Please click link here to view the new art piece: Nephila 

             https://youtu.be/bb-1jUUUGwU

In the summer of 2012, when I first visited the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, I was fortunate to have corresponded with and met Professor Markus Buehler, Department Head, McAfee Professor of Engineering at MIT, whose principal interest lies in Material science and the study and investigation of molecular dynamics and protein based material. Our main discussion was centered around how the natural structure of spider silk was being modified to in order to increase its potential uses. Spider silk is made almost completely from liquid proteins that the spiders form into fibers. Researchers at his lab then collaborated with music theorists and composers then started to write music based on the different silk sequences. From recalling the mortal weaver Arachne in Ovid’s “Metamorphosis”-its tales, images and renderings and orb webs and funnel webs to thinking about real spider webs entangling hapless things cleverly into their design to Emily Dickenson’s spider that” sewed at night, without a light, upon a arc of white” I was not just thinking of materials old and new but of abstract, tumbling outspread shapes and yarns of transformative memories.

(According to Professor Buehler, scientists would increasingly examine the music of Bach or Chopin to find insight into the design and structure of new synthetic materials.)

I was focused on the synesthetic magic that this research spun on my senses and so profoundly feeling connected to the Lab’s analytic spirit, that my need to inhabit that space on a visceral and theatrical level grew stronger each day. I started working on a tune that was prosodically yoked to the silent and unyielding tensions between the specific geometric configurations of the structural proteins that hold spider silk together and my own memories that had the same tensile strength as the webs. My grandmother would say that weaving did not merely pertain to textiles, but it was the intertwining of the material with the immaterial, the threads with emotions and cultures and the past with the present and the future-finally one that made weaving a primary resonant rhythm in the act of storytelling. Ever since textiles have been an integral part of my own feminine articulation-where dyes, colors and patterns have had a voice of their own.

Years later, as I have looked at my own body, I have found layers of memories, sounds, fish-fin tales, laughter and tears-all embedded deep inside the skin and flesh and clothes that the world now sees me in. I have been deeply influenced by the works of Cuban artist Ana Mendieta and how wonderfully she fused nature, feminine eroticism-where the body becomes a piece of art rather than a visually consumable object. This piece- Nephila is a whimsical commingled artwork where the body, the stories in the song, the sounds and its connection with nature is totally inspired by Dr. Buehler’s scientific research as well as Louise Bourgeoise’ Spider sculpture titled Maman. Personal memories of my slight figured aunt who raised me in the absence of my own mother drifted in as I wrote the song-one who was frail and strong at the same time and provided me the inner prowess to find my own in a male dominated society in eastern India. I found a symbolic and transitional space from the weaving spider to my material female body that is looking for an identity beyond physical conquest. A body with a mind that wants to tell truths and question female victimization and deconstruct the art of seduction-to rise above complying with male attention and surveillance. Bourgeoise’ rather foreboding installation space of Maman, her reminiscences of her own mother where she transforms her to a spider in her imagination-“clever, patient, reasonable, dainty, indispensable, neat and as useful as a spider”)-also triggered my creative and cognitive values whilst creating Nephila.

In order to tangibly depict the feeling of being “caught” “manipulated” and captured and to project as well the tug of war between the viewer and Maman, the sculpture, between man and woman and between the frailties of a woman’s existence and her strength to be able to procreate-I reached out to my dear friend Vassiliki to add the wispy airy poetic elements (via her mythical Greek imagination) in the narrative.

Thus, the live art piece Nephila-is a tapestry of beliefs, concepts, languages, memories, colors, threads, mythology presented through performance, sound art and lyrical narrative. The Cello plays a vital role in bringing the textures together and adding the pathos and the honesty that all art carries along with it.

Many factors were taken into consideration in the making of this video, in terms of formal properties, qualities and principles in a recognized series of discrete objects so to speak, in order to shape the subject matter.

The most important objective has been to meld poetry-storytelling with sounds, colors, textures, movement, balance, harmony, dissonance, rhythms, languages, light and shadows and cultures where the artistic mind is the needle that weaves it all in through the abstraction of the digital media, where interpretations are left open for visual interaction.

Nephila-The Narrative
My fibers full of volts- I run from tree to tree, I resonate inside-You instigate me.
Don't claw at my heart, I've not learned defeat,
From the silence of my silk,
I spring again from me.
Νεφίλα, πώς μ’ άφησες
τον χορευτή μονάχο;
Δε γέμισες με φρέσκο
αέρα κι όνειρο το σήμερα.
Συ που γύρευες στα
βότσαλα
Τη νοσταλγία του
παρελθόντος.
Συ που μύριζες
Τον αιώνιο νάρκισσο στα
ουρανογιάλια.
Συ που έδραξες
Τα πρώτα γιούλια του
Μάη.
Συ που χάζευες τα
βότσαλα
Της κλεμμένης ομορφιάς.
Πώς δε γύρισες, Νεφίλα
του Γιαλού;
Συ που συνέδραμες
Τον ωραίο κύκλο των
κοριτσιών
Των αγοριών που έμπαιναν
στην πλάνη
Στην άκρη της πλανεμένης
νεότητας;
Πώς μ’άφησες τον χορευτή
μονάχο, πες μου!
έλα, Νεφίλα κρύψε με στα
σύννεφα
 Νεφίλα νεφεληγερέτη, συ!
(Translation
from Greek: Nephila, how come you left me alone, me the dancer?
You didn't fill with fresh air and dream the "today"
You
who were scenting the eternal narcissus in the heavenly glass.
You
who picked up the first wild flowers of May.
You
who were idling the pebbles
Of
stolen beauty.
How
come you never came back Nephila Nefeligereti?
You
who assisted the cycle of girls,
Of
boys who were joining illusion
At
the edge of their illusory youth?
How
come you left me alone, me the dancer on the shore, tell me!
Come
now Nephila, hide my tears within your clouds
You
Nephila stirrer of the clouds!)

I will dance to your tears

Your crying’s music to my ears…

Get
away from me
Come
closer here.
I
am miracle
I
am wonder
I
am the author of your grieving heart,
I
steal your joys from the dark
I
weave my threads from the past

Nephila

Nephila

Nephila

I am your golden silk orb weaver.

Ναι, Νεφίλα, ναι

χόρεψε μαζί μου στο ρυθμό των δακρύων

πλέξε χορδές με τις ακτίνες αυτών των δακρύων

για μουσική μια νεκρική σιγή στα νέφη

Νεφίλα, φίλα με, στα φύλλα της καρδιάς μου.

(Translation
from Greek: Yes, Nephila, yes, dance with me in the rhythm of the tears and
weave strings out of the rays-of these tears as a deadly silence reigns
-Nephila, kiss me, in my heart’s leaves.)

“In long space, human prospects are extreme,

Alone as snow drifts up, you watch the distance-

The work of quiet breathing precludes fellow hermits.

Chanting idle rhymes, you neglect to carry firewood.”

                                                                     ~  Hsi Chou (Chinese Buddhist poet monk)

I was 6 months old when my parents took me to Bodhgaya (a village located in the northeastern state of Bihar, India) for my rice-eating ceremony which was conducted at the Mahabodhi temple. For some reason, my mother insisted that the ceremony had to be concluded under the “Bodhi Tree” where Gautama Buddha had attained enlightenment and where he had been awakened to suññatā. My mother, who believed in the  Buddhist philosophy of creating awareness and consciousness at a very early age, had the faith that even as an infant I would respond to the emptiness and radiance of facing the east (symbolizing a rising) as the Buddha had done-meditating under the Bodhi Tree till he accomplished a state of complete equanimity, where “ignorance was banished and true knowledge arose, darkness was banished and light arose as happens in one who abides diligent, ardent and resolute.”

