Friday, June 27, 2014

Layers of Meaning

Our last Artists' Lab of the year. I flashback on long ago school years rolling to an end. An ending yes, but always with a new beginning in the fall. Just as then we know we will see most of our group again with a few new faces. The new of last year are now familiar friends, how quickly we melded into one group. I look around fondly at these now familiar faces, grateful for their company on this journey.

We still have the readings at our closing, but this was the end of our sessions for the 2013/2014 lab year. Meryll led us in an exploration that she prefaced as difficult, reminding us of how many of us used our art to approach difficult subjects or faced the difficulty of a new medium or approach. A pearl formed from sand, from friction and irritation. With that intro I was bracing myself as she referred us to Isaiah 49:6. I will give you "for a light of the nations". Ah, the chosen people. Are we in fact chosen? And if so, for what?

We shift in our seats in discomfort in response to this divisive concept, protesting that everyone feels they are unique. We have no monopoly on uniqueness. "A" light of the nations, not "the" light. Many Jewish groups reject the language of "chosen" people. What does "chosen" actually mean? Perhaps we choose to be Jewish even when it would be far easier to blend in with our Christian society.

Our discussion soon veered to our identification with other Jews. How we wince when a Jew behaves badly, the Madoff effect. An embarrassment to the family. We expect better, but we have our scoundrels as well as our saints. Can Jews have saints? Perhaps "mensches". We take secret pleasure in the countless Jews who have advanced our society, the disproportionate numbers on Nobel Prize lists. Twenty-two percent, but who's counting. Lutherans or Methodists don't swell with pride or wince with embarrassment at the actions of their brethren, do they? Perhaps not uniquely Jewish, but certainly unique to the visibility that accompanies minority populations.

Many expressed the feeling that Israel is held to a higher standard than its neighbors. Other countries aren't expected to return territory won when attacked. We hear nothing of the over 800,000 Jewish refugees from Arab lands. There is a sense of unfairness as we observe different treatment and expectations. Ah, but our time for discussion is up and we've not yet solved the Middle East dilemma.

It is time to shift to our closing ritual. We move to the gallery and each artist gets a few minutes to talk about their work. First a thank you to Robyn for all the amazing work that she has done to manage this process, a contribution to the gallery in her name.

Many of us have made several visits already. There is so much depth and thought in this exhibit, it helps to absorb a little at a time. For the first time I notice the byproduct of Jon's piece, the beautiful light it casts on the ceiling. One must look in all directions for enlightenment.

The artist speaking of their work adds a dimension. We are curious about technical details. Paula, what paint did you use on your photographs? Toni, what dye did you use for your beautiful sun? And did you dress to coordinate with your art?

We are also intrigued by the artist experience when something doesn't quite work as they envision. Ann talked of how she reworked her photograph on aluminum. Rani talked of recutting her exquisite pages when distraction resulted in error. Leah wasn't quite satisfied with the integration of the elements in her delicate hanging forms. There is an element of both struggle and discovery in all of our work.

We each had an opportunity to place one word by each artwork, a reaction to the artist or their work. I found myself thinking about whether one word might apply to the exhibition in total. Layered, I thought. There are many layers of both meaning and process. That is a word that would work for each and every piece.


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