Embracing The Paradox
It’s not often that an entire body of artistic work can provide such a complex experience as that provided by Susan Moir Mackay. Her mixed media conceptual pieces, in all their exposed vulnerability, invite endless interpretations from viewers willing to confront uncomfortable abject realities about humanity.
Now viewers wishing to speak to the artist about her important art-making process and the inspiration and drive behind some of her work on display can attend the artist talk “Amuse Bouche” at The Hub this Sunday afternoon.
Used in culinary art, an amuse bouche provides diners with a bite-sized meal, more elaborate that an appetizer, but wholly satisfying as a special culinary insight. The theme of the evening will reveal the beauty of Mackay’s work – being records of vital physical and emotional processes, her final pieces allow for new interpretations with every revisitation.
In that vein, samplings of work by Mackay will be on display, providing insight into her narrative process through various exhibitions in Nassau over time – from her 2009 solo show “Paradox” at Popopstudios International Center for the Visual Arts to group shows “Fibre” (2012 Transforming Spaces tour at Doongalik Studios), “A Sudden and Violent Change” (2010 Transforming Spaces tour at The Hub), “Sugar” (Popopstudios ICVA, 2008) and “Grand” (2007 Transforming Spaces Tour at the Antonius Roberts Gallery at Prospect Ridge).
“The stories are so embedded in my process and systems of belief and life and healing, I feel what they represent is obvious, but I’m aware people look at my work and have no clue about what’s going on and how they’re supposed to approach it and feel,” said Mackay.
“So whenever I get an opportunity to be able to talk about that I’m happy to offer a little passageway of understanding for people so that they can access it in a meaningful way.”
The Scottish-born artist who has been living in Grand Bahama for over 20 years provides in that small artist community a strong conceptual voice that often invites backlash from audiences with more conservative tastes.
Such was the feedback after her first solo show, “Into The Crimson Room” (pieces from which will also be shared through a slideshow at the event) in Grand Bahama in 2003. In a series of nude paintings and photographs, Mackay worked through the emotional turmoil after separation from her husband of 15 years. The experience would provide a major insight for the artist into the taboo of using art to access and heal life’s major traumas.
“I was trying to find an identity and it produced dark and vulnerable work. It was about me and my process to heal,” said Mackay. “I had all of this pain and I didn’t know what to do with it, so I use art as a vehicle to go from a place of deep trauma to a place of healing. That’s where I really found my passion to put everything out there.”
“People were horrified and in their reactions and interpretations, I recognized the collective fear of anything that is difficult,” she continued. “I think that pushed something in me to always want to embrace the difficult, the dark, the uncomfortable, the nasty.”
Such themes were developed during her last solo show, “Paradox” at Popopstudios International Center for the Visual Arts in 2009, through mixed media mandalas.
Used as sacred art in Hindu and Buddhist religions, the mandala (circle) is used as a spiritual teaching tool, to promote balance and meditation or to introduce a sacred space. Being inspired by the psychoanalyst Carl Jung, who believed viewing mandalas would help viewers identify and work through emotional and personality disorders, Mackay used the shape to create presentations of the unconscious self and to explore archetypes.
The result is a body of work that seeks to explore and resolve paradoxical relationships of trauma and healing, chaos and order, happiness and sadness and understandings of “good” and “bad” by turning such intangible concepts into circular forms.
“Putting the dark and the uncomfortable into mandalas is really about identifying what the aspects of society and myself and life that we’re not comfortable with and that we’d prefer not to talk about, and trying to find some sort of resolution,” explained Mackay.
“It’s not a happy fix but a harmony where the mandala holds it all. So there’s that underlying intention to heal things and not make them pretty or perfect but to hold them. That makes sense to me.”
Mackay utilized a variety of media to explore mandalas, from the minimal (pencil drawings) to the grotesque (bones and hair) to the delicate (mandalas on veils exploring emotions of happiness and sadness), yet all aim to identify and contain polarizing human emotions.
In one striking pair of pieces, for example, Mackay explores the ubiquity of both pain and healing in human experiences. In one piece – “Implicit in the Pain is the Healing”– Mackay arranges a variety of sharp objects such as knives to make a large and somewhat menacing mandala in which scribbles of collected stories of emotional traumas from acquaintances are contained.
In its corresponding mandala, “Implicit in the Healing is the Pain”, a circular design of sewing pins holding together a patched background with more of these scribbled experiences. The text contains moments of both despair and joy, displaying the paradoxical relationship of everyday human experiences.
“I’m a healer, so when I was working on that piece I was aware that I was taking peoples intimate pain and I was respectful of it,” says Mackay. “I put the knives into the mandala and as soon as I did that, I felt a lot of peace. I felt that it created a container, a form for all that pain, and I felt it put it all into relationship.”
“I think as humans we tend to keep pain to ourselves, inside, we’re ashamed of it, so there was something about the community of the pain that I felt shifted a bit,” she continued. “I thought I’d separate the stories I was given into pain and healing parts, but I couldn’t, I had to include the full stories on them – the stories of pain and healing come in the same moment, so that was an unintentional paradox.”
Indeed, Mackay’s work is no easy experience, but working though it is rewarding. No material is off limits – hair, bones, bodily excretions, clothing, text, knives, knick-knacks, her own body, the deepest of emotional secrets and traumas – to work through emotional turmoil. Yet her work acknowledges the inherent darkness and difficulty of human experience in order to come to a place of healing – a place where, through the use of abject materials and possessions, viewers can feel safe in their own darkest thoughts, motivations and actions.
The Nassau Guardian
Arts & Culture
Published: May 21, 2012