The LUMENS 2018 Italian residency finished with a group exhibition in the local church. The theme this year – Astronomia, Arte E Religione.
For a fortnight, a group of 20 artists lived and worked together in an old nunnery building in the mountains of Atina. The aim was to enter into creative experiment as the Perseid meteor shower traced milky streaks across the skies.
Each night we looked up, photographed, shared what we knew about the constellations and the stories that animate them. Evenings went late in shared excitement, laughter and curiosity, spotting meteors burn up overhead. Spontaneous cries of joy and frustration echoing through the nunnery, when people saw – or failed to see – the brief appearance of these distant streaking specks.
The residency occurs over the festival of the Assumption of Mary, so the balmy days were full of mystery: raucous folk dancing from around the world, the proud arrival of a stream of tiny shiny Fiat cars and the whole town gathered to watch children and young men make an inexplicable and comedically chaotic race down the steep hight street in tiny home-made metal vehicles. Intense electric storms marked the transition from day to evening, breaking the windows and shaking the internet connection right out existence. The night brought fresh celebrations: opera singing in the square till the early hours and devotional candle lit processions through the streets holding the Madonna’s casket high.
It has been good back to the town and welcome the people of Atina into the gallery show to enjoy the bounty of art and photography we created across the weeks.
I came to Atina to dive deep into my PHD research and it was a rare gift to get lost in learning: I tracked the theme of communications across gulfs of understanding through Eco and Bateson, learnt about Lincos and Laban notation, Neuroscience and Ionic Membranes… I was gifted some unexpected visceral moments of experiential research: accidentally electrocuting myself on a faulty plug, getting locked in a graveyard and having to scale the high walls to escape and spending a hallucinogenic night in the grips of extreme food poisoning. Something kept on returning about experience’s refusal to be rendered knowable: nature loves to hide! That which is unsaid or undone or literally impossible to digest are always necessarily pushing at and disrupting the communicative experience. Communication is ever animated by feelings of what is not understood, the something that was not quite picked up, perhaps when we breathe out, it is simply the possibility of that something more to come. The story is never over.
During our star-gazing late nights, it is the stories of the skies that helped me find my way with recognising the stars. It is finding the traces of the swan’s open wings that helps locate the Cygnus constellation. We populate the earth and skies with stories, the shapes we draw helping recognisable patterns emerge from complexity, so I wonder why we don’t teach children the the stories of the constellations at school?
In August, my eyes always travel to the Summer Triangle (or the Navigator’s Triangle): the three bright stars high in the sky at the moment (Deneb, Vega, Altair). There are many different tales from many different cultures that speak of these three stars.
One of my residency activities was to translate an old Chinese poem by Qin Guan that tells of Vega, Altair & the intercession of Deneb. Any friends who know Chinese (or this story) please throw corrections and details at me. I want to learn more.
纖雲弄巧，飛星傳恨，銀漢迢迢暗渡。 金風玉露一相逢，便勝卻人間無數。 柔情似水，佳期如夢，忍顧鵲橋歸路。 兩情若是久長時，又豈在朝朝暮暮。
— Qin Guan 1049-1100
Immortal at the Magpie Bridge
Held by the delicate clouds,
ephemeral forms of art,
the sad message of the shooting stars,
a silent journey through this dark Milky Way,
one meeting of the Cowherd and the Weaving Girl
in the jade dew-touched morning of the golden autumn wind,
eclipses the countless meetings of the impassive world.
Feelings flow tender as streaming water,
the inspired moment unreal as a dream,
how can they bear to go back on that magpie bridge to different homes?
If love between two can last for aye,
why need they abide together
day after day, night after night?
— translation KG
And a translation into Italian by my dear friend and poet, Faye Miravite
Immortale sul ponte delle gazze
Tenuto dalle nuvole delicate,
forme effimere d’arte,
il triste messaggio delle stelle cadenti;
da un viaggio silenzioso nell’oscurità della via lattea,
un incontro tra il mandriano e la ragazza tessitrice
in una mattinata giada, sfiorata dalla rugiada e
avvolta nel vento di questo dorato autunno;
un solo incontro che mette in eclisse innumerevoli
incontri di un mondo senza passione.
Sentimenti che scorrono teneri come l’acqua del ruscello
un momento tanto ispirato quanto un sogno irreale
come fanno sopportare di andare sul ponte delle gazze
e poi tornare ognuno a casa propria ?
Se l’amore tra loro due durerebbe un’eternità,
perché mai occorre vivere insieme
giorno dopo giorno, notte dopo notte?
— translation Faye Miravite
A song for long distance relationship and the benedictions of synchrony to console the incurably romantic…
I’d like to learn more about it, but from what I understand it’s the story of Zhi Nu (Vega) the weaving girl who weaves colour into the clouds, and her meeting with the earth boy cowherd, Niu Lang (Altair). As with many love affairs – they were so besotted – so elated – in their meeting, that they completely neglected their tasks and spent all their time love-making. The work was not done and the Queen of Heaven in outrage demands everyone to get back to work and stop shirking when there’s clouds to be fluffed. She takes her hairpin and creates a rift in Heaven – Yin He – the Silver River or the Milky Way. And this is why, they say, the cowboy lives on one side of the Silver River and the weaving girl on the other.
So with everyone back in their place, doing their work, clearly separated and not getting lost in union, life can maintain and the order of the Universe is restored… And yet, there is a final sweetness to the tale. Once a year on the 7th day of the 7th month, the star Deneb creates a bridge of magpies to carry Zhi Nu across to the one she loves to reunite. In China they’ve many names for the bridging day: the 7 Dusk, the 7 Opportunity, the evening of the 7s, the Double Seventh. It turns out to be a story that is celebrated all across China and a day that girls pray for ingenuity. In 2018, the night was celebrated on the 17th August the last day of the residency.
Flying from Rome back to California I felt a lot of gratitude for programmes like this and for the rare and precious connections created by having that time to go deep and get lost in the night. Here’s a little book I made drawing the dreams that the resident artists reported to me on the days of the Meteor showers: Atina Dream Book. And snaps.
The Lumens show is opening in London in January 2019 and includes work by: Rachael Allain • Sakchin Bessette • Mark Cheverton • Tim Corne • Kimberley D’Adamo • Dovile Dagiene • Nettie Edwards • Sarah Gillett • Luke Harby • John Hooper • Risa Horowitz • Marty Langthorne • Becky Lyon • Hanna Mattes • Heather Merckle • Aliya Orr • Phil Power • Hannah Pratt • Arezu Salamzadeh • Harry Stevenson Miller • Armelle Tulunda • Katharine Vega • Brenda Vega & Sergio Sarango • Georgia Watkins • Adele Watts • Won Young Chang