Birds, monkeys, humans sit everyday under the Bodhi Tree- so did I when I was an infant. Sitting under the Bodhi Tree did not make me understand impermanence, pain and suffering, help me practice mindfulness or keep my mind calm and free from distraction. Life itself became my Bodhi-Tree, the raw brushstrokes of unanticipated pain and separation made me realize that my life is a painting with no colors, a poem with no message, a rosary with scattered beads flicking through my numb fingers. All of these experiences came upon me later, when my mother left us to become a nun. I started stitching memories on a blank canvas, learning as it were, the art of meditating on emptiness, on the void that underlies all physical manifestation.

I believe I grew up to be a very normal girl, who lived life to the fullest despite my parents getting separated when I was only twelve years old. I was raised by very spiritually discerning souls-my estranged parents, my aunts and my uncle who did not propagate a particular religious doctrine that I was compelled to follow. I attended Jewish Girls School and went to a Catholic college and prayed at a Hindu temple and never found a reason to examine the self, look for God or ponder upon the Buddhist concept of suññatā. Much later I learned that in Pali, suññatā could be interpreted as voidness or emptiness of the self, though Thai ascetic philosopher Ajahn Buddhadasa said-“if one must translate suññatā, voidness is the best choice. Emptiness is too close to nothingness… suññatā doesn’t mean nothing or nothingness, then it’s useless and has no benefit.” According to Buddhadasa, the Buddha said that the world is suñño (void), but there is still a world-it is a void that exists but possesses a void of atta or the self: “It’s like a material vacuum, there’s nothing in it, but there’s still space.”

My father on the other hand, helped me understand the concept of emptiness by introducing me to the sense of presence and absence in Japanese aesthetics and by introducing me to translations of Chinese and Japanese poetry and Buddhist poems in Sanskrit. He also made me aware of the manifestation of the Buddha Nature and of the essence of the ideogram “mu” in the Kaisho, Gyosho and sosho styles. My father made me perceive how emptiness visualized through Japanese art could help develop great resilience of the spirit and how each line, brushstroke and tapered curve had a certain tension that crystallized the teachings of Buddhism and enlightenment was more a state of practice of perfecting the strokes in the mu ideogram, than just expecting a miracle. Over the years, the way of the brush, both in writing and thinking, has been my Zen master and has taught me that true emptiness is without form and that mistakenly we create something to grasp.Sunyata Symbol

I have been deeply influenced by the enso which begins at the top of a circle, swings around and ends back at the top-which imbues the circle with a sort of nervous energy- a feeling of unsettling, imperfect smudginess that brings to mind the phrase: “The great square has no outside, the great circle has no inside”. Especially after my father passed away quite early in my life…times when I needed him the most, my heart has become an enso-feeling weightless in the mind, despite an underlying sense that I am moving in this vast universe, timelessly. I did a lot of soul searching to truly understand suññatā, which in the terminology of the Prajna (wisdom or insight) school is “the world of the absolute and Tathātā (suchness or thusness) is the world of particulars.”

Sunyata is formless but is also the mainspring of possibilities.

All my inner ramblings needed a physical manifestation-for Sunyata embraced both emptiness and fullness and I was looking for an artistic interpretation of my speculations about Sunyata. I was in the quest of a technique that could suspend all my half-hearted pre-judgments and become an expression of the mind. This process begun when I started communicating with German scientist and sculptor Julian Voss Andreae about his “Quantum Buddha” project. Julian educated me about Sunyata by helping me explore the deeper nature of existence through his articulate sculptures. (Previously a quantum physicist at the University of Vienna, Julian attempts to magically to create tangible forms of sculptures based on his insights of the world as portrayed in quantum physics.) He said, ‘I want to increase the audience’s capacity to intuit the unfathomable deeper nature of reality by sensually experiencing the works. ‘I was thoroughly drawn to how Julian was equating the ‘disappearing angle’ (double slit experiment in quantum mechanics), to the direction of a person’s gaze (which is also unique to each person’s perspective) as applied to an old concept in Cambodian Buddhism. He related the concept of Sunyata by bringing together ideas, images and experiments in the world of Quantum physics to visually depict the hovering between existence and non-existence that is essential for the functioning of reality. His holistic approach made me realize that art and quantum theory had the ability to transform the challenging aspects of modern physics into something beautiful and relatable-and this grew upon me as a creeper plant would around the windows—caressing, entangling and healing all at once.

Quantum Buddha by Julian Voss Andreae

When I observed the Quantum Buddha (titled Sunyata) sculpture piece, it seemed to disappear when one walked around it. The multiple sliced parts had been impeccably arranged in a manner that was not just aesthetically pleasing but translated the theories in quantum mechanics to Buddhism through art. I stared at the sculpture at length and for some reason I found an immense spiritual affinity with the changing perspectives of form and formlessness, of being and vacuity, of presence and absence. This led me to equate Julian’s concept of the interplay of form and formlessness with a research collaboration between Mette Ramsgard Thomsen and Tony Hicks (Strange Metabolisms) at the University of Brighton. This project explored knit structures in architecture through slits, protrusions and layering. The project was an exploration of the making of a city-of emergent behaviors, where knitted skins wrap and pleat the inner and the outer, seeking to entwine dependencies and independencies with respect to forms and fibers. Multiple fibers knitted through each other and the visual and tactile interactive expressions in this challenging new world of textiles and computational technology translated in my mind as the interaction between object and non-object where one cannot exist without the other and through this, I envisioned the parent child bond through presences or absences. Sunyata image-1

This once again makes me think of the imagery of the middle way between opposites of existence and emptiness that is recurrent in Japanese arts. Japanese puppeteer Chikamatsu wrote an essay titled Kyojitsu Himaku Ron-translated as the Doctrine of the interspace of the skin membranes between unreal and real being-where Himaku is the skin membrane or the clothing of the puppet which conceals an empty space. The skill of the puppeteer lies in the manner in which he manipulates the membrane to reveal the emptiness within all of existence. For me, Julian became this puppeteer whose quantum sculptures helped me understand the various perspectives of Sunyata-where everything comes to be in the nothingness of its being.

And so, I felt…

Audio link for Sunyata-Please click here!

Sunyata:

This is a real story.

Today I shall speak aloud the words of emptiness.

Today I shall express the feeling of being and not being.

Today I am Sunyata,

You are Sunyata,

I am form,

You are form,

We are emptiness.

It all started when I was twelve and my mother said she was going to become a Sister of Mercy. She said to me that she had heard the calling from God. She wanted to be with the angels and saints. So she brushed past me, my father———us!

Sunyata

And I heard the biting chill,

Stared at my white sighs,

Glued at the windowsill,

Like a thing that could be touched,

And felt-

My life numb,

Still!

And ever since,

I have been catching drifting fireflies

Through long nights.

Watching shadows on empty walls-

Arresting the passage of time.

Then I became a lamp,

And played with patterns and forms.

But when I became thread,

And saw myself through folds,

Protrusions,

Slits,

Twistings and layerings,

I looked above and saw

A hazy roof knit with golds and reds,

Mother and I tangled in the empty skies.

Mother I have now figured,

Why I always see you sitting inside a box of silk-

Clouds of nylon laces always moving around

You-

In this world of Sunyata,

Nothing can be grasped,

Everything is moving,

There one moment

And then not.

I sense your spirit in bamboo ink,

My universe-

You now move in and out of the terse strokes of my brush,

Interspersed with images and texts-

The rest I just make up.

And then ultimately, I feel like a Duchampian readymade-

Like the chimney ventilation that turns in the mind,

Or the geometry textbook suspended,

So the theorems get the facts of life,

Exposed to the test of wind, rain and sunshine.

Modern art-

Black on black,

White on white,

How much less nothing can be-

You,

Me,

Our memories,

But Sunyata is beyond strategies.

Nam Myoho Renge Kyo,

Nam Myoho Renge Kyo-

We devote ourselves to the Buddha within us,

And blend into the seeds of the Lotus

In our hearts.

