Sherry Inhabiting Red (after Helena), image by Robert Kittila, 2016
I asked photographer Robert Kittila to take the above image of me last September when I was preparing to go to Portugal to study Portuguese conceptualist Helena Almeida’s work and make my own work at the Obras Foundation. This image was part of my process of embodying Helena Almeida, I just recently “painted” the red in Photoshop. Almeida inspired me to use myself as the subject in my own artwork and this has engendered a deeply personal process for me, and in fact has led me away from Almeida’s methods to discover my own methods. Below is the image of Helena Almeida’s that I was imitating with her signature blue paint.
Inhabited Painting, 1977, Helena Almeida, photograph with acrylic paint
My journey to Portugal last fall and the work I accomplished there has taken on a dreamlike and mythical significance for me. I love the work I accomplished in the studio at Obras using my own body in actions and performances with the red and black and white cloth constructions and environments. While working at Obras, I was also drawn into the beautiful surrounding landscape and environment. This broke me away from Almeida’s way of working. Her magnificent body of work of the last 40 years has been almost entirely enacted in her studio or in interior spaces. Nature, landscape and architecture has been part of my art and life from my early days making site-specific sculptures – so finding this mystical landscape in Portugal was a return of sorts for me. I am currently sorting through the images I took last fall and those that photographer Luis Branco took of me in various beautiful environments near the Obras Foundation and the nearby medieval fortress at Evoramonte. I am preparing for my next series of works in Portugal. I will be returning to Portugal in October (October 14th to November 14th) for a month’s residency at the Obras Foundation to complete this project.
There is a stark and mystical quality to this area of Portugal – with it’s ancient groves, magic stones, medieval castles, roaming sheep, and sacred mountains. The sorting and sketching (in red and black) process I have been doing is like analyzing and revealing a long and lucid dream. There is a very feminine and sensuous aspect to these environs and to my images and actions within them. A narrative is developing – a mythical passage of sorts. I have already begun this course and now I am compelled to finish it – though I am not exactly sure of its outcome or direction. It will take form on top of the mountain at Evoramonte and in the high tower there as well as in the valleys and groves below that I am returning to.
on Evoramonte mountain with black, image by Luis Branco
“Black is primary to many forms of transformation, the imaginal hue of individual metanoia, a turning away, or a turning inward, or even a “dark night of the soul,” the luminous darkness of self-understanding. In the alchemical opus black signifies the eclipse of familiar patterns of identity and meaning. The nigredo is a state of disorientation, exhaustion, self-doubt, depression, inertia, confusion, and disjunction. Yet, the alchemists found the nigredo not cause for dismay, but for rejoicing; it expressed conjunction with psyche’s illimitable, teeming potential in which could be conceived the golden embryo of self.”– (Ronnberg, Ami ed. The Book of Symbols – Reflections on Archetypal Images, Taschen, 2010. pg. 658)
I am continuing to make preparatory sketches in Photoshop for this new series and posted a few of them here as well as in my last blog post – “Sketches from Portugal.” For this new series I will use red and black paint on the black and white images and I will also install large swathes of red and black cloth on my body, in the landscape, in gateways and in the shadows of the trees, etc. and photograph these actions and installations. I am not sure which method is more effective, the paint or the cloth, so I will do both and figure it out as I go. For now I am sketching in Photoshop with black and red “paint.”
at the gate of the Evoramonte Fortress with red, image by Luis Branco
“In many cultures, red is associated with fiery intensity, ardor, daring, bravery, which can move into fury and cruelty. This aspect of red is expressed in African symbolism both by the color and by the idea of nyama, the potential force in all things and the bodies of all beings, especially in the blood. This potent energy fills witnesses with both wonder and fear. And to the alchemists, rubedo or reddening was the last stage of the long process of making gold or, psychologically, integrating the personality. It meant nothing less then bringing spiritual realization into full-blooded reality, lived out fully in everyday life.”(Ronnberg, Ami ed. The Book of Symbols – Reflections on Archetypal Images, Taschen, 2010. pg. 640)
I am imagining and developing a narrative for this new series (in red and black) that I hope to accomplish next month in Portugal with the help of photographers Luis Branco and Rui Fernandes, and with the support of Ludger van der Eerden and Carolien van der Laan of the Obras Foundation. I have found a loose and fruitful relationship with the ancient Greek mythical figure of Psyche. Psyche accomplishes a series of tests and tasks in the Myth of Psyche and Eros – many of which I have found to be similar with my own experiences. There are sacred mountains, black rivers, plunging valleys, many obstacles, as well as talking towers and helpful eagles in Psyche’s journey– which all correspond to the Portugal of my imagination and my experience. I am very excited (and a little afraid) to be going back to Portugal to enact this dreamlike narrative.
on the top of Evoramonte tower with red, image by Luis Branco