I was recently invited to spend two weeks working in the Articulate project space with the aim of producing work that responded to the site. I spent three days and nights in the space performing my new work Ruach. I have found this work particularly difficult to write about and take comfort in the words of George Braque, “There is only one valuable thing in art: the thing you cannot explain.”
A number of different cultures have all drawn a link between the breath and the soul. The Greek word ‘psyche’, the Latin ‘spiritus’ and the Hebrew ‘ruach’ all share the meanings of breath, life and soul.
In the book of Genesis it is the Ruach of God which is breathed into the first man, giving him life. Much later, the prophet Ezekiel witnessed the Ruach of God animating the bones of the dead, restoring them to new life. This Ruach is literally the breath of life. But the Ruach of God is also called the Holy Spirit which imparts new life to the spiritually dead, transforming them.
This performance is a documentation of my own ruach.
For three days in the Articulate gallery I practiced ‘mindfulness of breathing’ meditation while blowing up white balloons. My aim with this performance was to objectify the act of contemplation. By capturing each exhalation in a balloon I hoped to make visible the normally invisible and impermanent breath which is the focus of this form of meditation.
Kazimir Malevich claimed that nature is the materialisation and manifestation of a greater divinity and that the role of the artist is not to re-present the existing manifestations of the divine, but to create one’s own pure manifestations. In a way, it could be said that performance art avoids the problem of representation by working directly with reality i.e. the divine nature manifest. I wanted to go further than this, however. I wanted to objectify my ruach as a manifestation of the divine.
Malevich once claimed that “The field of colour must be annihilated, ie. It must transform itself into white.” This claim, along with his use of geometric forms, is echoed in my own use of white balloons. The Ruach of God gave me breath and life, but it also gave me my spirit. I was made in the image of God and, like Him, I have a spirit that is living and active.
When his audience asked him for a miraculous sign Jesus offered them the sign of Jonah. “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:39-40) Much later, Joseph Beuys gave the world his own sign when he spent three days in René Block Gallery with a wild coyote.
Jesus Christ and Joseph Beuys both offered healing through their intercessory acts, Jesus through his sacrifice on the cross and Joseph through his art. What efficacy my work may provide does not stretch to miraculous raising of the dead and I believe it functions most strongly as a sign. I do not say this to rob the work of any power; on the contrary, as an artist I believe wholeheartedly in the power of signs. The sign of Jonah was a profoundly important and powerful sign, because of what it pointed to.
This sign/performance is profoundly important to me because of what it points to:
I was created by God in His image and His Ruach lives within me. And for a time it was in the Articulate Project Space, 497 Parramatta Rd, Leichhardt.