Half the sky,

Dips so low,

Nam Myoho Renge Kyo,

The moonlight,

The mountains,

All there a moment ago,

My birth,

My spirit,

Now obscure.

Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.

I am Sunyata

A Child’s ascent to the Sun

Σήμερα θέλω να μιλήσω απλά

Today I want to speak in simple words

Για τις σκιές που περπατούν στο φως

About the shadows walking on the light

Για ένα ορφανό που έμοιασε στον Ίκαρο

About an orphan like Icarus

Που αέναα πετά ψηλά

Who incessantly flies up high

Για νά ’βρει της μάνας του την αγκαλιά

to find the bosom of its mother

Ένα παιδί που πλέκει ονειρα με φως και ήχο.

A child that weaves dreams with light and sound

With the silent tongues

Of the newborn sun.

Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.

Νά ‘μαι

Here I am

Είμαι η Σουνυάτα

I am Sunyata

Καμωμένη από νειάτα αέναα

Made of endless youth

Εγώ που κυνηγώ με στεναγμούς

I who chase in sighs

Άσπρα καράβια στους αιθέρες

White boats in the sky

Ένα πλεκτό διάφανο

A transparent quilt

Της παρουσίας και της απουσίας της.

Of my mother’s presence and absence

Μορφή εγώ

Form myself

Μορφή κι αυτή

From herself

Κι οι δυο μας απουσίες.

Both of us forming absences

Ουσίες που χαθήκανε στο φως, αν θες

Essences lost in light, if you wish

Οι παρουσίες μας απούσες

Our presences absent

Deux êtres absents

Two beings in absentia

Toujours unies dans le néant

Yet always united in the void.

L’art nous transforme en la première matière

This art transforms us in the primordial matter

De notre amour éternel

Of our eternal love

Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.

Νά ‘μαι

Here I am

Είμαι η Σουνυάτα

I am Sunyata

Με κρατά απ’ το χέρι η μητέρα

My mother holds my hand

Στην παρθενική μου “άτα”

In my first ever walk

Σ’αυτό το αέρινο υφαντό της ενιαίας ύπαρξής μας

On this very quilt of our fused existence

Το μόνο που απέμεινε

The only relic

Ένα πουκάμισο αδειανό, μαθές

An empty shirt, if you wish

Μιας άλλης ιστορίας ανείπωτης

Of another untold story.

Τούτη είναι η ιστορία μου

This is my own story

Είναι αληθινή

A true stroy

Η δίνη μου

My whirl

Και η οδύνη μου.

And my pain.

Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.

Νά ‘μαι

Here I am

Είμαι η Σουνυάτα.

I am Sunyata.

The sun will fade,

The moon will curve and sing its white lullaby,

But our scattered patterns will stay afloat

On the grey sky mirrored still black lake,

Suspended ‘tween

Form and formlessness.

Sunyata.

(Vassiliki Rapti who is the chair of the Ludics Seminar at Harvard University and is affiliated faculty at the Department of Writing, Literature and Publishing at Emerson college, is also a dear friend with whom I have been collaborating over the years. Vassiliki having read my words on Sunyata, made a shift in the belief that the gnosis of awakening consists of discerning that the true nature of things is emptiness. Her ludic sensibilities motivated her to create a new consciousness through her approach towards Sunyata and she looked to her ludic practices and spun in a new perspective in Greek and French to allow Sunyata to surround us with the poetics of form and formlessness. She says: “This poem is part of our ongoing collaboration called “our ludic music”, a project that started in August 2013. We blend our voices by pulling out from our subconscious the invisible threads of sounds and patterns that we let guide us and fuse our voices. With Sunyata, a real story, —Ivaana’s story—, I immediately felt my role as an intermediate between the absent yet ever-present mother and an orphan’s life. Captivated by the touching quilt of mother and child’s embrace, I thus immediately assumed the role of a narrator whose task was not only to tell the “untold” story of a non-quenched filial love, but to also turn it to a consoling lullaby that would work therapeutically both ways. I started thus weaving a narrative frame to embed the story that I was offered as a gift and then the following lines automatically emerged forming a wave, as they were switching from one language to another and at the same time echoing a line from Greek Nobel-laureate poet George Seferis that has always resonated with me:

“Δε θέλω τίποτα άλλο παρά να μιλήσω απλά

Σήμερα θέλω να μιλήσω απλά

(Today I want to speak in simple words).

About the shadows walking on the light

Για ένα ορφανό που έμοιασε στον Ίκαρο

About an orphan like Icarus

Που αέναα πετά ψηλά

Who incessantly flies up high

Για νά ’βρει της μάνας του την αγκαλιά

to find the bosom of its mother

Ένα παιδί που πλέκει ονειρα με φως και ήχο.

A child that weaves dreams with light and sound.

And then the narrator’s voice was absorbed to the point that my own voice blended with the initial voice of Sunyata. It was the magic power of the sounds of Sunyata  that encapsulated a powerful image for me, that of a child’s first walk towards the sun, an image that was born by the combination of the words from three different registries: Sun (English) y ( “and” in Spanish) and “ata” (meaning “the first walk” in Greek when speaking to a baby). The power of translation liberated the narrator’s voice that broke free from its initial narrative frame and instead it became fused with the initial voice of Sunyata and what felt as impossible to be told to be expressed directly by blending multiple voices as a kind of palimpsest. What is presented here then is a true story that has been first filtered by many registries (including the French) and voices and then distilled and compacted as one: a formless mother-child love and therefore an indelible love of sounds and quilt patterns.)

A few words with Julian Voss Andreae

Ivaana: Julian, when I first came across your works-what struck me the most was how you could dare to represent quantum phenomena tangibly! I wondered what it was that first triggered you to unify quantum physics, consciousness, transcendence, eastern philosophy through your sculptures that seem to emphasize on the continual dynamic relationship between realms? (my father, who studied eastern philosophy and mathematics always tried to introduce me to the parallels between modern physics and eastern mysticism-but it wasn’t until I started following your works that I found renewed interest in this subject).

Julian: I have always been very interested in ‘philosophical’ and religious questions, even in my childhood. In my youth I wanted to go to art academy in Germany but then changed course after attending some philosophy classes. That renewed my old interest in science, in particular physics and biology. I realized pretty quickly that everything I was interested in pointed toward quantum physics and I enrolled into physics waiting anxiously to get started with quantum physics. One reason to start making quantum physics inspired works was out of a desire to grasping them myself. Not so much ‘understanding’ in an intellectual way but a child-like or animal-like way of grasping with my whole body through something I can touch. I didn’t think of it as ‘visualizing quantum physics’ in the first place. I liked to create real manifestations of images or approaches I carried in my mind. The “Quantum Man” for example, the first work consisting of parallel slices, was inspired by a playful or naïve desire to make this walking man image out of ‘wavefronts’ – I don’t think I imagined him to ‘disappear’ until I completed him and looked at the work. Then this disappearing become a central feature of the further evolution of such works.

Ivaana: Please share with us your experience of getting started with your quantum ‘Buckyball’ sculptures. I know there are some other renowned sculptors who have now come up with their version of Buckyball sculptures and some of them focus on the illumination or the geometric patterns. But tell us of the Buckyball as a quantum mechanical object and of how you conceived of it. I would like to suspend the ‘shaping spirit of imagination’ and request you to explain also if you could, why you have one Buckyball installation (in Oregon) in the heart of nature, around trees. In the description, you write: Steel and Trees-30’(9m). As a storyteller, I have a lot going on in my mind just with the description on its own- but am strongly reminded of English poet D. H Lawrence’s collection: Birds, Beasts and Flowers in which his poetic sensibilities project into the lives of birds, beasts and flowers-“The Almond Tree….odd crumbs of melting snow. But you mistake, it is not from the sky, from out the iron, and from out the steel, flying not down from heaven, but storming up…setting supreme annunciation to the world.” Your ‘Steel and Trees’ installation Julian, has for me a similar idea of continuity expressed by the elements in nature and its multiform manifestations.

