Church of the Bleeding Heart

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You enter a small room lit by candles and a single bulb on a string. They all look as if they’re about to burn out. As your eyes adjust you become keenly aware of your breathing and your heart thumps loudly in you chest. thump. thump. thump. You aren’t nervous, but something feels off. Is the floor crooked?

Once your eyes adjust you see a kneeler- it is very similar to the one you remember from Easter Sunday at your grandmothers church. The discomfort of youth floods back to you. The uncomfortable new clothes. The bread and wine. How do we do this? How do I take the wafer from the priest? Do I really have to drink from the same cup as that old man?

You approach the kneeler and notice the details are different. The cross-stitched cushion is more macabre than you think your gran would appreciate. The rails are damaged, look like they’ve been in a fight. As you kneel down in the now familiar pose of prayer you breathe deep and look up into the altar.

Your heart wrenches and a sadness overwhelms you. The altar looks strangely familiar. A dream you once had. Or a nightmare. It draws the empty spaces in your soul to the surface, but refuses to fill them. You feel the lack. It overcomes you and the tears start to well up.

You close your eyes and listen. thump. thump. thump. Breathing slowly you try listen to what your heart has to say but it just keeps beating.

You release.

You feel feel something die.

You let go.

How much time has passed? Your eyes open slowly and you half expect to see a black robed priest with a wafer and a cup in front of you.

But there is no one.

Only an altar, a book, a memory.

The Sacred Art of the Mandala (Part 3)

IMG_4790The final piece for my mandala course is not worthy of exhibition. It is raw and messy and experimental. It is the culmination of three months of excavation, learning and reflection.

Understanding the mandala has given me license to continue to use circles over and over in my work, which has been remarkably freeing.

The background of the mandala is celestial, representative of the universe. We are but a vapor on this pale blue dot, and yet we are the universe. I am the most and the least important thing. All of human history is nothing compared to the vastness of the universe (there is such comfort in knowing it is not all up to me). I am a vapor and my only responsibility is to be the best version of that vapor. To love and be loved in my brief moment. And yet, I am the center of the universe. I am made of billions of neurons, trillions of cells and a mysterious expanse of consciousness. I am where everything begins and ends- I can only see the world through the two eye I have been given, only feel it with this softest of hearts. And so the galaxies are both near and far.

The heart is the center.  The heart weeps and bleeds and shines. It is crisscrossed with connections; friends, family, transatlantic flights and late night phone calls lay the foundation for the web of a lifetime. Piercing the heart are bits cut deep, broken by life and circumstance and dreams deferred.

IMG_4789There are two different shields on the heart. This is both an aesthetic and meaningful decision. I prefer the way the point looks poking into the heart, but need the covering of the shield piece, which covers over and protects the brokenness. Sometimes our pain wounds us and makes us beautiful, sometimes the things we love the most are the ones that hurt the most. Sometimes the Beautiful One soothes our pain and gives us what we need to be stronger and protected.

The blood pours out from the heart and from the galaxies because we never bleed alone. The Great Beyond feels so cold and far away, but it bleeds with us, the world bleeds with us. We are united in our suffering.

Written in Blood

(Or The Sacred Art of the Mandala Part 2)

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“Color me, breathe your blood into my mouth.”

Handwriting has always been a creative outlet for me- in both an authorship sense and as a visual art. I have been recruited to handwrite notes and labels, hired to write chalkboard and window messages, and asked to participate in various performances and worship spaces with my handwriting. Using the written word in a visual way is part of my regular canon.

IMG_2872Several weeks ago I sewed up a few dozen prayer flags to add a physical dimension to my prayer life. I have them going around my bedroom and would like to eventually install them in an exhibition in a giant never-ending spiral on a ceiling.

Last year I tried to take up calligraphy with the idea that I would like to write in blood and use it in my exhibition artwork. I love the way both old Spenserian handwriting and perfect calligraphy look and what they communicate: thought, care, time, and the real artful crafting of words both conceptually and visually. After many hours spent fighting with calligraphy nubs I gave up.  Though I would like to convey care and beauty in my words, I also do not want to spend 10 years perfecting such a craft (as I’ve been advised that is how long it take to actually master the art).

Whilst out shopping for art supplies I saw a felt-tip calligraphy pen that could possibly be the key to my success. If I can master that, then maybe I could fill a felt tip with blood and write with that! I purchased the pen and looked forward to practicing with it. I threw it in my art bag early Thursday morning before rushing out the door to my Sacred Art of the Mandala class.

Which brings me to The Revolution.

That week in class we were charged with bringing a sacred text and sharing it with the class. I brought Rublev, a poem by Rowan Williams (copied at the bottom of this post). I found reading and sharing valuable words with the class to be a wonderful experience. There is a level of mutual respect there that I have never experienced before. I am learning so much about the experience of other traditions, which have long been opaque to me. Listening attentively to my classmates had me more open and receptive the words I love so much by Rowan Williams.

I could not wait to get my new pen out and start working the words over and over. I dug through my bag- no pen. Emptied my handbag- no pen. Dumped my art bag completely out- no pen! My exciting new pen was nowhere to be found. Discouraged I wandered to the art supply table- maybe there would be something similar there.

And that is when I saw them: bamboo pens. Aha! I would get the red ink and write in bamboo pen. When I could not find a satisfactory red I settled for the Chinese black ink and went back to my table. I expected the pens to be difficult to use and the ink very messy. I was pleasantly surprised to find the learning curve only so very slight and my enjoyment immense. Here it is! Here my handwriting looks just how I like it and I can write in blood!

