new economy to her drawings. The word economy comes from the Greek, meaning “household management.” Can this system of daily drawing be a way to keep order in her household, and for her general mental stability? Even with such a small amount of space, her room still feels sparse. Only a few of her 100 drawings are displayed at one time. All of her “sculptures,” most of which were collapsible and made of paper, are tucked away somewhere.
Through the 20-something years that I’ve know Rumi, I’ve seen her work morph into all kinds of different sizes, shapes and themes. But even small, the scale can feel gigantic.
I remember the earliest works I saw of Rumi’s depicted very basic things: toes of a foot, a light switch, a house or I should say a home. Dwelling on the theme of home certainly made a lot of sense seeing that she had just left Japan to study in the U.S.
One particular painting I recall was a line of various colors in the shape of a rectangle that ran along the border of a rectangular white canvas. She said the line represented a road trip she had taken and each color represented a part of the trip. This road trip still lingers in my mind as a wonderful alternative to mapping time and space. I see it again in several of her 100 drawings.
Later came ladders and then bridges, many bridges, broken bridges, bridges that led from nowhere to nowhere, emerging out of an ocean, taking the viewer from one area of water to another area of water. The bridges of two cultures seemed the obvious metaphor though the more she built them, the more I think they actually were about the bridges of relationships, the bridges between any two people, no matter their culture, trying to communicate with each other.
The bridges eventually disappeared as if completely consumed by the ocean. And only the marks of water remained, vast oceans of marks. For her final show in Seattle she invited friends over to cut out envelopes from a very large-scale drawing of an ocean surface. The envelope, as an abstract bridge of distance, from a here to a there, is also a gesture of giving that, in turn, implies a return.
She can effortlessly alternate between abstraction and representation, the two often in dialogue with each other. This can also be said of her 2-dimensional work and her sculptural work. Both point back at each other. A drawing seems to play with being 3-D while a sculpture flirts with 2-Dimensions.
Since moving to the Bay, Rumi has been a little more light and playful. She tends to absorb her surroundings. Her skin membrane is porous. Patterns from her environs find their way into her drawings while strange interior, cellular-like shapes float in to disrupt the patterns. The ocean is still hanging out too, sometimes in the shape of drapes while clouds float through doors. And triangles continue to hint at envelopes, circles designate absence or eyes while pairs and symmetry are never too far off…
When I first met Rumi in a Color/Light/and Theory class, I remember looking at an art work with her. In the composition were two squares, one blue, the other red. We were casually talking about the piece when she pointed to the blue square and said “red.” It
was her first year in the States and I assumed that she was still acquiring her English skills. So I corrected her and said “blue.” She shook her head and again said “red.” About to repeat my blue, I took a look at her straight face. It finally eased into a smile and again, she said “red.” She was playing with me. Not only were her English skills advanced, but she was turning the world on its head.
Maggie Carson Romano // WELL
at Glass Box Gallery
January 9, 2016
The benefits of erasure / passing time’s starring role in the process of healing / forgetting / remembering / the ebb and flow of losses and gains when wellness is no longer effortless / the tenderness needed for extreme care.
Maggie Carson Romano | Of Light and Weight
HANDLE WITH CARE
Maggie Carson Romano
featuring Adam Boehmer
September 10, 2013