Julian: I was intrigued by Buckyballs since my youth, when they were discovered. I got really into them scientifically during my graduate work in 1999 where we used them as the (at that point) largest particles ever to probe wave behavior of matter.  I made my first Buckyball sculpture right after graduating from art college in the spring of 2004, guided by Leonardo da Vinci’s open-faced Buckyball illustration of 1509. I felt slightly uneasy about this full sheet of bronze that I bought to create the piece and I was intrigued by the idea to ‘recycle’ the cut-out faces to create another Buckyball. I ended up making four sets of Buckyball out of that one sheet of metal and it seemed natural to nest them into each other, and an interesting metal working challenge. It may have occurred to me only later that the nested balls mirror the structure of the quantum mechanical wavefunction that describe the Buckyballs in our experiment. I happened to have that first Buckyball in my car when I delivered another sculpture to my very first collector who had just bought two protein pieces – and they liked it so much that they bought it right then and there. Events like that were really important in the early years to give me faith in pursuing this incredibly risky career of a sculptor. I am aware of Leo Villareal’s illuminated Buckyballs and Ai Wei Wei’s Buckyballs made from wood of old temples but I think both made them after my 2004 piece. The large Buckyball you mention was built in 2006, originally for a temporary exhibition in a state park in Oregon. I picked a tree that the Buckyball would surround. It had a large branch about 30’ above the ground and I cut the 90 steel struts to just the right length so the assembled Buckyball could be installed sitting on the ground and using that branch for support at its highest spot – Buckyballs are not inherently rigid structures since the faces are not triangulated. In the second iteration, coincidentally on the property of the very same collectors who bought the 2004 bronze Buckyball, I found this amazing group of three large Douglas firs of similar size and arranged roughly in an equilateral triangle. I really liked that the Buckyball embraced the tree in the first installation. It felt somehow very ‘quantum‘ how the installation blurred the usual boundaries of the ‘objects’. I could emphasize this effect by surrounding the whole group of firs (using its inherent symmetry) and suspending the Buckyball fully into the air so it can also be experienced from below.

Ivaana: I am honestly at a loss, yet again! You have such incredible works that I would like to discuss that it is difficult to pin down on one subject. Nonetheless, must ask you about the birthing process of your amazing “Protein Sculptures”-especially ‘Synergy (2013).’ This particular sculpture based on the structure of the collagen molecule is hypnotic and somehow it seems almost kinetic in its cleverly structured design. As a lay person, it visually reminds me of the mysterious “Helix Staircase” of the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico or an ancient petroglyph or an Odissi (Indian classical dance form) dancer bending and spiraling her body to reflect a transference of form between dimensions. There is no end to the creative translations that we can gather from this work and would love to know more about its inception process.

Julian: The protein sculptures were my first body of sculptural works. In my physics research I became familiar with proteins because we were looking into how to extend our Buckyball experiment ‘towards life’, towards biomolecules. And my then-girl friend (and now wife of over 18 years) told me about the Green Fluorescent protein, a molecule she used in her work as a neuroscientist. Shortly afterwards, in my first sculpture class in art college, we had an assignment to rearrange a long piece of lumber with a square cross section using compound mitered cuts. An essentially one-dimensional piece of material is transformed into something three-dimensional (i.e. occupying all three dimensions to a similar degree) only through rearrangement of itsparts. No material is added or lost. This felt analogous to the way life goes from genetic information, stored in the DNA as a one-dimensional sequence of base pairs, to three-dimensional bodies by creating one-dimensional chains of amino acids that curl up into three-dimensional objects, proteins, which comprise the machinery of all life on earth.

I explored turning a number of structurally as well as conceptually interesting proteins into protein sculptures. Shortly after the Buckyball mentioned above I made a work based on the structure of collagen, the most abundant protein in our bodies. When I put the final touches on this 12’ tall piece titled “Unraveling Collagen”, strapped to the telephone pole in our street in front of my garage, it was also the last piece I made at home, realizing the need for a proper metal working studio where I could grind metal all day long without driving my neighbors crazy. This piece led over a decade later to “Synergy”, my second collagen sculpture, for Rutgers University’s Center for Integrative Proteomics (the place where those protein structural data I had been using are stored), made from stainless steel square tubing and colored glass.  The specifics of the design follow to a large degree from my mitered-cut approach in combination with the arrangement of the amino acids in the molecule as revealed through the methods of science. I decided to give each of the three strands a particular color, one of the primary colors, to connect the synergy between the strands to the idea that all colors can be made from the three primary colors. The Rutgers piece conforms quite closely to the structural protein data because it is for a science institute and I felt that type of faithfulness is important in that case. I actually had many very detailed discussions with collagen specialists at Rutgers to get everything right. One issue, for example, was how to connect the three molecular strands in a way that ‘does justice’ to the location of the molecular bonds that play the equivalent role in the molecule. The first collagen piece ‘Unraveling Collagen’ was quite different in that respect. I started out using the scientific data but decided at the end to depart from the structure as it is found in nature and open up the three strands toward the top, hence the title ‘unraveling’ – I was intrigued by the metaphorical consequences of this step: The molecule consists of three spiraling strands that wind around each other in a ‘meta-spiral’. Unraveling collagen makes me think of the collagen in our skin, about the wrinkles we find on our bodies when the structural strength of collagen decreases. I felt reminded of ‘world lines’ in physics, trajectories in phase space that encode the whole history of objects. We meet, and dance around each other, and then we depart from each other. That is how it felt to me.

Ivaana: Amongst your more recent works, Isabelle -stainless steel, concrete, programmable color LED lighting (2018) is almost someone we know or would like to know and yet may not or cannot or should not. This site -specific work (Downtown Palm Springs, California) is for me, reminiscent of the fictional character of Daisy in Scott Fitzgerald’s novel-The Great Gatsby-just as much a vision of the ideal and of Daisy’s own illusion making effects. Yet unlike Daisy, Isabelle seems to have a much more transcendental purpose in her being. She is a meditative and sensual spirit who seems to exist in each one of us who has the desire to listen and share our sufferings with and heal us through her mindful and spiritually nourishing stance. How did “Isabelle” happen and what are your own thoughts about her.

Julian: This is really interesting to me what you write about “Isabelle”. I do have my own thoughts and feelings about her that go in a similar direction. “Isabelle’s working title was ‘Mermaid’, a theme I have been guided by in other works, initially based on a formal analogy to Copenhagen’s ‘Little Mermaid’ and then also to a mermaid’s mythological quality of being seductive, an illusion luring in people. “Isabelle” is located in a passageway that opens up in a curve toward a plaza and my intention was to create a piece that entices people to come from the plaza toward her spot, like a mermaid the sailors. I renamed her because (among other reasons) I wanted her to elicit a spectrum of interpretations, not only the ‘seductive illusion’ pole, but all the way to something that feels innocent and youthful; I imagine a spirit like a water nymph, who has healing and rejuvenating powers. This spectrum is like the translations of the Sanskrit word maya – it has a spectrum of meaning stretching from ‘illusion’, as in ‘bad’ and deceiving, to simply the way the appearances emerge in the world, not good or bad, but problematic when we naively assume them as ‘real’. This sense of perceiving the ‘real’ world as ‘maya’ has been an important part in my more realistic looking, stainless slices piece of the recent years.

Ivaana: I was and am heavily influenced by your Quantum Buddha titled Sunyata and thereby wrote an emotional dialogue with the self. Not everyone understands the double slit experiment or quantum superimposition or duality. However, each one of us in our human lives have or will consciously or unconsciously experienced the Buddhist concept of Sunyata. Please share, how this came about Julian.

