MIRRORS at GALLERY 1039

Thanks to the power of Eduardo Galeano’s writings, I have created my first outdoor art installation, entitled MIRRORS, in my own front yard, smack in the middle of this working class neighborhood of Hammond, Indiana where I have been living for 13 years.     

This installation opened on Halloween, just in time for trick or treating children and their parents on Monday, October 31st.  I thought that the subject matter of the exhibit lent itself to the opening days of the exhibit which include Halloween, Dias de los Muertos, and the feasts of All Souls and All Saints.  And, I thought, it might find persons more open to participating in the Woman from Oslo segment of the exhibit.

This installation includes three short works excerpted from books by Eduardo Galeano, a journalist, novelist, poet, and artist from Uruguay. He is considered one of the great writers of Latin America. I created the elements you’ll see pictured here in response to his stories.

As a sonic backdrop that evening, from my open windows came the movie soundtrack from “American Beauty,” composed by Thomas Newman.

The title piece of the exhibit, MIRRORS:

Mirrors are full of people.

The invisible see us.

The forgotten recall us.

When we see ourselves, we see them.

When we turn away, do they?

                                  from MIRRORS, Stories of Almost Everyone by Eduardo Galeano

 

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Taken before dark – the dress hanging from the tree in the background is part of the Woman from Oslo segment of the exhibit.

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The mirror now reflects the night sky and the dress , blowing inthe breeze, only a shadowy suggestion of form.

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The Art of Drawing You

     THE ART OF DRAWING YOU 

     In a bed by the Gulf of Corinth, a woman contemplates by firelight the profile of her sleeping lover.

     On the wall, his shadow flickers.

     The lover, who lies by her side, will leave.  At dawn, he will leave to war, to death.  And his shadow, his traveling companion, will leave with him and with him will die.

     It is still dark.  The woman takes a coal out of the embers and draws on the wall the outline of his shadow.

     Those lines will not leave.           

     They will not embrace her, and she knows it.  But they will not leave.   

                       from MIRRORS, Stories of Almost Everyone by Eduardo Galeano

 

The third piece took the most time, thought and work to create, and has a dual title:  “The Woman from Oslo, aka The Passion of Speech [1]”; the latter title being Galeano’s original title in his book.

Marcela was visiting the snowy North. One night in Oslo, she met a woman who sang and told stories. Between songs, she would spin yarns, glancing at slips of paper like someone telling fortunes from crib notes.

This woman from Oslo had on an  enormous dress dotted all over with pockets. She would pull slips of paper out of her pockets one by one, each with its story to tell, stories tried and true of people who wished to come back to life through witchcraft. And so, she raised the dead and the forgotten, and from the depths of her dress sprang the odysseys and loves of the human animal for whom speech is life. 

                     From The Book of Embraces by Eduardo Galeano

     

 

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I made the “enormous dress” and affixed three pockets.  In each pocket I placed a slip of paper.  On the slips were written:

“Joan Ruel McQuade / Daughter-Sister-Cousin-Wife-Aunt-Mother / 1932-1985.”

“Sean Francis McQuade / Son-Brother-Uncle / 1957-2012.”

“Mary Katherine McQuade /Daughter-Sister-Aunt-Mother / 1962 – 1986.”

By evoking and including the names of my family members, I felt I could invite others to do the same, without fear of being prescriptive – I wanted to be a colleague in the exercise, rather than a puppeteer.  As trick-or-treaters came streaming by, groups of adolescents, youngsters with parents and/or older siblings, it quickly became apparent that the entire exhibit was drawing them in.   They were interested, asking questions, taking selfies in the mirror, eagerly reading the words, asking what the slips of paper on the table were for.  I explained that this was an art project, something called public art and that it needed the participation of others to be truly successful.  If they would like to write the name of someone they knew who had died, someone they could keep alive in the act of remembering, I would add that person’s name by placing it in a pocket of its own on the dress.  By the end of Hammond’s trick or treating session I had 21 names on 21 slips of paper.  This level of participation was more than I had hoped for and it left me feeling at once awestruck and deeply satisfied.  My work had made an impact.  People welcomed the opportunity to name and give life, in that moment, to someone who had died. They wanted to share their story.  My interest reminded them that their story had meaning just as their loved one’s life was precious and worthy of remembrance.

