Over a long period of time I've noticed an interesting aspect of my art practice that has progressively seeped into the day-to-day work in the studio. To put it simply, ritual has come to increasingly define how I approach even the simplest of activities. This hasn't come about by conscious intention; rather, it seems to have gradually grown into the fabric of my activities without my noticing, until one day it dawned on me what had happened.
To illustrate what I mean by this I'll need to reintroduce a couple of characters I've labeled as holons, the ones that help to make up the holarchy that binds together my particular self-sense. As you may remember, the world of my art practice, the creative alchemical world, is the world of Big Jeff. He's the intuitive magician who somehow reaches into mysterious realms and pulls out dazzling and completely unexpected objects of wonder. Little jeffy, inhabitant of the common, mundane world, has no idea how he does it, but the little guy is along for the ride. You might call him the studio assistant. He has the physical skills, the rational problem solving strengths, the sheer determination and willpower to get Big Jeff to the studio every day. He also sweeps the floors.
In my particular practice these two characters work hand-in-hand; it's a nice symbiotic relationship. Much of the work they do in the actual production of artworks is, as it turns out, rather mundane and tedious. For instance, while working with spools of thread on painted board there is a tendency for the threads to slide uncontrollably down the side when placed at a steep angle to the edge. To solve this problem the first solution was to rough the edges of the board with 40 grit sandpaper, creating a tooth to hold the threads in place. This worked to some degree, but was ultimately inadequate and so a new solution had to be found. What was finally arrived at was the use of a very small, thin-bladed wood saw to cut tiny slits into the edges of the board, slits no more than 1/16 of an inch apart. The threads slip into the slits, holding them in place.
As you might imagine this can be very monotonous work. At 16 cuts per inch the average artwork of 200 inch circumference requires 3200 tiny cuts. Very carefully placed. Guess who does that work? Of course, that's little jeffy's job, the studio assistant. Little jeffy was not happy with that job in the beginning - tedious, repetitive work requiring intense concentration. To make matters worse, little jeffy's mind tends to wander as he worries about common mundane things like paying the rent, or what groceries to buy, or whether lentil soup is best with or without tomato sauce. In other words, the common, mundane world tends to follow him around, even in the studio.
But little jeffy is the problem solver, and solve it he did. The solution came in the form of an audio CD called 'Shamanic Drumming', which consists of two tracks, the first a recording of one drummer on an indigenous drum of some sort pounding out a steady, flat rhythm - dum dum dum dum dum dum - for 30 minutes, much like one would hear in a shamanic ritual performed by an indigenous tribe. The second track is two drums, same flat rhythm at a similar speed of about 120 beats per minute, which apparently is the range used by indigenous tribes around the globe. The idea is to induce a kind of concentrated trance. Little jeffy turns on the CD, takes to his little saw and cuts the tiny slits in pace with the drumming, about one cut per 2 beats. In a few minutes he's in a trance, and Voila! We have a ritual.
Big Jeff has his own rituals, though they are oriented toward aiding him in reaching dimensions of mystery where he plays his creative alchemy. One of the rituals I've developed for him consists of a small altar just inside the door of my working studio. Central to the altar is a Tibetan singing bowl, one with a rich sound and long period of resonance. Next to it is a hand-wrought wooden handle wrapped at the end with fabric, for the purpose of striking the bowl. Arranged in front of the bowl are three images on postcards of artworks of mine, each image representing for me one of the three holons that make up the holarchy of my self-sense - little jeffy; Big Jeff; The Unborn. When I've settled into my studio for a day of work, before any creative activity begins, I perform a benediction of sorts - I first place a hand on the image representing little jeffy, acknowledge his place in the holarchy and the value he brings, then I strike the bowl, focusing intently on the reverberating sound as it slowly fades. Then I follow suit with Big Jeff, and follow that with The Unborn. Finally I strike the bowl and stretch both hands over all of the images, acknowledging the holarchy of my self-sense and its structure that holds it all together. All of this is a very centering, very calming ritualistic start to my creative day.
I recently found a new use for my singing bowl altar, and here is where my tale begins:
Lately, in my guise as little jeffy, I have been going through a tough period in the common, mundane world - several rejections for possible exhibitions; a big art installation job vanishing with no explanation; a colleague getting extremely upset with me over an imagined insult; and on, and on, and on. One of those periods we all go through from time to time when it seems the universe is piling it on. Mostly we just tough it out and things pass, but one incident got to me, the proverbial straw on the camel's back.
I was working on an art installation job in a new apartment complex with 3 other fellows. I've worked with these guys in the past and we've gotten along fine together. I don't know them real well but I've considered them decent folk and good workers, which I respect, though they are not the types I would likely befriend outside work. As is usual out in the field we went to lunch together, and while sitting at the restaurant the talk turned to politics and recent events. And that's when the camel's back broke. But that will have to wait till next time.
To be continued...