By in News on August 26, 2009

Opposite aspects are both true — this is a paradox.

In Paradox, I’m exploring contradictory aspects of good and bad, perfection and imperfection,  pain and healing, I wanted to go beyond the illusions of polar perceptions and look at the common links that these seeming opposites have in our humanity, our spirit.

Using the mandala form I explored these contrasting themes. A mandala is an ancient tool of meditation representing wholeness, and traditionally holds a circular pattern within a square.

Taking  inspiration from the ancient alchemists, who were scientists and philosophers interested in transforming opposites (such as base metals into gold, or squares into circles, and from psychologist Carl Jung’s symbolic view of the square as conscious, logical thought form, and the circle as the creative, intuitive, feminine essence, I used mandalas as a format for holding these seemingly contradictory aspects which allows them to exist in a potential harmony.

My process in creating the art pieces questioned the  essential nature of both, while I was searching for the metaphorical center point of unity and harmony. I was looking to find what many of us seek in life: to find the natural order that is hidden within chaos, the perfection in humanity’s imperfection, the beauty masked by the ugly, and the unity that exists within our differences.

From my Diary
“In the quest to figure out what is exactly meant by being a woman, I have moved onto, the next question of woman hood.

The stereotypes of Good Girl and Bad Girl
It started out white with pink and I am soon angry and nauseated by the perfumed tampons, – why would i want to scent my smell? I dont understand why being a woman is so shameful?  I feel aroused by the hypocrisy of all the white and pretty pink, its an illusion/ expectation that very few woman can ever fulfill.  Somehow our blood seeps through and our primitive feral feminine nature stains the white lies.

So if this white and pink perfection and lies, is the good girl… who is the bad girl?

I start collecting again.  Rumaging through my drawers to find suitable objects to exemplify the antithesis of the good girl, her arch rival the bad girl…

I am confused.  I have stitched together the ‘whiteness of the good girl and the bad girl is not any different. I cant seem to find the difference… they are the same discrepancies, contraceptives for the good girl and religion for the bad girl”.

Sometimes a piece of art elludes me.  And I spend a ridiculous amount of time, fighting with it, trying to find its truth.  This piece has been that, I have worked on it for months.

Its inception was the first mandala, using sacred geometry that i ever painted in silver paint.  (always free hand, as I have a passion to find the truth of something that is so mathematical (and recognising that it is the perfection of its maths that makes it beautiful to our senses), yet I want to inflict my own imperfect humaness onto this design and find something beautiful even if it is not perfect.

As I have worked on these pieces, I have discovered that as soon as you draw one line wrong, in a geometric pattern, – only one line needs to be incomplete for the eye to see the work as ‘ugly’. To create something beautiful that is geometrically flawed by my imperfect hand has been hugely challenging.  It has called me to find the mathematical points that need to be somewhat aligned, so that the imperfection for the rest become irrelevant.)

This piece has been worked on through the journey of creating all the pieces in the show.  Keeping true to the paradoxical theme of the show, after the silver paint, i then scooped up the disgusting dregs of my sink in the studio I worked.  The dregs were slimy grey, pungent, disgusting.

However as I started smearing it on the canvas with my palette knife, little flashes of paint shone through, slightly dispelling the disgusting nature of what I was using.  There were clumps of hair, dirt, sand and earth mixed in the grey unpleasant scum.

The nature of this foulness has challenged me.   I wanted to create something beautiful yet maintaining the truth of what it is.  Using the geometric mandala I hoped to create a sense of unification, I drew with thick black conte crayon many different repeating circles and squares, wanting to imbue a sense of infinity.  However with the chaos of the dirt, inhibiting any ‘perfect’  line, it seemed I was merely creating more chaos on the chaos.  Eventually, after many layers and disgusted moments when its stubborn ugliness defied my abilities to transform, I simplified back down to 2 squares and 2 circles.  I trust my intuition, and at that moment I felt a sense of peace for the first time.

Troubled still by the flat disc in the center, after sensing that I was essential creating form, life, from dirt, from chaos, much like the inception of life, by whatever religious, scientific or humanistic beliefs you may have, it felt like I took the darkness, the raw elemental nature of physicality and imbued it with form, and maybe the dullness of the piece, though now in harmony, was lacking spirit/ light.  At the crossing point in the center, I added white, and immediately I felt satisfied.  Dirt, form and spirit in harmony.  A metaphor for human experienced.

I am very proud of this piece, after fighting it and disliking it, and wanting to discard it for so long, I pushed through to finding the essence of its nature and ultimately revealed a truth


Veil I & Veil II

“The veils are incredibly important to me…”

They have been a labour of love and seem to connect me to my endless maternal line of women, who stitched and sewed together the socks, the cloths, the quilts of the past, but who also, on an emotional and practical level, held together families and communities.

Oneself becomes stitched into the work. Today I am happy, yesterday I was frustrated—all are then held together by the insistent stitch that takes me from one side to the next, ignoring the apparent paradox of front and back. The stitch refuses to acknowledge this, it knows only the unity of what it creates. Even when there is a visual difference between the front and the back. Both sides are art and sing the same harmony, but bring a different aspect to be understood.

Which is the truth? Which side is fundamentally right?

Neither, as they cannot be separated.

I decided to make veils—they are used to cover up and also to honour. One is symbolic of “good” and “happy” moments, and the other represents “unhappy” or “bad” moments. It is where I can put these emotions separate from me—not defining me or causing me pain.  On the sad veil I wrote about my journey through a period of depression. That memory of past dark nights and sorrow formed the backdrop of this piece. The process of writing it out in this form has changed my understanding of it.

It has been a gift through which I have walked through the dark night of self and owned my suffering and found the greatest gift I can—myself.

I cannot villify the “dark” shadow veil, but I understand, now, the importance of it. And also a deeper bliss. A greater capacity to hold and crave light and love — happiness — that would not have been possible to be held, understood, honored, or respected without the path through “… the valley of the shadow of death.”

There is now a deeper faith in the design of life, both geometrically and spiritually”.


Knives I–Implicit in the Pain is the Healing

“I have the knives. And the stories. The stories wrench my heart. I feel so honoured that people have shared such private and sacred parts of themselves.  I feel a happy obligation to those souls, and the stories, to hold them gracefully in the art.   I want to share the honest intensity, yet use the mandala form to hold them gently.  I want to find some ease for the restlessness of the pain.  The canvas is primed deliberately in awkward shades and hand-stitched roughly.  I need to leave the raw edges of the canvas to be seen—no hiding from the straining imperfection of life.  The mirror in the center is so pivotal. The words surrounding it say it all, and I am constantly struck by how implicit in the pain is the healing.

“The work so far: stitching the cuts made by each individual knife. Some knives slicing the fabric easily, others not at all. The stitching looks very ugly. It disturbs me—the puckered fabric. I thought this piece would be beautiful healing, but I am again haunted—this time implicit in the healing is the pain—it is inescapable.

This piece looks more painful than the knife piece that I feel has some calm now.I need to bring this piece together, and so I’m adding 100’s of pins. It’s awkward working with them—they slip out if I move the fabric too violently.

They remind me that small emotional pains—in my case, my thoughts—they are little pins pricking my mind’s longing for calm/peace/healing.Yet they are somewhat beguiling. Thousands of tiny knives, that hold “things” together.Working on this piece, that essentially shows pain and healing exist within each other.I try to imagine what exists beyond, behind, around, or to the side of that … a place that is not form and so cannot be maimed by form (knives or pain). A blemish-free peace. That emptiness may be TRUTH and everything else an illusion.

By Susan Moir Mackay

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