Each weekend during the monthlong exhibit I will take down the dress long enough to affix new pockets and add the slips with names.   I have posted a sign inviting those who care to record their stories to contact me.  I’ve also invited people to write their stories for inclusion in a dedicated website and for possible printed publications.

This project is one which I hope to continue in other places, even as I hope to repeat it each year at this time for one month.  In future years I hope to include a performative element by wearing the dress and telling stories of the people whose names are on slips in my pockets.

This project also opens the door for other hoped for, yet to be imagined public art projects which I would like to facilitate, which would be expanded to include the works of other artists in the community.   I would like to work with students of all ages in the schools in creating visual and sonic responses to literature by the many important writers of our times and earlier times.  I would like to facilitate art that brings people together in discovery and sharing.

I welcome invitations to facilitate this project at other sites.  Similarly, I would welcome an invitation to be an artist in residence in community working on other installation projects.  Write me at julia.m.volkmann@gmail.com to begin the conversation.

My thanks to Eduardo Galeano, who passed away April 13 2015.   He is remembered by the many people who loved him.  His spirit also is alive and well in his many literary works, which include The Book of Embraces; Mirrors, Stories of Almost Everyone; Open Veins of Latin America; and Memory of Fire Trilogy, among others. 

Also, thanks to Barb McBride who spent hours with me getting these pieces in place in the yard. Thanks to Eva Volkmann whose counsel came in just the right ways at the right time as I developed the work.

 

 

The Binding of Two Souls

Sunday I served as the officiant in the marriage of Robert and Valerie Pnakovich. The final summer Sunday in September was gentle, warm, graced by soft breezes and a benevolent sun with enough white clouds to moderate its heat. Well tended gardens surrounded the gazebo where the ceremony took place.

My background in liturgical planning and presiding leaves me feeling conflicted about the term “officiant.” It feels cold, sterile, officious – something that is located in the logical brain alone. I prefer to consider myself a presider, attending to the ministerial aspects of service through the uplifting of hearts in prayer.  That belief is what energized my demeanor throughout Sunday’s marriage rite. I believe that Valerie and Robert experienced something heartful, prayerful and memorable – as did those assembled to witness and participate in the ceremony.

Will You Cause Her Pain?   “I May.”   Will you Cause Him Pain? “I May.”

                        Is that your intention?       Both: “No”

I began working in earnest with the Robert and Valerie about a month before the wedding. I believe my role as presiding minister is to walk alongside the couple in a consideration of the larger experience of their relationship. We looked at the wedding day as a marker along a larger trajectory of growing love and commitment that began the day they met and which will continue long beyond the wedding day.

Understanding that couples want “real” vows that feel authentic to their experience, I introduced them to the vows from the Celtic Handfasting rite. My daughter Kara introduced me to these rites as she planned her wedding liturgy some time ago. These vows acknowledge the human imperfections that make love challenging and messy, as well as sublime. I call them “shadow and light” vows because they acknowledge that life and relationships carry within them our darker aspects as well as our lighter sides, with the attendant pain and suffering. The light, which is always present, gains real dimension when its absence, darkness, is acknowledged and felt. These vows give voice to our eternal intentions to live through and rise above, to transform that pain, using it to temper and strengthen our hearts and souls. I believe this is the best we can hope to achieve in our human existence. Finally, these vows acknowledge that love is always the power that will drive a soul’s transformation.  Valerie and Robert have been a couple for a long time and happily took on the vows as being a real encounter of their own experience and hope for ongoing transformation.

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Light’s presence in dialogue with Shadow.

Technically, this is the second wedding at which I have presided. However, I stepped into this role naturally, enthusiastically, ready for the responsibility and desiring to make the entire ceremony meaningful, respectful, joyous, and prayerful for everyone there.

I have been in involved in liturgical prayer and planning for almost thirty years, earning along the way a 2-year certificate in liturgical studies from the Archdiocese of Chicago. Prior to, alongside, and following that formal study, I’ve participated in and planned liturgical rites accompanying almost every key moment in an individual’s life and in the liturgical cycle of the Roman Catholic Church’s annual cycle of life. Baptisms, Communions, Confirmations, Weddings, Ordinations, Chrism Mass at which the holy oils are blessed and priests re-dedicate themselves to their priestly ministry, Installation of a Bishop, the funerals of bishops, priests, nuns and fellow parishioners, the Consecration of a Cathedral Church, Jubilee masses, liturgy of the hours and more.

Will you cause her anger? “I may.”   Will you cause him anger? “I may.”           