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“Color me, breathe your blood into my mouth.”

I stopped at an art store and market (turns out blood is cheap and very easy to come by) on my way home. Lo and behold: it worked!! I’ve been writing in blood ever since. I am not completely sure how or where I will integrate this practice into my bigger works, but in the meantime I am perfecting the handling of the blood and have an idea for a ‘blood book’ project that I would like to create: a smallish art book with every page filled with the same phrase written over and over in blood. The covers of the book will be gilded and ornate like a precious object. It will stretch a tether between sacred text and the scratching of a person gone mad.

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Lord’s Prayer

I do not know how to express how excited this makes me- I find writing in blood to be beautiful, and feels sacred. Writing something in blood feels to me similar to getting a tattoo- it is written in the most indelible and personal of ways. Conceptually I like the idea of writing in my own blood as it becomes so much more personal, but I need to overcome the hurdle (both conceptually and actually) for procurement. I do not want to harm myself- though pain is an important theme in my work, the world is painful enough without intentional harm.

The physical shape of the mandala has not appeared in my work with text in the last few weeks, except in circles on my prayer flags. The complete circle or ever unfinished spiral are more inherent in the meaning and sentiment of the texts and prayers and do not demand to be formed physically into said shapes. To do so would be redundant. Though repetition feels important in sacred acts, redundancy feels strangely profane.

(I never found my pen.)

 

Rublev

One day, God walked in, pale from the grey steppe,

slit-eyed against the wind, and stopped,

said, Colour me, breathe your blood into my mouth.

 

I said, Here is the blood of all our people,

these are their bruises, blue and purple,

gold, brown, and pale green wash of death.

 

These (god) are the chromatic pains of flesh,

I said, I trust I shall make you blush,

O I shall stain you with the scars of birth

 

For ever, I shall root you in the wood,

under the sun shall bake you bread

of beechmast, never let you forth

 

To the white desert, to the starving sand.

But we shall sit and speak around

one table, share one food, one earth.

Rowan Williams

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The American Road: Old Route 66 Memorial

Sometimes (oftentimes) the best way to travel is slowly. Take the long way, stop and smell the desert rain, eat a sandwich on the side of the road while the sun goes down. This is how I like to travel. Avoiding interstates, absorbing the land and enjoying my own company.


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31 May, 2015

Old Route 66 between highway 95 and Oatman, Arizona

Sunscorched, battered, tattered and left to disintegrate in the desert- it feels as though there are parallels to be drawn and meanings to be inferred from this memorial in the sun. Is this me languishing in the sunny part of the world? Is this America and the tattered remnants of a dream that no longer fits the world we live in? Or is it just a flag marking the place where a life was lost?

This tattered flag marks the spot where someone very real was lost forever.

Life Hacks for Creative People Seminar

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I was asked to sit on a panel for a seminar at HTB Focus (exciting!). It was a great experience and a good exercise for my own creative practice to have to sit down and think about what it is that I do in my daily life engage with my art practice.

Just a note, I feel quite strongly that all people are creative, and some people work in the arts.

Life Hacks for Creative People Seminar hosted by Al Gordon and featuring Alex Douglas, Martin Smith, and myself.

Enjoy!

The Old Man and the Sea

I read my first Hemingway novel at the recommendation of a friend. I didn’t expect to know him. The old man, I mean. But I do. I grew up with him.

The old man sat repairing his nets and watching me grow up. He saw the devastatingly bored child lying on the floor, he watched while I took apart things I could never repair. He listened while Granddaddy read me Bible stories, and later he watched as I plowed through dozens of books in a summer. He watched me watch my grandfather fall asleep in his chair every afternoon surrounded by his books.

10911331_10155046462875634_6360293463715648372_oAll my life the old man and his nets sat on a low table in my grandparents sitting room watching- a single string looped over his toe.

I never returned to my grandparents house after their death, so as far as I am concerned, there he will sit repairing his net, thinking of his great fish and me, for the rest of time.

On Baptised by Blood (Part 1)

I did what I set out to do, and I did it really well. So why do I feel so lost?

Finishing a project of this magnitude feels like a break up. It’s exciting and consuming, and then all of a sudden it’s over. All of a sudden there is nothing. There is nothing left to occupy my thoughts and my heart. After a breakup, one is left piecing a broken heart back together, rubbing fingers along the sharp edges to feel the intensity of the pain which seems to lend value of the now broken relationship.

With art the pain is similar, but there is completion. Something whole and real has been extracted from my soul for all to see. In my minds eye it looks like a giant, sharp piece of obsidian that’s been painfully pulled from my center leaving me empty and breathless. I look at the photos and reread my thesis in the same way one traces the raw edges of a broken heart. I want to feel the weight of it in my chest again, the emptiness hasn’t brought the relief I expected.

I was asked to write a reflection on Baptised by Blood, but I just can’t do it. Not yet. It’s too close. I am still too stunned.

What I can say is that I set out on an academic pursuit to find a space between art and religious practice. I think I found it. I set out to make work that is intelligent but accessible. I did that. I set out to raise the money to make a huge installation happen. We did that. I set out to make work that is personal and honest and painful and sacrificial. I gave it everything.

My hope now is that it was worth it. That it brought joy and honor to the Father. That it started conversation and interest and thought. And that somehow, someway that project will pave the way for future projects.

(Photos from the installation will be live on CaseyMacKenzie.co.uk this week.)