Julian: The way I understand the term “sunyata” is closely related to the ‘maya’ above: ultimately there is no reality ‘out there’ – if we look at the bottom of things there is ‘nothing’ of the kind we are accustomed to believing in. I made the first version of “Sunyata” for my father-in-law’s brother, basing it on an old Cambodian Buddha figure George owns.  (that same George Weissman, my father in la, who wrote the paper with me that I sent you)

“With all your science, can you tell how it is, and whence it is, that light comes into the soul?”   -Henry David Thoreau

 Post this conversation with Julian, I felt transported to a world where I was able to visualize feelings. I believe that there is a great neglect of empathy and a general sense of compassion in the true aesthetic ideologies in art. Julian’s sculptures make me feel reassured that I can touch those elusive feelings and explore all manners of sensory vibrations. He creates an incredible space of immersion where art, life and cosmic truths pervade expressively through an invisibly tangible space that the viewer can easily relate with. His sculptures are eloquent, poetic, sensual at times and deeply rooted in the highest degree of spiritual awareness-promising a transformation that exalts and extends beyond the sculptural imperatives of the present moment. Julian is reinventing the experience of the sublime as he redirects our attention from just the “beauteous forms of things” to creating unprecedented narratives of the cosmos in relation to our “meddling intellect.” I feel I am back to my childhood days where I had a greater facility for the states of being, where perceptions and experiences are vivid and not dulled by familiarity or pre-conceived notions. As novelist Virginia Woolf said in her unpublished autobiographical writing Moments of Being: “I cannot recover, save by fits and starts, the focus, the proportions of the external world. It seems to me that a child must have a curious focus; it sees an air-ball or a shell with extreme distinctness; I shall see the air-balls blue and purple, and the ribs on the shells.” The patterns of thought that were unveiled as I connected with Woolf’s Moments of Being is very similar to how I connect with Julian’s works-its inner harmonics and patterns where I feel centralized amid a design-which ignites memories, emotions and allows me to shape my imagination better.

For more information about Julian Voss Andreae please visit his website:

https://julianvossandreae.com/

For more information about Vassiliki Rapti, please visit her website:

https://www.vassilikirapti.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Memory of the Fire at Notre Dame Cathedral, April 15th, 2019.

“If we want to recall a memory, the memory holding cells have to be reactivated by the correct cue.”-Susumu Tonegawa (Tonegawa Lab at MIT)

“The traces left in my memory are not just discrete footprints but the continuous trace of my full body moving through three-dimensional space…I will argue that episodic memory contains segments of the spatiotemporal trajectories from our prior experience.” -Michael E. Hasselmo (The MIT Press)
(There has been no monument of ancient Paris, so interesting by its architecture and its historical associations as the cathedral of Notre Dame, which standing on the site to a temple to Jupiter carries us back to the time of the Roman domination and of Julius Caesar. There have been strange and curious events in the cathedral over the course of time and its interior has been turned to the most diverse purposes-from church festivals to staging mundane plays or religious mysteries or even in the form of an asylum for the mentally unsound.)

Remembering: the space in front of Notre Dame was at one time the scene of many executions and it was here that Victor Hugo’s heroine Esmeralda in The Hunchback of Notre Dame suffered death as the monk Claude Frollo gazed upon her with cruel delight till the bell ringer Quasimodo who loved Esmeralda seized him and flung him down at the foot of the Cathedral. In his novel, Hugo goes on to say, “Notre Dame is not moreover, what can be called a complete, definite, classified monument……It is an edifice of the transition period.”

Forgetting: If my mathematics teacher had reprimanded me for reading the book in class and my mind had been absorbed in visions of dragons and strange birds flying away, feathers scattering in the wind, my garrisoned heart hanging on to the joys of exploring literature time and again in mathematics classes. Forgetting also why my father would keep talking about Emile Zola, father of the experimental novel when I would talk to him about Victor Hugo’s novel. Was it something about human progress? The cathedral being symbolic of the future? Romanticism? Was it about Gustave Flaubert-or that Zola wrote his fragments of dialogues, scenes, episodes, occurrences as an unconnected collage-in a similar manner of how I am hovering between forgetting and remembering right now? What are these scattered impressions as I hear the fragrance of jasmines but can’t sing to it as the silence holds me up?

Remembering: Notre Dame was founded in 1163 by King Louis IX and Bishop Maurice De Sully who wanted to build a church that rivalled the Basilique Saint Denis. Hugo aptly describes it in his novel-“Great edifices like great mountains are the work of centuries. Art often undergoes a transformation while they are pending-pendent opera interrupta; They proceed quietly in accordance with the transformed art. The new art takes the monument where it finds it…”

Victor Hugo had a great desire to portray imageries of light-as much as Mathew Arnold or Goethe or many other writers and poets. However, his passion to project images of fire, heat or Fire-water-in a backdrop of phosphoric sea of fancies cannot be matched by anyone. Fire is a natural choice as a transformational symbol in many of his works including The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Les Misérables and Toilers of the Sea. The natural perils of fire and water complete each other in a cosmic confluence in many different ways- as Hugo seems to have a predilection for these two agile and fleeting elements. His powerful representation of fire and water has a strong impact on the reader’s visual aesthetic sphere as the author emphatically highlights the role the elements play in spiritual cleansing and healing of the human soul. His apocalyptic narratives serve to remind us of his growing desire for universal peace, justice and freedom. His poetry and narratives are prophetic-as we see in his collection of poems “Les Orientales” which was inspired by the Greek war of Independence. In Les Orientales, the recurring motif of apocalyptic destruction is central and thus his repetitive imageries that juxtapose water and fire keep building internal interlocking patterns that immerse us in visions of his prophetic judgment and an overwhelming presence of the indefinable and infinite.

Remembering that in 1618 and again 1776 Palais de justice in Paris, was badly damaged by fire. The Palais went through extensive alterations between 1839 and 1870. Victor Hugo was deeply affected by this and in the very first scene “The novel Hunchback of Notre Dame”, he wonders why the palais was burned down-and discusses rhetorically if there was a historical reasoning or an astronomical approach (‘the great flaming star, a foot broad, and a cubit high, which fell from heaven, as every one knows..’) or the verse maker’s theory (‘sure ‘twas a sorry game, when at Paris, Dame Justice, through having eaten too much spice, set the palace, all aflame.’)

Again, very conspicuous symbols of light and darkness, fire and water is used by Hugo in Les Misérables—-from the heavens… to the brain, fire and blood, fire and water, fireplace, firebrand, oil on the fire, bread and fire, fireworks, devil’s fire, fire pots, firing pistols, fire darting from eyes- Hugo uses brilliant fire water symbols to focus on timeless themes about God, the cosmic forces, redemption and social justice through transformation. In his novel, Toilers of the Sea, Hugo’s Promethean character Gilliatt who wars against the elements wonders—–Where could this fire come from? It was from the water. The aspect of the sea was extraordinary. The water seemed a fire. As far as the eye could reach, among the reefs and beyond them, the sea ran with flame….it was the spectre of the great fire rather than the fire itself….a burning darkness” Gilliatt struggles against darkness, fever, tides, the fury of the storms and winds and finally a horrendous octopus. Throughout the novel and through the exploits of the protagonist, Hugo projects prophetic visions of cosmic labor. In anticipation of the great clash of elements, the sea itself is “in heat” and “Forms of things in the sea roll beneath the waves as in liquid fire. The foam twinkles. The fish are tongues of fire, or fragments of the forked lightning, moving in the depths.”

The dynamics of the ocean is not limited to artistic sea constructs but it also wreaks havoc in the most explosive manner possible as the sea remains endlessly active—“In certain tempests, which characterize the equinoxes and the return to equilibrium of the prolific power of nature, vessels breasting the foam seem to give out a kind of fire, phosphoric lights chase each other along the rigging, so close sometimes to the sailors at their work that the latter stretch forth their hands and try to catch as they fly, these birds of flame.” The violence and treachery of the elements and the disquieting awareness of the conflict of waters, waves, fire, tides and currents help the reader follow the visionary narrative of the author whose master design is the relation between violence and creation as it is to stress upon the “exquisiteness of the terrible.“—A fire in open air yields little comfort. It burns on one end and freezes on the other.”