Is that your intention?                   Both: “No”

Will you take the heat of anger and use it to temper and strengthen this union?                                                                               Both: We will.

My marriage of 22 years ended in 1996. When I married in 1974, I was barely 20 years old, the oldest of 12 children in a Chicago south side Irish Catholic family, still under the influence of an alcoholic father who threatened me with family exile if we did not do the “right” thing and get married. The “mortal sin” I had committed was having premarital sexual intercourse with the man I was dating. While my coercion into marriage and what followed is another long story for another time,  it is important for me to say that countless beautiful events happened in those 22 years, most important among them the births and lives of three beautiful daughters who are now in solid relationships of their own. Further, as I raised Kara, Anna and Eva, I was also raising myself,  discovering my gifts for the visual and performing arts, for the literary arts and ultimately channeling all into a deep reverence for the liturgical arts.   As I slowly evolved over the decades into the adult self I know myself to be now, the shaky, coercive reality of the marriage’s faulty beginning finally showed the irreparable cracks in a foundation that could not be repaired.   Rather than souring me on marriage, instead I developed a keen appreciation for the many couples I knew whose marriages had stood the test of time and trial and whose love grew more radiant with time.

Will you burden him? “I may ”  Will you burden her? “I may.”

Will you share each other’s burdens so that your compassionate spirits may grow in this union?                          Both: “We will”

I left the active practice of Catholicism in 2002. I could no longer bear the disillusionment and real anger I felt toward the church institutional for the abuses it has heaped for centuries on the souls of those weaker and less powerful.  Truth be told, I think it resonated with my experience of my father.   That the church continues to obfuscate and otherwise protect itself and the abusers is an abomination to me.  Its insistence on marginalizing women and preventing them from full membership in all the ministries is too hurtful to me.  I can make no sense of the church’s hypocritical practice of welcoming and fully incardinating married priests with families from other Christian denominations, while denying marriage as a possibility for those ordained in the Roman Catholic tradition. (these married priests, by the way, are most often coming to Roman Catholicism because they are rejecting the ordination of women in their original faith practice).   The Church, which professes that God’s love is without boundaries, still seeks through its human inadequacies and overweening desire to control, to limit legitimate committed love to being only that which happens between a man and a woman.  Love knows no such boundaries.  My daughter Anna and her wife Bridget demonstrate that daily.

Though I experienced my separation from the church as akin to an amputation, I knew that I had to remove the source of the disease in order to regain and reassert my spiritual health and well being.  But my thirst for meaningful engagement continues. I need to be an active participant in the power of sacred ritual as it takes place in the midst of a community gathered to focus its prayful energies and attention on what is needed for a loving, healing, nurturing community.  Love is the divine force in this universe – available to all.

Warming of the Rings

After the reading, I invited the assembly to bless, or “warm” the rings that Robert and Valerie would soon exchange. My daughter Kara also introduced this element to me. Tied with ribbons connecting them to the pillow carried in by the 8 year old ring-bearer during the procession, the rings were passed from person to person throughout the assembly. One by one, individuals and couples took a silent moment, with their hands placed over the rings, imbuing the rings with the energy of their prayerful intention while instrumental music played. During our preparations, I had advised the couple to be seated and turn their intention upon the many who were transmitting their love for them in this act. They did. Though some looked somewhat awkward (understandable when we consider the growing number of persons without any formal faith practice), the majority there embraced the action as a way to be meaningfully involved. When their turn came, I watched one couple stand, hold the pillow between them, their foreheads touching for a poignant moment.   Later in the ceremony I would ask the assembly to stand and affirm with the words “we will” their promise to support the couple in their marriage.

After the ceremony many people came to me to express their gratitude for this meaningful ritual. That it engaged their hearts, minds and souls, was wonderful for me to hear.

Will You Dream Together to Create New Shared Realities? “We Will.” 

And so, with these experiences and needs for prayerful engagement woven into the fiber of my being, I find myself grateful for the opportunity to use my gifts, to channel my dreams for a new sacred way for people to be together.  As I said on Sunday to Valerie and Robert Pnakovich, “I am honored that you entrusted me with the sacred responsibility to facilitate your marriage, in the heart of this community of family and friends. I am better for it. I wish you both continuing, deepening love, ‘together, forever through time and space’.”

As pictures of the ceremony become available, I hope to add those pictures to this very long narrative.  Thank you for reading any or all of this personal witness.