Friday, 21 November 2008

Artist or Shaman

PREPARING THE GROUND:
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ARTIST AS SHAMAN:
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'Shamanism is not a religion but rather a grammar of the mind, a worldview connecting art, culture, ecology and economy.' Juhna Pentikainen (Professor of Comparative Religion, Helsinki University Museum).
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The central idea behind shamanism is the contact with the supernatural world by the ecstatic experience of the shaman. There are four important constituents of shamanism:
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(1) Assuming an ideological premise of the supernatural world and contact with it;
(2) Regarding shaman as an intermediary on behalf of a human group,
(3) Pertaining inspiration granted him by his helping spirits; and
(4) Along with the extraordinary, ecstatic/trance experiences of the shaman.
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Whilst performing rituals, the shaman uses different objects; some are natural, such as precious herbs, stones, teeth and claws of animals and so on (‘ready-mades?’). Then, there are man-made amulets (sculptures), which include medallions, small figurines, and various carved knives/implements, drums/instruments of all sounds, wheels and masks. These serve as objects for invocation, divination and healing. Since shamanism uses diagrams to establish cosmological renditions of the universe, one could think of these diagrams as aesthetic materials. My point is that in our secular societies of the West, art can be seen as a symbolic condensation of our environment, a way to depict and evaluate our milieu. Artists produce objects that have an aesthetic function for a receiving audience. Think of the parallel between the altar and the artist's studio (or the white cube for that matter) as places of art-convocation.
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It may be that (as Sociologist, H.Jurgeabermas has suggested)artists have the role of, 'translating chaotic everydayness into ordered aesthetic symbols for public understanding.'
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MASKS:

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The artist as Shaman redefines the boundaries of art and self-realization, as described by Gauguin(French Post~Impressionist Painter); 'When I see that young aboriginal going about his tasks, I wished I could make art like that, with the oblivion of just the task at hand. No reward or profit. That's noble.'(Letter to Daniel de Monfried, Tahiti, 1892.)
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Or consider Pollock's action painting is that a form of ‘magic?’ A ritual (or activity) that is thought to lead to the influencing of human or natural events by an external force beyond the ordinary human sphere, magic involves the use of special objects or the recitation of spells (words with an innate power or essence) or both by the magician. According to Friedrich Schiller (in his Aesthetic Education of Man), art can change the world. This is a more secular idea, but one that suggests a healing force. Art does precisely that.
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Or consider the African ‘Yoruba’ altar; more indigenous or primitive cultures regarded certain localities (a tree, a spring, a rock) as inhabited by Spirits or Gods, whose intervention could be solicited by the worshiper; not unlike the Druidic or Wiccan practices today. The altar is the place where the worshiper propitiates or pleases the Gods. In a somewhat different context, can we imagine the artist’s studio a form of altar? Similarly, the studio is an intimate place for art-convocation; gathering and formulating ideas, experimenting, realizing. There is a unique relationship between art maker and his/her milieu; one of domain.
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Imagine an Altar or Shrine (a predecessor of the gallery?). The gallery has an economic, social and aesthetics context within the history of Modernity. It is a place where art is separated (perhaps alienated?) from its source for the purpose of consumption and contemplation. The art gallery elicits transactions of transcendence and economy (buying art has the resonance of a sovereign act in that the object has no other function than its contemplation). How can one rescue what is lost from the process of doing to showing?
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NATURES THEATRE:
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A performance succeeds if it’s believable. What does that mean?
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'Life is like a theater. We live and our lives take shape as if we were characters inside a play. Sometimes we’re aware of what goes on and act as if we were playing our part. It’s bizarre. We play ourselves in our script. As Nietzsche used to say, ...'life becomes art.'(Eugene Ionesco,Romanian/French Playwright and Dramatist, Fragments of a Journal.1966)
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In 'The Shaman (the artist?)', I.M. Lewis(Writer) explains the meaning of the word shaman among the Tungus people as 'one who is excited, moved, or raised.' Vilmos DiĆ³zegi refers to the root of the term, 'sa-', as 'to know.' The shaman is the one who knows. In an excited state the shaman knows more than his fellow human beings about the world of the spirits. Isn't art making, even art contemplation a state of (aesthetic) excitement?
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Furthermore the employment of sacred tools or implements and instruments; often inscribed with symbolic imagery used to conjure up the spirits in conjunction with a way of mapping a social hierarchy. The most important object in shamanism, the drum symbolizes the universe (as well as countless other things). In ancient Asia the drum turned into a 'wild animal' but later, with the transition to livestock raising it became a 'horse.' The rhythm of the drum excites the shaman, as well as controlling the psychic state of the audience. Some shamans possess a number of costumes, drums and other accessories that are determined by the ethnical complex involved. 'Without the necessary accessories the shaman could not enter the underworld.' Mircea Eliade(Romanian Religious Historian and philosopher).
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Paleolithic sculptures are amongst humankinds’ first artistic creations. These are often images of significant totem or sacred animals, men, women, and priests carved in an easily manipulated stone. Each is believed to have served a particular function of bringing perhaps good luck, protection or to aid the fertility of the creator or tribal group. Ancient artists felt they were somehow affecting the physical world by making the figures. In our secular world, we have lost that spiritual motivation and purity of artistic response, replacing it instead with aesthetics of commercialism or romantic ideologies or best art as an avant-garde movement and force that can educate people.
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MANDALA:
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On the other hand, art in the form of Mandala, separating chaos from order. A symbolic diagram used in the performance of sacred rites and as aid to meditation, the Mandala represents the universe, a consecrated area that serves as a receptacle for the gods and as a collection point of universal forces. We humans (the microcosm) mentally ‘enter’ the Mandala toward its center (a cosmic process of disintegration and reintegration).
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I ask, what is the role of an artist? Is it akin to that of a Shaman? And the ideologies of Joseph Beuys 'art is a means to social utopia'...
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GAIA:

Since the birth of humanity we have our dance to the hunted animals, chants to the rain gods, magical paintings on stone, myths told and retold over the proverbial tribal fire – all are stories, journeys that bind us to our beliefs, to our world, threads that weave us through time and place, it is in this place where art and ritual are as one that I find myself.
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Beltaine Performance or Ritual?



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