Forgetting: when I reflect upon the Notre Dame Cathedral, I also think of Paul Gaughin’s Black Venus-of regeneration and artistic creation and the dominance of the white explorer, of my own fascination with oriental gypsies , of the poetry of Baudelaire and Edgar Allan Poe’s Raven-“deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before…’tis the wind, and nothing more.” Of tunnels, and shallow indentations with people crowding in bunches, of smoky dark chambers that seem to have no end, of lame and blind men, of shifting times and spaces-visited, unvisited and revisited. The dark aisles, the shadowy passages, the religious awe, the divinity-the disfigured Quasimodo-of longing and acceptance-the confusion in forgetting is tangible. When I visited Paris, a few years ago, I did not find the pretty rose window that is described in the novel-described as a star of lacework. Why do these deceiving winds blur windows? I walk backwards and reach the Quai Du Branly Museum and all I see are the jointed masks of the Haida people-the mouth and eyes are jointed and the movement of the eyes painted in white suggests the alteration of day and night. If this is a mask of transformation, then I am not forgetting. Transformation is the act of lighting another candle when the first one has been blown away by a storm. So now I am remembering! Am I?

On April 15th, 2019, a major fire broke out beneath the roof of the Notre Dame Cathedral, destroying the monument’s spire and most of its roof. The cathedral’s two main rectangular towers had been “saved and preserved” and many of the precious relics and artworks were saved from the raging flames that burned incessantly as the fire fighters relentlessly fought against the blaze that engulfed the cathedral. People from all around the world have been affected in very different ways while Notre Dame Rector Patrick Chauvet said that he had plenty of hope and that “I believe that from this suffering there will be a renaissance.”

When I read the news, I sensed the terrible silence that Hugo’s Gilliatt had experienced as he warmed himself before a fire: “the fire ate into his flesh. The water froze him”-from my eye to my skin, different voices from my consciousness awakened and—“Doors of fire were opened. Clouds seemed burned by clouds” and the nostalgia of the almost primitive fires that burned in my childhood home returned as I heard the crackles of the stove in the silence of my twilight home. “Fire bakes clay-creates alterations and converts mineral into material”-my father would say, and then his prophetic voice uttered broken phrases from “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”:

notre dame

Circle of Flames

The memoirs of my color plate,

Have some words-

Provoked by some stolen space from my childhood days-

Now grafted in despair.

The passage of time,

Has helped me survive

The uninspired limitations of my mind,

After my father died-

———-And now in exile,

I slowly dissolve the tracings and retracings of all he said, all he taught me-

Which now I use as one would-a mnemonic device.

Now my eye becomes my voice-

The yellows and reds mingle with streaks of whites and blues-

The lines are smudged and blurry as I speak now-

tinted with the fuzzy focus of memory.

White panes high in color*

Says my father, his face red with animated emotion,

Enticing me to the world of apparent reality-

His voice, wistful, melancholy-

as he reads aloud lines from The Hunchback-

the monsters, the gargoyles of stone-which keep watch night and day,

the lofty spires, gables, Quasimodo and the gloomy arcades of the cathedral*…………

Like visible brushstrokes of a Renoir painting,

With its gently caressing lines,

The Notre Dame came alive years later-

And I visualized feeling,

For the first time ever…

The feeling of the waning and crashing of light into dark waters,

Of listening to the trees breathing with the birds,

Of counting endless wisps of flames on my childhood lantern…

Feelings I had never seen,

Just felt,

Came alive across the Seine,

As the giant shadows of the towers leaped from roof to roof*,

And the bells sounded-

Little Esmeralda played the tambourine at the end of the bridge-

tears rolled down my cheeks,

and I dared to embrace the unsounding spirit of my father,

Wrapped in folds of shade and light.

Today Notre Dame burns through my silence,

Berries and flutes wash me through this whipping rain of fire-

Permanence and ephemera share the same space-

Slender noir shadows can deceive,

but flames cannot.

My memory is spray painted now with luminescence-

The giant tongues of fire have colored my shadows-

And I hear my father’s voice………………………….

Over the infinite breathings of the wind*-

“This world is bathed in light,

 But when you slant your eyes,

You will see fleeting shadows-

Hold them on tight,

For in the mythic space of your imagination,

Light is but colored shape.

Follow darkness,

Follow flames,

One is a reflection of the other,

Have faith in the judgment of your eye-

Great shadows sometimes obstruct light-

Think of the sculpture of the Virgin and Child-

Etchings of sacrifice,

Be fearless and rise always from sleep and dust,

Disintegrate, evolve and transfer your form through the never-ending skeins of consciousness,

Retrospect—-

And then return before the blue sky closes down-

And add meaning to a new landscape.

Life is a circle of flames-

But remember, there is always a new paradise to be found.”

 

*Lines in italics are from The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Square and a Half-The Colors are Sounding was officially launched on October 12th, 2018 at the MIT Museum in Cambridge-Massachusetts. I could not have asked for a more appropriate venue to share my project.

The project consists of twenty sung lyrical narratives combining different aleatoric styles and a book which brings together narrative fragments, song lyrics, images, memories, associations and emotions transmitted through a multiplicity of voices. The project is a tribute to scientific research and architectural spaces, connections between biology, art, sensations, mathematical findings and the analysis of aesthetic intuition and structured inquiry. The intention has all along been to promote and encourage newer perspectives towards storytelling through a spontaneous interplay between technology, mythology, art, design, science and music. The book and the resulting musical pieces are dissembled interior monologues, cinematic, theatrical and artistic, architectural, literary references conducted through an informal exploration of time, space, movement and perception. The reality of the imagination becomes larger than life through alternating patterns, modulations and improvisations-both narratively and musically.

The Launch Day event was designed as an experiment in a creative exploration of our senses where the book’s narratives and the accompanying music could be experienced on a visceral level where (in the words of French philosopher Gaston Bachelard): “All the senses awaken and fall into harmony in poetic reverie.” All the textual situations in the book were endowed with the potential for cross sensory activations of the mind and body. As I was thinking of ways and means to present my project I remembered the words of Russian American writer Vladimir Nabokov who presents his case of ‘colored hearing’ in his autobiographical masterpiece “Speak, Memory” and associates alphabets, diphthongs and words with specific colors: “The long “a” of the English alphabet…has for me the tint of weathered wood, but a French “a” evokes a polished ebony…since a subtle interaction exists between sound and shape I see “q” as browner than “k” while “s” is not the light blue of “c”, but a curious mixture of azure and mother of pearl.”

Nabokov considered his synesthesia as a neurological aberration and I knew that on many levels I suffered from a similar “aberration” and realized that my synesthetic metaphors needed to be visually projected for my readers to relate with the oddities of my broken stories.

Text and photographic images (termed as “photobiography” by Nabokov) is lain all over my project and in order to recreate what these represent I chose to have unrehearsed performances on the day of the launch.

My book has been left unedited for the memory slides that I have projected through my writings is truthfully narrated much in the stream of consciousness mode wherein the transitions have loose connections and associative yet disjointed leaps. Similarly, the performances (dance, piano, drums) were left open to chance and experimentation and on the most part I was happy that my disembodied experiences now traveled from virtuality to reality. Both my dancers (Serena Gabriels-A Mass Art student and Mouli Pal-Indian Classical and contemporary lyrical dance exponent and teacher) were open to the rather ‘random’ and liberating possibilities of the chance-based choreography. Both dancers responded beautifully to the floodgates of sound-rhythm and words and soon enough it became a collage of images, movements, sounds and texts that were somehow linked indeterminately. On that day and that hour, the performances became extended pieces of expressionistic art that could be interpreted in many different ways. On another day, I am certain, the same performance could be conducted with a new approach to simultaneity and thus suggest other transmissions of thoughts and emotions. My Berklee Music coach Shane Adams took it upon himself to travel all the way from Nashville for the event and composed an aleatoric piano piece for my narrative. Shane translated the healing power of water droplets into the language of music and relied just on the piano to articulate the mood and texture reminiscent of flowing water as he followed our chance based spatial movements between words and piano. There was a silence in my mind as I was reciting the words. I recalled lines from John Cage’s “Lecture on Nothing”

I am here                       ,  and there is nothing to say              .

