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Marking the Infinite and Other Essential Tasks

Here are a some things I’ve wanted to share, some images and thoughts, inspired by a couple of recent exhibitions:

“…the purpose of an artist is to reveal this presence of consciousness through the medium of the senses. So in this respect the artist has a special responsibility. A mystic’s job is to explore the nature of reality, but more is required of the artist. He or she has to simultaneously make manifest the ongoing results of this inquiry in form. So the role of the artist is to provide a way that this presence can be approached and experienced through the senses. ” — Rupert Spira, from Consciousness and the Role of the Artist

“…what all potent, sacred cultural objects have been throughout time: not a representation or picture but the very means to an awakened consciousness… Consciousness demands attention to the world and to ourselves, not as two halves but as one. Consciousness is required to address the perpetual call to care.” — Mary Jane Jacob, from Encountering the Spiritual in Contemporary Art

A couple of weeks ago I flew into Washington D.C. to see the Cezanne portrait exhibition at the National Gallery. After going to the Cezanne show in the morning, in the afternoon we went over to the Phillips Collection. Besides their permanent collection we wanted to see the exhibition Marking the Infinite (on until September 9th), works by contemporary Aboriginal women artists, Nonggirrnga Marawili, Wintjiya Napaltjarri, Yukultji Napangati, Angelina Pwerle, Carlene West, Regina Pilawuk Wilson, Lena Yarinkura, Gulumbu Yunupingu, and Nyapanyapa Yunupingu. By the end of the day I had a distinct feeling that the world had been turned inside out. I was awestruck and my mind was more than a little blown. Both Cezanne and these Aboriginal artists brought forth work that turned the world inside out.

It wasn’t a situation of this art, these objects, leading my mind to awareness, but rather consciousness turning itself into stuff, into matter, into form. That’s all. It’s just these artists seem to know it.

These photographic images cannot begin to communicate these objects’ power. From the catalog for Marking the Infinite:

“This is an exhibition about the intimate and the infinite: about the tiniest fruits of the earth and the stars above; about a single stitch, and the great web of creation; about the simple passage of a brush across canvas, and the unfolding eternity of being…

“Over the past three decades, women artists from Aboriginal Australia have provided some of the most compelling and prescient examples of…world-picturing. From the most unlikely of places — tiny remote communities dotted across Australia’s deserts and tropical north– a clarion call has sounded for the unique perspectives and wisdom of the peripheries. It is no surprise to learn that the nine artists in Marking the Infinite are also matriarchs in their communities: grandmothers, mothers, aunts, and sisters. They are wise women who have spent a lifetime carefully observing the world, while they undertook the often thankless tasks of caring for family, community, and country. These women are well primed to comment on our times, for they have dedicated their lives to the quiet, dignified work of holding together the world.”

–Henry F. Skerritt, Curator For our times.



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