Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Change Has To Come From Deep Within Us

As promised yesterday, a portion of that transcript (where I read yesterday's short quote).  It's from an interview between Timothy Cahill, editor of Art Conservator magazine and Mary Bauermeister.  The whole interview can be seen here, the part that intrigued me is below:

In Europe I was a strict nonfigurative artist. We, the postwar generation, did not trust anything our forefathers represented anymore. We started from scratch: bombed cities, everything we were made to believe in had been proved to be an illusion. Our grandfathers, fathers, cousins and older brothers did not return from the war, or if they did, they were broken. Broken limbs, broken hearts, broken ideals—for the rest of their lives they were verstummt, silenced, in a traumatic, paralyzed sense.

Now, that was not because they had “lost the war.” There is always a loser and a winner in battle. It was the awakening, the realization [of] what they had given their lives [for] and taken the lives of others. The soldiers were not aware of the Hitler regime’s human crimes. Only after the war had they seen the photos of the concentration camps.

So we grew up in these desperate, hungry times, and to paint figures, landscapes, still lifes, at least to me and my closest artist friends, seemed ridiculous.

Also, as a child I saw around every living being a colorful moving aura (even around so-called dead things like stones), so when I saw Art, paintings of reality, I missed the color field.

Later, when my visionary childhood vanished away through schooling and teaching, when I had to learn the reduced interpretation of the world, I refused.  

Before I knew what-for, I resisted the normative dogmas of what one does, thinks, feels, or what one does not.  An ambiguity, a multi-dimensional, integral understanding: things are not either/or. They are 1+1=3. Non-dualistic.

That’s why, later in my artistic life, I was so happy to have found the optical glasses, which, when put over my written statements in my lens-boxes would distort and change and make relative my statements. They were not meant as absolute truth, they were “in-between” results of a thinking and feeling process.

So, back to my early art life. Whatever I had started as an artist was not considered art when I did it. My early cloth material “sheet-lightsheets” were regarded as female "knitting” crafts;
Mary Bauermeister-GroBes Lichttuch

my stone pieces as pure nature. 

Mary Bauermeister-Untitled

My experiments with colors (phosphors) which load themselves with light and fire [. . .] in darkness to vanish altogether (blue, red, yellow, violet disappearing at different speeds), were considered “chemistry”; my use of magnets in art pieces was physics.
Mary Bauermeister-Quadrupel
Four Stone Pictures on Magnetic Plate
256 variations possible-34x34cm

I resisted art teaching more-or-less successfully. I only followed an inner drive to express what was not yet there, in reality or thought. To make art was more a finding, searching process that a knowing.

Then in 1962 I had my first one-man show in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. The director, Jan Willem Sandberg, had seen a “concept composition” which I did as a student in [composer Karlheinz] Stockhausen’s composition class, Score for Visual Artists.

What the interpreters of music do, play the notes of the composer, I brought into the field of art. The plan was part of a multimedia gesamtkunstwerk, so many artists from all fields could interpret the score. This strange piece of concept interested Sandberg and I had my first show.

At the same time in the museum there was a little show of American art—[Jasper] Johns, [Richard] Stankiewicz, [Alfred] Leslie and [Robert] Rauschenberg’s goat. I was so flabbergasted by this piece, and I knew, where this is called Art, I will and want to be!
Robert Rauschenberg-Monogram (a symbol of lust)?

I went to Sandberg’s office [and] asked him to buy one of my show’s pieces, so I could afford a ticket to America. He did, and I ended up in USA October 1962. Six months on Long Island, [then] 1963, New York, National Arts Club, to which I transported all kinds of natural material, stones, sand, pebbles, tree trunks and many “ready-trouvier”—that’s what I called my found objects, which I hung on the wall of my first New York show, Galleria Bonino, 1963-64, as an homage to Marcel Duchamp (who I consider my teacher, and who liked my work very much.)

I stayed in New York and did many shows, was bought by many museums, and interrelated with the Art Scene, the artists and the critics.  In the United States I gave up my resistance to figurative elements.

You cannot illustrate something absurd or abnormal without reference to something else. So surrealism needs realism to play with and against (like atheism needs theism)—to make a drawing of a piano where the keys are “out of order” and the pianist has six fingers on one hand, four on the other: multi-meaning, ambiguity, indeterminism.

So I gave into figurativeness, and I also could not resist becoming politically involved—Bob Dylan’s songs, Joan Baez, the Vietnam War, money, greed, inhuman exploitation, together with a clean, anesthetic morality. The Cold War, the “fellow traveler,” the “yellow danger,” the Chinese, were the evil ones—an enemy was always needed to distract from one’s own shallowness. Pop Art as a warning, making banalities the subject of art.