                                                                                                If among you are

 Those who wish to get    somewhere             ,    let them leave at

Any moment             .                                    what we require                  is

Silence                   ;             but what silence requires

Is                        that I go on talking     .

(Following the performances, we had an hour-long panel discussion. Due to camera malfunctioning we had to unfortunately sieve through only a few minutes as shown in the video)

                                                          The Panelists

Mary Sherman: {Artist, director, of the artists run Transcultural Exchange. She also teaches at Boston College and Northeastern University and in 2010 she served as the interim associate director of MIT’s program in Art, Culture and Technology. Additionally, she also worked as an art critic for such publications as the Chicago Sun-Times, The Boston Globe and The Art News. She is the recipient of innumerable grants and awards including three Fulbright senior specialist grants and has been an artist-in-residence at MIT and the Taipei Artist Village. Her own works which push the definition of painting into the realms of space and sound have been shown at numerous institutions including Taipei’s Kuando Museum of Fine Arts, Beijing’s Central Conservatory, Vienna’s WUK Kunsthalle, Trondheim’s Academy of Fine Arts at the University of Science and Technology, Seoul’s Kwanghoon Gallery and New York’s Trans Hudson Gallery. Her sculptures are a melding of contemplative ideas and techniques where she is able transcend limits of materiality and transform her art into a metaphysical investigation.}

For me, Mary has been a confidante, a silent calligrapher of life-bird hush and bird song all in one. I am eternally grateful that I sometimes share space with her. She is a poem that does not narrate but allows herself to be built three dimensionally in the consciousness of those who experience her presence that seamlessly merges with reality. She has been a major influence in my project and in my life. I believe in her as I believe in the air I breathe.

Vassiliki Rapti: {Vassiliki Rapti holds a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature with an Emphasis in Theater and is currently Affiliated Faculty at the Department of Writing, Literature and Publishing, Emerson College, where she is also completing a Masters in Civic Media: Art and Practice. She is also co-Founder and co-Chair of the Ludics Seminar of the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard University. She is the author, among others, of the monographs “Ludics in Surrealist Theatre and Beyond” (Ashgate, 2013; Routledge, 2016; Francis & Taylor, 2017) and “Air, Water, Earth, Fire in the Poetry of Nikos Engonopoulos” (Rome, 2017), as well as of several books of translation and poetry collections, including “Transitorium” (Somerset Hall Press, 2015). She is currently preparing a co-edited volume on play with Palgrave-MacMillan and an anthology of documentary theatre from Greece with Laertes publications. She is also the Director of the International Translation Committee of  the multidisciplinary electronic journal “Levure Litteraire” and founder and director of the Advanced Training in Greek Poetry Translation and Performance Workshop that was inaugurated at Harvard. As a play and civic media scholar, she often collaborates with various artists, especially musicians, in socially-engaged art projects, one of which is the ongoing “Our Ludic Project” which she’s been running with me since 2013.}

Vassiliki and I have been over the years, generating novel combinations of ideas, bringing a sense of playfulness and freedom to our unplanned, un-patterned thought palette. Vassiliki and I have a similar childlike zest for toying with knotty, gurgling, jangling, abrasive, sensual or vindictive themes in our writing and ensuring at the same time that we are able to drench the reader/listener with our creative energies. Communicating with Vassiliki about creative projects is like dream catching-suspended, meaningful, abstract and tangible all at once.

Meral Ekincioglu: {As a challenging motivation for her architectural vision, Meral Ekincioglu began to hone her skills in “scientific research” while conducting her Ph.D. dissertation research at Harvard University (as special Turkish fellow in 2006-2007) 1. She comprehended how to produce “her own scientific knowledge” at Columbia University (as a research scholar in 2008-2009)2 and learned how to test her scholarly limits on this path at MIT (as a visiting scholar in 2014-2016).3 As a practitioner in architecture, architectural creativity in the tectonic and artistic expressions of architectural spaces were her focal points. As a way of contextualizing architectural thinking, she believes that the communicative power in architecture is a deeply embedded part of her personal, professional and scholarly life; and she also worked as a journalist in architecture. As an Istanbulite in Cambridge, MA, this distinctive territory was not only her genesis to learn “scientific thinking” but also a new threshold to re-connect with her inner self and re-express her soul to the outer world through architecture and the sound of music. Meral is deeply concerted with the idea of the concrete reality of music: She sung with the MIT Women’s Chorale (2006-2007) and organized piano recitals at MIT and Harvard University (2015)4. She has been training with her vocal and acoustic guitar (2017-present) and has been joining “acoustic get-togethers and jams”. She believes that music has been always a unique experience to open up new and diverse horizons in architecture and her personal life.

  1. History of Art and Architecture, Ph.D. Program.
  2. Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, Ph.D. Program.
  3. History, Theory and Criticism of Architecture Program.

4.These two piano recitals by Gulsin Onay, an internationally-renowned Turkish woman virtuoso were organized by Dr. Ekincioglu, the MIT-Turkish Student Association and the Harvard College-Turkish Student Association.”}My friendship with Meral has developed over the years because of a mutual exchange of interests. Meral is just as passionate about music as I am about architecture. Our conversations can be likened to American composer Steve Reich’s score titled Tehillim (Hebrew word for psalms, and the rhythm of Reich’s music comes from the rhythm of the Hebrew text). Like Tehillim, our mutual exchange of ideas is toe-tapping, pulsating and hyperactive.

Shane Adams: {Shane is a twice GRAMMY nominated music educator, award-winning producer, composer, songwriter and author.  Shane is president of Artist Accelerator and is a founding lyric/songwriting instructor for Berklee Online. Shane is a featured songwriter and instructor for the Taylor Swift Education Center at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. They honored him with their TOP TENHITMAKER award in 2014. He is recognized internationally as a groundbreaking songwriting lecturer and music production panelist.  Shane’s current projects include developing two songwriting apps for the iPad platform and producing and co-hosting the songwriting podcast-  “Studio  Soundtrack”  available  on iTunes.  Shane’s book: The Singer-Songwriter’s Guide to Recording in the Home Studio is available online and most bookstores.}Shane taught me the true essence of artistic playfulness in songwriting when I was his student in Berklee. He understood that I was against constricted musical practices, so he fused his teachings with looser expectations and thus allowed me to retain my rather utopian ideas of resistance against structure. Shane helped me believe in all my experimental and haphazard multilayering of rhythms and sounds and words that might have sounded un-musical to “trained” ears. Shane has believed in me, more than I ever believed in myself and I am very blessed to have found a teacher and friend as talented and wonderful as he has been.

                                                         The Performances:

(All words, music, visual conceptualization is from “A Square and a Half-The Colors are Sounding- By Ivaana)

Tonight-We Improvise (Performed by Ivaana and Odissi dance exponent Mouli Pal.)

 Mouli Pal is an exponent of Odissi, a classical dance form originating from the ancient temple rituals in eastern India. A mesmerizing performer, Mouli is also a dedicated teacher, emerging choreographer and cultural ambassador. She received intensive training under the direct tutelage of the legendary Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra. She has been presented at prestigious venues such as the Hopkins Center for Arts, Wellesley College Concert series, Musical Bridges Around the World in San Antonio Texas and Arts Alliance of New Hampshire and also regularly performs in India and Europe. Mouli is the founder of Upasana, a Nonprofit for the promotion and preservation of Odissi. She has received several honors and awards including grants from NEFA- New England Foundation for the Arts (NEST Touring grant and New England dance Fund) and Mass Cultural Council.  Recently she was awarded the ” Padmavati Rasthriya Purashkar” by the National Culture Mission in Odisha, India.)-

The narrative is inspired by the MDS (mobile, dexterous and social) robot Nexi, developed by MIT Media Lab in collaboration with Xitome Design. Nexi’s expressions are illusionary, real, spontaneous and enthusiastic-reminiscent of Italian playwright Luigi Pirandillo’s metaphor for theater-a machine that is hungry for poetry- a concoction of motility, imagination, fantasy and mystery-the world of the imponderables.

