Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Deep Waters

Joint Session 4/28/15 by Susan Weinberg
Our session began with a question posed by Rabbi Davis on doubt. Do we feel doubt as an artist? Many of us spoke of the self-doubt we experience when going public, when viewing the work of a talented artist or when seeking validation in a profession that doesn’t always get recognized as “real work”.

“How can we not feel doubt?” I thought. Artwork is so interwoven with who we are. It is not something that can easily be disassociated from its creator. While we savor the occasional success by whatever measure we define success, not everything we do achieves that level. I often remind myself that I’m in process as are my artworks. The mythical pinnacle that exists in my head is something that I may not achieve in this lifetime. Instead I must accept that doubt is part of the process.

We turned our attention to some midrashim that examine doubt. One explored the binding of Isaac and introduces Satan to sow doubts within Abraham on his journey to Mount Horeb. Satan turns himself into an old man, a young man and finally a wide stream that Abraham must cross on his way to Mount Horeb. Each time he tries to dissuade Abraham from following God's command to sacrifice his son, an argument that sounds quite plausible to modern sensibilities. As Abraham reaches the middle of the stream, the water rises to his neck and he calls out to God. “I am come into deep waters (Ps 69:3). If either I or Isaac were to drown, who will fulfill Your commands, and by whom will the uniqueness of Your Name be proclaimed?” (Midrash Tanhuma, Va-yera’22). It is at this juncture that God reassures him and causes the stream to dry up.

Even as we discussed this stream of life or death we were distracted by a stream of people gathering outside, a funeral. Nearby children played. Surrounded by streams of life and death, we live in the midst.

An 18th century Chassidic text is related by Rabbi Moshe Hayyim Effrayim, grandson of the Baal Shem Tov. The Barriers to the Palace tells of a king who constructed a network of barriers to his palace. Illusions of walls, fire and rivers blocked the way, but disappeared when his son plunged into the river. What are we to make of these stories?

Our theme of water represents doubt, a barrier, and calls upon us to sink or swim or perhaps just float. We spoke of diving into doubt as a pathway. In any case we must confront it and work with it to get to the other side. It was observed that 98% of our body is water, yet we think of ourselves as solid, an illusion we live with daily. The divine is present in everything, even barriers to God or to our artistic path. There is holiness in doubt. It is the pause that forces us to reassess, to clarify our purpose and our direction. To question and reaffirm our path.

Alison being water
For the second portion of our session Liba proposed an exercise to talk about the work that we are creating for our exhibition. We broke into groups and were charged with speaking about our work as if we were our work, actually living within the piece. For example, I spoke of being a river of memory, constrained by my banks, layered, changing and a bit omnipotent as I flooded my banks, destroying the land mass that I had shaped. It was an interesting exercise in giving voice to our work quite literally. It reminded me a bit of dream analysis where you project yourself into the elements of your dream. In this case we took our work which is truly a reflection of ourselves and imagined what it would be to actually be the work.

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