I've just taken the opportunity to submit a group of eleven of my photographs to Dek Unu, an online photography magazine. I was attracted by the verbiage in the "Call for Submissions," which instructed applicants to "use the... commentary to tell your story in detail. We are about art and artists so mention anything you believe is important or interesting about your series, your practice, your life, in and out of the arts." I couldn't pass up that kind of invitation, to consider it all so holistically!
I've decided to share what I submitted with the application. Submissions were to include a personal biography and project description, and what follows is in that format. I'm posting the images I selected, plus a few others that didn't make the final cut. (Some of these photos may have appeared in this He[art]Space previously, but I decided to include the whole set.)
Being asked to put all this in words was a challenge, but a very good one, since this kind of articulation is in itself a clarification. I liked having to talk about my broader life and my art in a single contextual whole. I welcome any feedback or responses.
I am a mixed media artist, a writer, a teacher, a workshop leader, and (in often less-than- obvious ways) a healer. I am also a scholar, with a PhD in design history and decades of experience teaching design and design history—appreciation for and understanding of global artisanry, textiles, intimate objects, ritual objects, and many other forms of material culture. None of the things I do—art, teaching, writing, sitting with individuals as a hospice volunteer or end-of-life doula—is primarily concerned with concepts; rather, I am interested in energies, essences, and interconnections. My work is idiosyncratic and hard to label—it is pulling from intuitive, superconscious realms.
Most of my visual art draws on reconfiguration—of forms, materials, textures, and images. While I was trained as a fiber artist and do integrate fiber in my work, I mostly now do collage and assemblage sculpture, typically incorporating natural detritus like bones, shells, and pods. I become intimate with my environments and their elements. While I spent most of my life getting to know northern lakes and woodlands, I currently live in semi-tropical southwest Florida, by the ocean. My dimensional pieces thus include everything from whitetail deer hooves to armadillo shells to bird beaks to fish tails, all of which are given a kind of new embodiment in my sculpted and flat work. The figures function almost as a kind of shamanic presence, invoking something from another world or dimension. Photographs are another form of expression for me (see Project Commentary), and these also involve reconfiguration and connection with the environment
Viewers are sometimes taken aback by my artwork, because it often engenders a kind of double-take: what is that? What is it made of, or what exactly are we looking at? I appreciate that response, because I want the work to further viewers’ sense of wonder and curiosity. I want people to “see with new eyes,” to sense rather than think. I want them to get energy from my work, and to feel a kind of quickening. I want them to connect with the incredible form and ingenuity of nature, and to become excited about the world around them. I want the pieces to evoke what can’t quite be named or consciously understood—something evanescent.
This interest in connecting with the evanescent inner light pervades everything I do. For example, I lead workshops designed to help others enter that same space. I am a facilitator of the SoulCollage® process, which uses recombining printed images as a way into self-discovery and spiritual alignment. I facilitate “Writing From the Inside Out” and “Deep Soul Writing” workshops (since Covid, I have been hosting these online, and have groups that have been faithfully meeting weekly now for almost two years). I routinely use images as writing prompts, for they can bypass linear thinking and allow writers to more directly access their own inner awareness and intuitive vision. I am also experimenting with new formats that tap the power of images, including “New Viewfinding,” which involves looking through a camera lens and reframing to get new and different perspectives and an increased sense of aliveness. Periodically, I also offer sessions such as “Cultivating Wonder” and “Stepping into the Wisdom of Trees.”
My writing has taken many forms, including scholarly books and articles (book titles include Textiles: The Whole Story—Uses, Meanings, Significance and The Saturated World: Aesthetic Meaning, Intimate Objects, Women’s Lives, 1890-1940); poetry; and prose portraits that range from playful to poignant. As the description of my workshops implies, I use writing to access different states of consciousness and discover new and deeper meanings. These too offer intimations of other realms. I like to combine words and images; in fact, I have been using photographs like those submitted here with my poetry. They do not function as direct illustrations, but as complements, getting at the same kind of energy. Overall, I believe that the creative experience, however it is manifest, is itself generative; it yields even more creative, imaginative vitality in the world, since like attracts like.
It may seem that the academic part of my life is an outlier, or at least far removed from this interest on deep seeing and inner light and wisdom, but that is not really so. I have always been interested in discovering and exploring what has been overlooked and even trivialized—women’s fancywork, for example—and in the deeper meanings of objects and our relationships with them. Studying the things made and used by people in different cultures has always engendered a deep sense of appreciation and connection, a way of sensing underlying beliefs and energies. My background in so-called “primitive” art has particularly honed this awareness. Moreover, being steeped for so long in the world of textiles—a world of texture and pattern, materiality—has made me particularly sensitive to the elements of the environment. I’ve always been a synthesizer, and each part of my life has informed and enriched the other.
I used the word “healer” in my introductory sentence, and that deserves some explanation. Healing manifests in varying ways. I have been trained in energy healing and am an end-of-life doula who can accompany the dying and their families, but healing often occurs inside other kinds of activity. It is part of almost every one of my writing and SoulCollage® workshops. And it is part of—or an effect of—my creative output. One of my students summed this up with the comment, “perhaps you are a shaman, healing with art.” Others have similarly spoken of my sculptural figures as powerful beings—as totems or shamans. When people live with and these reconfigured, consciously-made images and figures, figures—they are affected; the art works on their spirit. I am honored to be a conduit for whatever aspect of the evanescent comes through.
I see the energy and the the inner light of everything in the world around me—in living beings, in nature, even in human-made objects and in what is deemed detritus or waste. Sensing or feeling this aliveness, I am excited, even awestruck. It’s difficult to capture this feeling, and even more difficult to communicate it to others, but I have found photography can provide a way to represent it and to share its magic.
I always have the camera with me and work on consciously paying attention, noticing what is around me. I use the camera to focus in on design details or unusual perspectives; I literally use the viewfinder to isolate arresting forms and patterns. These images are not narrative; rather, they are concerned with something intangible and essential. This particular Inner Light project began when I noticed the intriguing refracted light patterns shining through the tail light covers on the cars on my street. I tried shooting them in various ways, but couldn’t quite capture what they felt like. Then, when I started playing with the Prisma app in the editing process, I found a way I could further bring out and evoke the ephemeral quality of intangible light I was interested in.
The eleven photos offered here are representative of this Inner Light series. I have included images of the natural world, of human-made objects, and even parts of the environment we might find uncomfortable or try to avoid, such as dead fish on the beach. Everything, even dead or seemingly inanimate things can come alive in this work.
A selection of other images that I feel hold the same inner light: