Inside Itself – Kim Schrag [Artistic Endeavors]
This exhibit by Kim Schrag was featured at the Community Arts Partnership, ArtSpace, in Center Ithaca, on the Ithaca Commons.
It is with great interest that I feature this work as I think it’s pretty amazing and interesting to see the images with the inquiries [see below]. I was originally going to publish eight individual posts and dedicate one painting and mini essay per feature. However, I feel the overall message is more powerful for the reader/viewer when it is read/seen from the first painting, Self-Centered, sequentially to the last painting, There is No Separation.
I think the introductions are a great way of explaining what the work is about. The text describes the theme of the personal self and its relationship to Life.
Matthew King: So tell us about this project and how it came about please.
Kim Schrag: This group of paintings evolved as an exploration into the attributes of the psychological self. In the first paintings, Self-Centered, Accumulation, Falling Away, and Who’s Looking, I was interested in the nature of identity and the self, and the challenge of creating images that would metaphorically describe psychological (although physically invisible) concepts. I asked myself: How are identity and the self related? What/who is noticing the attributes of the thought structure which is creating the general human identity, as well as the identity of the individual self?
It seems that there is a psychological entity, that all humans carry, which represents their idea of themselves as individual psyches, separate from others and their environment. We could say that this is basic consciousness, the sense impression that I exist in my own mental space and in my own body. Out of this consciousness I recognize other people as separate from me, but also somewhat related to me. I see the space I live in as my space or your space or open space. I feel the boundaries of my body and look for what is beneficial to it and what may be harmful. But beyond this basic consciousness that living beings must have, there seems to be a human consciousness or self, that collects psychological material such as memories, experience and knowledge to differentiate him/herself from others, and who believes this constitutes personal identity. As we become more convinced that this is who we are, we also become convinced that we are separate individuals divided from life. If we do recognize life, there may be a sense that we are individual entities born into life and presently walking on the surface of life, but not Life itself.
Although we tend to divide the field of perception into inside and outside, me and not me, this and that, the earth and the cosmos, God and human, it may only be that way in thought. There is no inside and outside to Life. There are no individual parts, although it may appear that way to us, for it is the nature of thought to analyze and divide. Thought focuses on the characteristics of individual form and particular relationships between forms, but it is incapable of conceiving the relationships that tie all things together. We may insist that life has meaning relative to us, but ignore the possibility that Life has its own meaning that we cannot perceive or know. As this became clearer to me, the paintings Inside Itself I and II, The Great Unfolding, and There Is No Separation were developed.
MK: Tell us about the exploration.
In this exhibit the paintings can be seen as part of the record of an ongoing investigation into the self and Life. As the exploration was taking place, I was engaging in daily conversations with Fernando Llosa, my partner, and reading books and listening to video lectures from people who have been interested in these topics. The ideas that were filtering in from other voices were informing the paintings, but the paintings were also informing the understanding. The paintings are silent but lively and if you give them time to unfold, in the silence of attention, your own exploration may begin.
The psychological self is made of images,
a pile of papers,
books or blocks,
stacked so high
that the structure is no longer balanced and the whole pile starts to fall down.
assumptions and expectations,
accumulated stories of who,
what, when and where.
they might just float away.
no picking up,
no worrying about where they might go,
just an unexpected opportunity
to dismantle and be free
of the accumulation.
There is no division between what is perceived to be the interior and the exterior form.
Inside Itself expresses the love and interconnectedness of the totality.
An element existing within something else, while separate and particular, is still dependent for its existence on the larger form.
The organs of the body can be seen separately with specific and highly specialized functions, but it would be absurd to say that they exist independently from the body.
A flock of birds, a school of fish, and a swarm of bees all move together as if they were a single organism guided by the same mind, and yet the individuals in each group are vitally connected to the environment in which they live.
If you imagine the earth, do you just see the rocky sphere of the planet, or do you include the sky and clouds, the oceans, rivers and glaciers, the soil, the animals and plants? Does Earth end at the biosphere? Could we exist without the sun, the moon, the stars, the universe?
As a human being, do we exist separately from the natural environment or the social connections which sustain us? Physically and psychologically, where do we begin and end?
Who is the one who is looking?
Can I keep stepping back while asking the question until it is apparent
that there is no individual apart from Life?
Is it not Life that is the observer all of the time,
even when the conditioning of thought creates a lens of distortion?
Imagine what would happen if that lens could be taken off completely.
What would Life see?
Would there be a new clarity, a new intensity,
an awareness of relationship that we are currently missing?
We are product,
and one with
the continuously generating source.
Our understanding of life continues
to unfold, with a greater awareness
of the unity of the whole.
This unity denies our individuality, our isolation,
We are able to move beyond both the despair of self-centered withdrawal and the desire for personal success.
As I walk the path from the house to the garden, I can see the bright yellow Rudbeckia blossoms moving with the wind. The bird house that protected a chickadee and her young this spring, is now empty, except for a spider that is busy making its own webbed nest. As I pass through the gate and into the garden, I stop to look at the squirrels chasing each other in spirals down the trunk of one of the many Black Walnut trees surrounding this small garden. The air is full of the sounds of crows, woodpeckers, small song birds, crickets and cicadas. The sun comes and goes under the clouds. I move through the garden in an almost trance-like state, not in any hurry, nor with any real purpose, except to see what is there. It occurs to me that nothing in this garden is aware of its own beauty.
The flowers don’t know their power of attraction, they just attract. Each flower comes from a seed in the ground, unfolds its beauty, petal by petal, attracts and is pollinated by bees and wasps, and eventually drops the seed that it has created so that the next part of the plant cycle will continue.
Are we, as human beings any different from this cycle of life? While we may get caught up in our own vanity and drive for individual identity, are we not carried through each stage of life, our body growing, changing, transforming, without our control or initiative.
Isn’t it true that just like the plants, we must have the sun, water, minerals from the earth, air, warmth, and the interaction between us and other beings, in order to fully develop and survive? Where are the boundaries between the body and nature? Where are the boundaries between the human being and Life?
There is no separation.
The printed version of the Inside Itself exhibition catalog is now available for purchase. It can be ordered directly from the printer, Lulu. You can also see a preview of the book on the Lulu site.
Inside Itself, includes 8 oil paintings and texts which describe the theme of the personal self and its relationship to Life. Introductory essays by Fernando Llosa and Kim Schrag discuss the theme, motivation, and process of developing this collection of paintings.
If you did see the show this is a more relaxed way to spend time with the images and ideas, and if you didn’t get to the show, well here it is!
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