PELL LUCY: MORE THAN
BY DEBORAH BARLOW
The lay of our landscape at this moment of time—social, political, physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual—has become increasingly fluid and indeterminate. Unexpected events have upended institutions once thought invincible, and disruptions continue to destabilize a world we thought we knew. Meanwhile we are still without clear directionals and strategies for long-term planetary survival.
A consensus has emerged however, from neuroscience to ecology to philosophy, that what got us here cannot get us out. Alfred North Whitehead presaged our predicament years ago: "There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts." The poet Rainer Maria Rilke, also writing from an earlier time, cuts to the point: You must change your life.
What art is and can be during a time of significant realignments and redefinitions is a complex conversation, far deeper than one curatorial note can address. But for those who have explored visual language deeply and meaningfully—as have the artists in this exhibit—it can play a vital role in how we constellate our future. Because the visual operates outside spoken language and is unconstrained by logic or linearity, it can access that which exists beyond the human domain. Art that taps into Whitehead’s web of interrelatedness can offer experiences that are transcendent, numinous, ineffable.
There is so much more than meets the eye.
Not all art has this expansive vision. Plenty of works are being produced to serve very human centric concerns: the personal, the political, the ego, the bottomless longing to be entertained or distracted. But this particular moment in time may be a pivot point for art to take on a more participatory role in shifting the way we see the cosmos and ourselves.
In her recent essay, Taney Roniger, a Pell Lucy artist, articulated what this can be:
“For after centuries of probing the depths of the human psyche, we have become all but insensate to what lies beyond it: the inner lives and styles of being of other species; the quiet world of rocks, trees, and minerals and all the stuffs of the earth; those of our human artifacts that exercise their own kind of animacy; all that cosmic matter whose vitality pulses lightyears beyond us. Attend. Become interested. Above all, listen. Listen to the voices of otherness, to the stupendous diversity. Revel in the differences that make not-me not me.”
This is a call for resonance, that extraordinary experience when something touches us and we answer back. We are all familiar with the sensations of being in love or having a sublime moment in nature. It is how we create relationship with the world beyond ourselves.
Resonance can be a crucial component in the creative process, and it is also an elemental part of being with and looking at art. While it cannot be elicited on demand—there is a deep mystery about its origins or when it will occur—it is most often encountered when we slow down, step out of our daily lives and make ourselves available to other energies. Attend. Become interested. Listen. Revel.
When resonance happens, new ways of seeing and feeling emerge. Often difficult to describe in words, the experience of being mesmerized and transfixed is undeniable and deeply visceral.
The “overview effect” is the name given to the cognitive shift experienced by astronauts who have viewed earth from space. Once that extraordinary vista has been witnessed, moonwalkers no longer see humans as autonomous, separate entities. The experience leaves them with a noetic understanding of what unity consciousness means.
While most of us will not experience the drama of that earth-orbiting gestalt firsthand, art possesses the capacity to offer aspects of that expanded sensibility. As Roniger points out, “Here we come to the otherness within art itself: that rare kind of art that, defying ready comprehension or systematic interpretation, instead plunges the viewer into the ocean of unknowing.”
Visual language is so much more than line, shape, color, texture, size, space. It can assist in breaking open the narrow confines of our thinking patterns and help relinquish the human proclivity to seek for certainty in a world that cannot be reduced to the predictable. In the words of Blackfoot wise elder Leroy Little Bear, “The human brain is a station on the radio dial; parked in one spot, it is deaf to all the other stations…the animals, rocks, trees, simultaneously broadcasting across the whole spectrum of sentience.” Everything points to a planetary future where humans will need access to that broader spectrum. The visual language of art can play a crucial role in moving the dial.