Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Beauty out of Breakage: Filling the Cracks

by Susan Weinberg

How to start? We met today to find the answers to that question. We will be partnering with a young adult of a different generation than ourself, to explore the concepts of brokenness and wholeness. We will meet both as a lab, but also separately with our partner. It will culminate in the creation of artwork for a virtual and possibly in-person exhibition. We will be working across generations and often geography. Some of us know our partners or at least have a familial connection. Others do not. How will that affect the result?

Hevruta is a traditional form of Jewish learning, learning in partnership. This was to be a partnership, not a mentorship. We will learn from each other. Meryll reminded us of the confidentiality that we agreed to at the beginning of the lab and to consider establishing ground rules in our partnerships. She cautioned against promoting a point of view. There were questions about whether we created one piece together, two pieces in conversation or separate pieces. All and any of the above was the answer. Technology will allow us to share ideas and potentially incorporate them into one artwork if desired. 

We will meet again November 17th as a lab and meet with our partner(s) by December 14th. You will note partners plural as I am working with two granddaughters who are close in age, 15 and 16. Both are now in California so I have a geographic span as well. We are a bit broken as a family at the moment, at least by geography, as the remaining half of our family recently moved to California joining family members across the country. We look for ways to navigate that distance so I welcome this project as a means to unite us in conversation.


This age group was selected because they would have the ability to go beyond the literal into metaphor, a skill which comes with age. Meryll pointed us to a quote on Noah’s ark and discussed how younger children would understand it in a much more literal way. Then she segued into that metaphorical Noah's ark which we all occupy as  we attempt to evade the covid virus, seeking a place of safety and wondering when we can step out on solid ground again. We await the return of our dove.


To get our wheels spinning, Meryll provided us with a source sheet with four different beginnings. She began with a quote “There is nothing more whole than a broken heart,” then asked us to share our reactions. Some noted the difference between two states, whole and broken, and the need to experience each to understand them. Others spoke of vulnerability and how it opens us up to a full spectrum of feeling, making us fully present. Some were touched, recalling such experiences within their own lives on a visceral level. The homonym of whole and hole was suggested for contemplation and Leonard Cohen’s lyric was recalled---“the bell is cracked ---That’s how the light gets in.” 


A second pathway to this topic is through word analysis. This is a gateway that I often use as it prods me to think more broadly and begin to build word maps of associated concepts. While I default to English for lack of any fluency in Hebrew, I am always interested in the Hebrew roots. The Hebrew for wholeness is shalam, derived from the same root as sholom, meaning peace. It is an interesting correlation to our expression “peace of mind.”  


The third approach is brainstorming and Meryll presented a number of suggestions in the handout (Brokenness-Wholeness -SourceSheet-4Beginnings) such as Jewish rituals, history, prayers and laws related to breaking and wholeness as well as contemporary issues such as Israeli politics. I was especially intrigued with her comments on the shofar call, one of which is a series of broken notes. The shofar breaks the silence, calling us to attention. Perhaps that is the purpose of brokenness, to get our attention.


A fourth direction is through art forms. Those include mosaic, but also those which have an accompanying philosophical element such as kintsugi and wabi-sabi.  Kintsugi takes broken pottery and emphasizes the break by filling the cracks with resin and powdered gold creating something of beauty out of breakage.  Andrea Mantovani speaks of it as “an art form born from   mottainai — the feeling of regret when something is wasted — and mushin, the need to accept change.”


Wabi-sabi is a related concept that finds beauty in imperfection. It is captured within a piece that Yoko Ono did called Mend Piece, no doubt another homonym with “peace.”

And so we begin . . .