Saturday, July 1, 2017

Finding Our Wings

This week we had the opening of the Jewish Artists’ Lab show.  It is the fifth annual lab show and I’ve created work in each of them.  My work has changed and evolved with each one, but the one constant is that I always try to eke out more wall space and air time. I am used to working in a series and if I find a compelling idea it often begs to burst the bounds of just one artwork.

We each get a limited amount of wall space, but we also have a presentation opportunity.  There is a performance and those who write stories or poetry can do a reading.  I started the lab, not fully defining myself as a writer or a poet, but have gradually stepped into that space, in both performing and doing a blog for the lab as its Resident Writer.

For many of the shows, I have combined painting and poetry. By the third I couldn’t restrict myself to one painting any longer so I deemed my two complementary paintings a diptych and set up a memory jar for attendees as part of an interactive exercise. This year I went all out and did a triptych with five paintings, a central one, two panels on the front that open with paintings on the back as well. It is a layered piece in both concept and execution. I’ve shared a bit on the work's development in this blog previously. Since then my husband built an amazing frame for it, so I could assemble all those pieces. Of course, I wrote poetry, still greedy for more.

My work is called Stepping into the Chrysalis and is about the idea of liminal space, about how we re-invent ourselves, stepping into new space and redefining ourselves as we cross internal boundaries to become someone new. That first time that we say, I am an artist, or I am a writer, we feel as if we are masquerading. We’ve left our familiar world behind and taken that first step into the chrysalis, a place of transformation. As I read about the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly, I learned that caterpillars actually digest themselves and turn into a kind of caterpillar soup. I thought of how we struggle with change, "eating ourselves alive with worry". Within the chrysalis are cells called imaginal discs that house the wings and antenna and legs of the butterfly. If you open the chrysalis of my painting, and enter the ark-like form, you find imaginal discs that house the wings we carry within us, even in our caterpillar stage. I loved the metaphoric possibilities and began to address them in poetry.

Inside the Chrysalis

Did you know,

That caterpillars digest themselves?

Dissolving their very being

In this torturous act of growth.

Seeking change,

Shedding skin.

A caterpillar soup

Of which Creation comes,

But first, Destruction,

We boil ourselves down to essence,
A stew of anxiety and worry

Of what comes next,

Accompanies us 
into our chrysalis,

Our private dressing chamber

Where we shed our skin,

open our being,

Tiny wings tucked within,

you would never know by looking,

Legs and wings,

Antennae yet to form,

Spun from discs of imagination,

Gold spots glimmer

On our new home,

A tiny mezuzah

A Flash of Orange

I crawl out on my liminal limb,

Testing its sturdiness

For support,

Testing my new wet wings,

Gently wobbling in the breeze,

More used to crawling than flight.

I cling to my branch tightly

With six new feet.

I used to have sixteen 

To keep me firmly grounded,

The world feels more tenuous,

Less anchored,

Still wet behind the wings,

I flap them once,


in a flash of vibrant orange.

I spoke about that first time we venture into something new, still feeling like an imposter. What was interesting was the response of the audience. I had many people who I didn’t know, come up to me afterwards and tell me how it spoke to them, often echoing their experience. That helped to confirm that I was speaking to a shared experience and making the connection that I sought, always a satisfying aspect of being an artist. An acquaintance who I used to work with in the financial world, who has also since left it, was at the show.  She spoke of observing me in what I think of as my past life, we live many within one. She was curious about me, in part because of my Jewish name which was uncommon in the firm, something I had never thought of, having grown up in a town with a small Jewish community. She then watched me as I went through this transformation, exploring artwork and writing along with identity. It was interesting to see it through someone else’s eyes, to think of someone else trying to puzzle out who I was even as I was finding my way.

I think the female experience with entering a new space and identity is different than that of men.  We tend to feel we have to get credentials first before we can legitimately acknowledge our desired change. We live in a world where women are not always taken seriously without those outward trappings. Perhaps I am only projecting from myself, but I think that women often aren’t as good at the bravado and pretense that often accompanies that liminal stage. It is a stage where you leave the familiar, but haven’t yet arrived at a comfort level with the newly defined you and it can be quite uncomfortable.  I used to look disdainfully at the bravado that men seem to slip into so easily, but have come to appreciate the role it plays in helping us venture into new and foreign territory.  Sometimes we must live as if we are what we want to be, until we grow into it.

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