Wednesday, December 1, 2010

your thoughts, like stars (a review)

another review of a recent exhibition (you can see a video of the work here). a careful and engaged reading.

your thoughts, like stars: my thoughts

Edward van Vliet likes to chew long and hard on words, like beef jerky. His words often seem as innumerable as the stars. He is the most frequent commenter on this blog and you will find his thoughts salting the faith and art blogosphere under the name of etechne. Van Vliet is a man of many words, and I wonder if he isn’t obsessed with their power. It is no wonder then that Edward van Vliet’s current exhibition, your thoughts, like stars, presents four installations orbiting the power of words and the thoughts they carry.

Anyone who has followed van Vliet’s work will find familiar images and themes. Books play a large part. recipes for kneeling (version 2), revisits the illuminated books and kneeling cushions of earlier installations at the Fringe Gallery. (between), a smaller installation, features a single book, half buried, fossil-like, in a mound of glittering sand. The imagery for the weight of things brings an explosively expanded vision to imagery created for his NAESS show, i’m not finished yet and whisper before that. Text is again laid over the nebulous wonder of outer space. Edward also returns to his love for viewer participation and feedback, this time inviting his “readers” to create a page for a yet another book by reflecting on the significance of a single block of color (red, blue or green).

While much is familiar, none of it feels repeated. The exhibit as a whole is surprisingly fresh and bold. It is the show one would hope to have evolved and grown from the sprouts of past efforts. Each piece builds upon and enlarges an earlier concept.

Taken as a whole, the show weaves a thread of contemplation, wonder and ultimately action. We are not here to simply look. We are here to think. We should wrestle and, if van Vliet would have his way, act in some way. Not counting viewer contributions, which continue to increase at this writing, van Vliet has presented us with 113 “thoughts” in total here. The cumulative effect is both overwhelming awe and the inability to focus in one particular direction. There is a paradox on display. The phrases offered read as timeless truths, and the images van Vliet evokes, from the expansive universe, the vast seas and countless sand on a shore to ancient books and inverted Albrecht Durer etchings of the Apocalypse, draw us into a transcendent timeline. But the collection of so many thoughts in one small space feels more suited to the bite sized attention span of internet information addicts. How do we make sense of all this knowledge? How do we catalogue and process the wisdom of the ages? Perhaps this is the thought behind the title for the weight of things. Are we to view all 100 thoughts, displayed like polaroids, in one go, or are we better to sit with just one?

After taking in the whole, one does well to sit with each part and reflect. I began with the weight of things., where “thoughts” are rooted to sculpted bases, white and porous as sand dollars in the sea. The pieces pinwheel out from the center into five tentacle-like arms, also evoking a sand dollar. These arms seem to be moving, reaching to pull us inside, towards some center. Knowing van Vliet’s faith, I’d guess that centre is the very heart and mind of God. I walked the length of each arm, one by one, letting each thought sink as far as I could in a short span of time. By the end I did feel the weight of things. At times encouraged, at times convicted, each phrase leaves little room for complacent comfort. Some soothe, but in surprising ways. Each phrase and image creates a world we could lose ourselves in. We could dive inside that expansive space and get to work kneading the wisdom of these words into our lives. But, as all to often happens, we must soon change the channel and move on.

I continued to recipes for kneeling (version 2), where 12 illuminated books hung low, awaiting my kneeling gaze. I approached each cushion and opened covers to reveal beautiful woodcuts, inverted to appear harsh and dark. The covers were notably more drab than those in van Vliet’s previous show. The images inside have no color or gradation. Black and white alone convey a sense of absolutes. The font used on these pieces feels as old as the woodcuts themselves, a gothic script spelling out messages that are immediately jarring. I am being watched. There is power in my tongue. I begin to feel I am part of the battle depicted in these dramatic scenes of Apocalypse. My actions here and now are tied to then and there. What I do and what I say is of eternal importance, and it also matters today. Twelve is an easier number to digest than 100, and so this piece comes together for me, clearer than whole of The Weight of Things. I feel an urgency.

I move on to the space between, where the focus narrows onto one single book, unearthed part way from a pile of sand, like a fossil from a sea shore. I cannot help but notice the sparkle of the sand, its thousands upon thousands of tiny pieces mirroring the titular stars of the whole exhibit. On the book’s cover a single skeletal torso is overlaid with flaming red and the words “made of earth/made of stars” (the latter half printed upside down and backwards). This piece feels ancient, organic and intimate. Something of our true origin and nature is to be discovered. This torso would house and protect a heart. A heart born of the earth, and yet beyond. A heart to house the countless thoughts on display. Perhaps to act before the tide comes in to wash away this moment. the space between somehow touches me most deeply of all four installations. It somehow gives me hope that I am more than dust.

And now it is time to add my own contribution, as I move to [NAME THIS], where I am invited to write my reflections on a primary color. I choose red. I think of the fear and pain and passion of loving. I think of myself undone, broken and transformed by love. It’s a good place for an art show to have brought me.

I leave awash in thoughts of beach, sea and stars. A million points of light that can illuminate as well as burn. A million points of light spanning time and space. Dying out. Being born again. Without seeing Christ, or reading His name, I have been drawn to Him.

I leave in the grip of the Thinker, whose “thoughts, like stars” keep me moving.

review by dave von bieker


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