NoPlace, Oslo proudly presents:
Clara Chapin Hess
The Ancient Greek verb mῡein, meaning to close the eyes or mouth is the root of the scientific term myosis which refers to the constriction of the pupils. Recently, as I walked back into the Cloisters Museum (Bronx, NY), from its sun-soaked West Terrace, the verb mῡein presented itself to me as a framework for viewing. With eyes open I was blind and could only decipher vague forms and sense the quality of air that comes off of sacred stone. There arose a parallel between the physiological phenomenon of my constricted pupils and the way in which the sacraments, displayed within the walls of the Cloisters, served as a spiritual boundary. These tactile ancient artifacts - icons, tapestries of myths, tombs of heroes, relics imbued with magical meaning - exist as external manifestations of the internally impalpable. Both myosis and the fabrication of sacred objects protect us from excessive illumination; one of the eye causing potential blindness, and one of the soul/mind causing potential insanity. A temporary loss of sight protects our eyes from permanent blindness; as structured transcendence keeps us from becoming utterly un-tethered.
Deprived and relieved of the capacity to transform into creatures of myth and symbology, we create alters from objects, onto which we can project our fear of, as well as our desire for alterity. We imbue these objects with meaning; idols with power. We fashion gods as arbiters of fate - our protection or destruction. We feel more comfortable and maintain our sanity more fluidly, if our agency is constricted. Herein lies the cultural tradition of building pseudo-parental structures to provide an external sense of stability.
In the ancient Hellenistic era protomes were hung up to serve as household gods. A protome is a relief plaque of a head, or head and torso, of a human or animal representation. They were often built with two holes facilitating hanging, giving these icons a certain air of utilitarianism. They were meant to protect the inhabitants of the home, alleviating some of the pressure of the everyday, functioning as an iteration of mῡein. A sigh of relief as a door closes.
Sacred objects are generally ‘set apart’ from those objects having a designated utilitarian function. Once deemed sacrosanct, these objects can no longer be used. It is precisely this exemption from quotidian use, and the specific meanings that are thus attached to an object, that divides the sacred from the domestic. Devoid of predetermined function an object or a space can be more aptly projected upon by our psyche and imbued with personal meaning. It becomes an obfuscated mirror, a vaulted ceiling- a mediated vehicle for transcendence.
Contemporary art objects are also products of this divisive history and have fallen on the side of the sacred. Art today still occupy the realm of the libidinal and demonstrate the horror of existence. Do we look to them for protection? Does the art object fulfill the role of representing the abyss of the unknown, and the fear of our own autonomy? Can we project onto them our most morbid fears and desires? And dare we question how monetary value plays into this romance between person and transcendence, object and reverence?
On July 7 2012 No Place will serve as a space where the viewer can ascend and descend simultaneously, as Icarus and Persephone, protected by a series of protomes. It might smell like a forest in a field of onions and sound like an art fair.
photos by Saman Kamyab