Dealing with the complexities of contemporary life, living in loud atmospheres of cities, and the difficult day-to-day experiences of trying to lead a normal and healthy existence, the struggle to reach a quiet and peaceful moment always seems like an immeasurable distance away. Having to constantly work and labor away, one reflects on what it means to struggle as an individual. This can be summarized by comparing the idea of labor as a representation of suffering, chaos, and noise and whereas, the idea of silence is a representation of peace, order, deep reflection and mindfulness.
The relationship between these ideas of labor and the difficulty of navigating the distance towards silence is similar to the idea of simply existing as a worker versus the individual desire to be free and to strive for something better. It is in deep reflection and meditation that the individual understands self-worth. It is a realization of knowing how difficult it is to be human and living a fruitful existence against so many obstacles like having to work without choice.
With these concepts and relationships in mind, HEAVY METAL MEDITATIONS ON LABOR AND DISTANCE is an installation that acts as an alternate version of a religious altar. This can be compared to other altarpieces like those found in many Tibetan Buddhist temples as well as Christian versions like the 16th-century German iteration, the Insenheim Altarpiece created by Matthias Grünewald and Niclaus of Haguenau, currently located at the Unterlinden Museum at Colmar, Alsace, in France. Drawing influence from the arrangement of altarpieces of various religions, this Cyclorama installation consists of a large-scale semi-abstract figurative steel and wood sculpture placed in front of the painting Noise of Nebraska and flanked on either side by two works from the narrative painting series, Chapter 3: Reflections on a Sound Progression. It is a contemporary altarpiece that acts as a place for reflection on the issues and relationships of labor, distance, and meditation and expressed aggressively like the sound of heavy metal music.
Acting as the main subject matter of the entire installation, the floor sculpture is a representation of a figure sitting in the four-point resting position with the gaze looking away from the viewer and off to the distance in a fearful and cautious manner. It is built using modular geometric components based on 5/4 musical time signatures that are built up around a minimal steel rod stick figure (i.e. similar to John Cage’s use of the I Ching and Tara Donovan’s calculated and accumulative sculptural process), which represents muscle fiber and skin tissue. The 5/4 time signature is also used to visually represent nervousness, agitation, and frustration; emotions that prevent one from reaching a peaceful meditative state. The 5/4 quintuple time signatures, commonly found in various heavy metal subgenres is used because of its unnatural rhythmic quality (as oppose to a standard 4/4 time signature found in most Western music) and the quality of its accents, which consists of a single strong first beat and four subsequent weak non-accents. Underneath the figure, an abstracted sitting platform similar to that of a park bench references staff lines from a blank piece of sheet music. Supporting the figure and the sitting platform is another series of moveable modular geometric forms consisting of stretcher bars burned in the shou sugi ban wood finishing technique and steel rod connectors referencing 3/4 time signatures (a danceable and easily felt rhythm which played against 5/4 creates a 4/4 time signature). As a visual barrier from the background and the surface of the floor, this installation is placed on top of two full size repurposed wooden shipping palettes. This directly references how labor is the foundation of all creative practices as well as tribute to the “worker”.
Located behind the main sculptural floor piece is the painting Noise of Nebraska. This painting is another iteration of the figure in the sculpture in which the figure represents a barrier towards achieving a meditative, peaceful, and silent state of mind with the gaze directed and focused at the viewer. The figure in the painting is meant to challenge the viewer by posing the question of how to achieve a certain kind of meditative state of mind. The figure is the barrier between the everyday stresses that exist in the setting of the viewer versus the tranquil and peaceful Nebraskan landscape that acts as the background of the painting. The Nebraskan landscape, which consists mainly of thick prairie grasses and the expansive sky like a Mark Rothko color field painting, is the atmospheric sound quality that is similar to ambient white noise. It is in this location where the soothing sound has the ability to cancel everything out and leave an individual truly empty, focused, balanced, and self-aware. It is up to the viewer to look past the confrontational figure in order to enter the peaceful landscape of existence.
Flanked on both sides of the Noise of Nebraska painting and the floor sculptural piece are two paintings from the series, Chapter 3: Reflections on a Sound Progression. These paintings are the two most recent works in an on going series in which various moments of my life are documented and expressed through narrative figural compositions. Chapter 3 marks the last two years and is created in a stream-of-conscience form of painting. Consisting of exact size canvases, these two pieces can be compared to other horizontal narrative works like the Japanese emaki illustrated handscrollShigisan Engi from the 12th century or like the Classical Greek Parthenon Marble friezes but placed within an altar setting. The two paintings also act as stereo left and right representations of everyday noise and chaos, which surround the center sculpture and the Nebraskan composition.
Overall, HEAVY METAL MEDITATIONS ON LABOR AND DISTANCE visually represents within the standard religious altar setting of what it sounds, smells, and feels like to labor away within an environment of chaos and noise. In this sense, the ideas of silence and peacefulness are kept at a distance. This work is not trying to be quiet, subtle, gentle or executed peacefully; peace seems too far away. Having the inability to achieve a state of meditative peacefulness, the installation embraces a spiritual anger and directly references and works with chaos and noise in order to bring about a sound change.
"HEAVY METAL MEDITATIONS ON LABOR AND DISTANCE"
Master of Fine Arts Thesis Installation
Tufts University and The School of the Museum of Fine Arts
Friday, May 20, 2016
Cyclorama, Boston, MA