From 1968 to 1971 I did several pieces with figurative elements, drawings with political themes and titles, which show my intentions: (1) Don’t defend your freedom with poisoned mushrooms,1964, hinting at the atom bomb mushroom cloud, dedicated to John Cage, a pacifist and enthusiastic mushroom hunter, whose work I had performed in 1960 with Cage, [Merce] Cunningham, [David] Tudor performing.

Mary Bauermeister-Don't defend your freedom with poisoned
Mushrooms - original drawing maybe?(source in German-no translation)

(2) I’m a pacifist, but war photographs are too beautiful, 1966, hinting at the beauty of colors of liquid bombing, dropping colorful phosphors from attacking airplanes and setting fires in the cities a [conventional] bomb could have never achieved.

As most of the German old cities had wooden roofs, a whole street would burn in seconds and no [escape] was possible. We lived in the forest near Cologne and watched these bombs at night. How can something so beautiful like these colors be so destructive? The piece is in New York with Mrs. Bonino [. . . ].

No fighting on Christmas,1967-68, subtitled, “Kill for freedom, fight for peace.” [. . .] (4)China Tinte “Import Forbidden”,1967-68, a sculpture which is now on consignment with Achim Moeller Gallery, New York. (5)Yellow Flowers, 1968, an assemblage of many elements, a standing box, a collage of yellow shapes which look like flowers from a distance, but up close turn out to Chinese people hurting each other.(Moeller has one of these flowers with the China Tinte piece.)

(6) US Asian hero, 1968, and (7)The Great Fallout Society, about 10 pieces, lens-boxes, which I did in 1969 and do not have any or only a few documents. The Great Fallout Society, “fallout” = atomic waste, and the other meaning of our whole Western decadence.
[Here are some photos of one of those lens-boxes] 

this from the "Collections Database Five Colleges and Historic Deerfield Museum Consortium"
The intriguing details of Bauermeister’s lens box encourage viewers to look closely and puzzle at it from multiple angles. The arrangement of conical and spherical forms and stones is inhabited by a grotesque population of sketchy, monstrous heads, clusters of inked eyeballs, and caricatures of American political figures from the Vietnam War era, including conservative Illinois Senator Everett Dirksen, and President Richard Nixon, who took office in 1969. The work’s title refers to the social reform programs instigated during Lyndon B. Johnson’s Presidency that were never fully implemented — a circumstance that critics ascribed to the escalating costs of the Vietnam War. The multilingual patches of “yes” and “no,” mathematical equations, and strings of phrases describing the “germ-free…drugged society” that appear throughout #175 convey Bauermeister’s view that the government’s interest in Vietnam had tainted American society. Together, the text and images suggest that the state distorts reality such that nothing can be taken for granted or at face value.
-Written by Katherine Eisen, Class of 2012
#175 The Great Society - Detail 1
#175 The Great Society - Detail 2
#175 The Great Society - Detail 3

Are we as humans, the way we behave, not ourselves the fallout, the poison, the “mistake” of evolution? Are we at the verge of collective suicide? and if yes, why? Is the human experiment still valid, meaning does it lead to a peaceful, harmonious integration of spirit and matter—“the sons of God saw the daughters of the earth . . . ” [Gen. 6:2] and we the result of this marriage.

Can we tame our reptile brain and stop fighting—can we bring this experiment to a fruitful end, or do we end ourselves in atomic, ecological, economic disasters?

All these influences were urgent in the late Sixties. The Hippie Movement. The Student Revolt. The anti-dogma, [. . .] anti-establishment protests. And above all, “Mr. Clean, Mr. Proper,” keep it antiseptic, as long as it’s germ-free: a symbol of moral cleanliness, self-importance, arrogance, hubris.

Oswald Spengler, in “Can we be saved?”

Yes we can, but not from outside. The change has to come from deep within us.

These were the thoughts I had when creating "The Great Society".

The title meant, of course, in an ironic or sarcastic way (although my sarcasm is never nihilistic—the beauty of sunshine, the serenity of love, the innocence of children, the desire to contact the absolute—the depths to which humans can reach in their search always for one hope.

The bottle is half-full, not half-empty).

I hope you have enjoyed this and are having a wonderful Saturday.  For more on Mary you can see a lovely article written about where she is living here.

Inspiration Sunday is tomorrow of course.

'Til then!