The Studio of Eric Valosin

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

A Summer of Searching: Re-envisioning my Practice

Gee Eric, It's been a long time since you've posted, unless you count this morning!  What on earth have you been doing??

Well, I'm glad you asked, anonymous poser of rhetorical questions that I'll answer ad exhaustium. That's very thoughtful of you. This summer, as you know, I've been conducting a massive amount of research for this MFA thesis-prep type independent research project.

Essentially, I've been called upon to explore the conceptual landscape underlying my work, the art historical/contemporary art practices related, and then introduce my new practice as it responds accordingly.  I knew I wanted to involve myself with the spiritual in art, but that was essentially it.  As I began to dig deeper it became critical for me to keep in mind that my work has to exist today, questioning "how do I show up in the present?" "Why is my work relevant?" ("Why do I care, currently, as I obviously must").

I think if religion is to survive, it has to make a severe turn (return) to the direct experience of the divine.  Our age is not easily satisfied by doctrine and dogma, and nothing is as clear cut and dualistic as the church's Neoplatonic roots would have us believe.  What I mean here, is that it has become of preeminent importance for the spiritual survival of the Christian faith that we figure out how to become Post Modern Mystics.

This is then the entree into my artistic practice, bringing together the likes of Martin Heidegger and Meister Eckhardt, divining what a Mystic experience looks like in our post-modern - post-human even - context.  Can the likes of Deleuze and Pseudo-Dionysius play nicely together? What does it look like to apply an apophatic mysticism (negative theology) to a world in which "space" is more commonly appended to "cyber" than any other descriptor?  How is direct spiritual experience mediated by a post-modern phenomenology (or a near-post-phenomenological media, for that matter)?  Can we have a relationship with the spiritual even though Nietzsche's "God is dead?"  The answer, I think, is to reply to Nietzsche with Eckhardt's famous, "I pray to God to rid me of God."

The lynchpin in my research has been stumbling upon the work of Dr. John D. Caputo, philosopher and theologian, noted Derrida scholar, and founder of "Weak Theology." With a comprehensive and influential reading of continental philosophy through the lens of post modern Christian Theology, Caputo synthesizes all of the ridiculous stuff I've been reading and brings forth a view of what he calls the "post-secular" present.  Like Eckhardt's prayer amid Nietzsche's skepticism, Caputo calls for a theology that recognizes an age of "good reason" rather than capital r "Reason," in which (R)eligion loses it's properness.  Our generation knows very well how to be religious (and even quite prefers it), but can often no longer stomach being Religious.  But when passion and devotion sync up with the impossible, we are carried beyond the impossible, by the impossible, to the realm of true religion.

My search has carried me through many activities this summer.  I can, for the first time, say with aplomb that I have actually read an entire textbook cover to cover (and not only that, but 3 textbooks!), which is only a sampling of the over 3,000 pages of reading I've done (and I don't mean skimming, mind you!).  My bibliography includes the following, with a * next to the ones that I highly recommend if you're into this sort of thing:

*The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting from 1890-1985 (Maurice Tuchman)
50 Key Contemporary Thinkers (John Lechte)
Being Given: Toward a Phenomenology of Givenness (Jean-Luc Marion) (by far the most difficult thing I've ever read)
Post Script on Societies of Control (Gilles Deleuze)
The Origin of the Work of Art (Martin Heidegger)
A Very Brief Introduction to Foucault
Mere Christianity (C. S. Lewis)
*On Religion (John D. Caputo)
*The Mystic Element in Heidegger's Thought (John. D. Caputo)
Art Since 1900 (2 Volumes) (the art mafia)
In Pursuit of Meaning (Ravi Zacharias)
*Christian Mysticism: an Introduction to Contemporary Theoretical Approaches (Luise Nelstrop)
Meister Eckhart: Master of Mystics (Richard Woods)
*From Human To Posthuman: Christian Theology and Technology in a Postmodern World (Brent Waters)
*The Secret Oral Teachings in Tebetan Buddhist Sects (Alexandra David-Neel and Lama Yongden)
Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind: Informal talks on Zen meditation and practice (Shunryu Suzuki).

- In addition, I've gone to an all day Liquitex/Windsor & Newton workshop,
- Conducted a personal spiritual retreat
- met up with Erik Sanner to check out a new media performance space and talk about traffic cones
- Visited the New Museum's "Ghosts in the Machine" and "Pictures from the Moon" (hologram) exhibits
- Toured Chelsea
- Attended a Quaker service
- Participated in workshops at Drew Theological School on "Worship and Technology" and Worship space/alter design
- got in touch with Dr. Caputo to send him some interview questions (which he has so graciously agreed to answer!)
- built the light box film still project, and came up with ideas for some future projects

Toss into that intellectual salad a sprinkling of travel and work, with a side of giving birth to my first-born, and it's been a pretty light meal...

I'm not sure to what extent I'll get into it all here, but I'll figure out a way to post my paper when I'm done, which should be pretty edifying (to top off my salad metaphor).  Not much more to go now!

That Mural's Done! ...Again! ...I think...

As August rolls around, I've had an extremely busy summer.  Between trips to the Catskills and New Hampshire, TONS of reading, research, events, and projects for school (subject of my next, far more interesting post), and, minor detail, having a BABY, I've still been plugging away at Trader Joe's on this infernal mural (see past posts).

I THINK it's finally finished:
- 8 panels
- totaling nearly 90 feet long by 1.5 feet high
- somewhere around 30 landmarks
- somewhere around 10 foamboard character illustrations
- interstitial designs that were made and then lost (and forgotten about)
- 3 section banners

Here are some detail shots from the newest panel:

On top of that, I've recently been working on another related project (I told you it wasn't done) that I've been enjoying quite a bit.  To go with the Westfield landmarks, they wanted some pen & ink drawings of old-school Westfield to hang in the hallway outside the bathrooms.  So I returned to my recurrent haunt under the train station to pilfer some black and white photos to use as reference material, and here's the result.

This is the first one I did, with some detail shots to follow.  All done on 11x17 paper with Micron pen

This is the second one that I've begun working on:

It's been fun to be able to just lose myself in a technical drawing.  Something I don't have the opportunity to do very often anymore!  I'll do between 2 and 5 others, and I'll make sure to post them when I finish!