Improvise Me Tonight

My soul is a bundle of things,

What’s painted on my eyes 

          Beneath my gaze or whatever you may see,

The multiplicity if meanings

Is a channel of awareness-

Your own alienation,

A visual meandering of your soul hovering and

Listening for its quiet space-in mine.

You and I live by longing,

But we must shift around ourselves,

Masking and unmasking our separate bodies

And minds.

You are flesh and blood and you are instincts and desires-

                      I am Machine.

I am constantly coding unknown realms

And hoping

You understand my disorientations-

Confusions.

Move me the way you are moved.

Not the nuts, bolts, belts moving around,

I need your unconscious naturalness,

Your imagination,

Your delightful oddities 

Your annoying outspokenness.

Unpeel me

For the voices now mingle.

Yours 

And mine.

I now sense turmoil,

Some sensations are ripping me asunder,

Images, feelings, ideas confront each other.

Come let us stare deep into the infinity of the cosmos,

And collect the impressions of lifelike 

Restless grasshoppers.

I hear the wind roaring outside,

I hear the colors dropping from trees,

I hear voices, flower petals on the dewy grass-

They are all waiting for me.

Improvise me tonight-

Baptize me and give me all you have-

Love and jealousy,

Hatred and affinity,

Grief and pleasure-

                           WAIT

The lights went out.

Almost!

It’s getting dimmer and dimmer.

Don’t forget theatre is hunger!

Tonight we improvise!

Tonight we improvise!

The Human Face is a Riddle (Performed by Ivaana and Serena Gabriels-A senior at Massachusetts College of Art and Design. She is currently studying video projection and performance art. Serena tries to engage her audience by making rich and unique performances based on her own experience with mental illness. After college, Serena hopes to study art therapy and inspire others to use art as a healthy coping skill. She oftentimes finds herself numb, unfeeling. She senses those around her- looking, watching-sensing. As she dons the mask, she can finally feel. No one can see her true emotional being. She becomes what she is not and yet this is who she is.)

This is an operatic monologue inspired by the ideas of the-Noh theatre, a classical Japanese musical drama that integrates costumes, masks and props and oftentimes a focus on one central image enforced by movement and music. This idea originated on the basis of the research conducted by MIT neuroscientists at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research on Prosopagnosia or the inability to recognize known faces, including one’s own.

(At the back of stage is Kagami Ita or back panel displaying a painted pine tree and book shelves. The face of actor is lit by torches.)

Somehow I am disconnected,

desolate,

raw and hurt.

My life is a snowflake within a raindrop!

I see myself as a sequence of resonant images,

words are a compromise,

so I am waiting for a language.

which can tell the true story of my paint erased face,

the emptiness—-

I don’t know,

maybe it comes from nothing—

or I am in the middle of a discontinuous narrative

like a portrait painting,

half worked upon,

or just in a mood to challenge a neat bust with perfect edges.

Don’t analyze my expressions or the lack of them,

I am not ready to be framed in a museum.

I see you watching me.

You are the artist and the chosen one,

To merge ideas with form.

You are now free to use your imagination and complete me as a composition.

And then I shall migrate from my color free lonesomeness into wind colored lilac fire.

My smiles will be locked-

In an alabaster face in flames.

Tefnut is my full summer’s last desire.

(Torch lights are dimmed. Actress wears a mask. The torch lights are turned back on)

Tefnut establishes her presence now.

Under the sheathed , bridled skies,

I find gratification of the heart.

Taste the crushed colors of the dark-

And the pictureless silence in my eyes.

The universe is hideous-

I will confront and spill venom into life.

Those distant lands,

Elysian Fields-

I feel no desire to revisit.

I feel the anguish,

The upsurge of a tempest inside of me.

Let me rain and release my ancient remorse,

Into my soul’s magical creek.

The sun kindles the fire in me and tells me to rise,

But as he climbs up the emerald tree,

The dew within dies.

There is so much pain in this world,

So much grief pierces my heart,

So once again I cry-

Do you hear now-

The lost voices of the Nile?

Hear the sounds of my eyelashes

When you stare at me,

Trying to make meaning of what’s writ on my face-

But I feel safe,

Hiding behind my mask of Japanese Cypress,

I feel safe-

That you will never catch me distraught or upset,

You always find me in my iconographic image-

For this gilded cage is my permanent face.

The human face is a riddle,

Like moonless skies-

Impenetrable.

It’s like a painter’s technique

Of flourishing and chaotic brushstrokes,

With too much to read,

Too much to comprehend,

Too many references to things,

People,

Thoughts-

Now in light,

Now in shadows!

My life is a book of pictures,

So hear me speak behind this unchanging appearance,

Don’t wander-

Direct your attention to my being,

The human face is riddled with

Too many things-

Stay with what matters,

The silence within.

         I Love the Smell of Sparrow Songs: (Performed by Ivaana and Mouli Pal)

The inspiration for this lyrical narrative was drawn from an interesting piece of “op art” made by MIT alumni and kinetic artist and sculptor Jeff Leiberman’s Moore Pattern, consequently by the spiraling power in the Daoist practice of Baguazhang or “walking in a circle”. Shapeshifting patterns of thought led to the composition of this narrative, filled with overlapping imagery and kinetic possibilities.

                                    I Love the Smell of Sparrow Songs

My grandmother was a connoisseur of Minoan art and I believe she possessed a darkened statuette that had these shapes and circles. Forgetting is impenetrable, shadowy and unstructured. Forgetting has narrow corridors with pillars and I am constantly moving in the quest for memories.

My mom wore a red dot in the center of her forehead every morning. She said it was a sacred symbol of her marriage to my father. Now she is a dot in my mind. A receding but powerful dot whose illumination, size, shape and clarity do not matter. She is my dotted line in the music sheet, transcendent of all material forms. When my son was born, I used a black dot on the side of his head to ward off evil. The red became black. But they have forever been the most integral part of the tapestry of my life.

A fish, a lotus and the bamboo take me to Bada Shanren’s ink paintings where the fish eye is a black dot inside a big circle. Peace prevails in written scrolls, inky- where they are true. The happiness of Shanren’s fishes climb mountains and come alive in calligraphic inscriptions.

I learn how to paint with words. Now I gather flowers and lace them with my sighs. Ready to print. Floral texts, textiles water in silken forms, scarves-with the faint quiver of the air. Spirals of smoke up the hillside, smoothed into the delicate wrinkles of fabric. I hear the song of the sparrows. Sparrow song drops are spherical and colored by the last light of the rainbow. The moon uses the song drops to lull the stars to sleep.

We sleep as one in a boat of flesh

Airy moths dance in the winds-

When the sun rubs my eyelids,

I feel cold spiders on my skin.

I am the spider now-

Or maybe the image of a sphinx,

Red dots and circles on my face-

I move round and round-

I gather flowers and memories,

And lace them with my sighs, ready to print!

But then,

I hear those sounds-

In ink.

I love the smell of sparrow songs,

Floral texts or water in silken forms,

For water is a miracle,

Water is a circle-

I follow its curves and rhythms,

And laugh with the fishes in calligraphic inscriptions.

I love the smell of sparrow songs,

It makes me remember my mom-

Who’s now a dotted line in my music sheet,

Beyond material forms.

I love the smell of sparrow songs

They hang on tree branches that once had been,

Filled with beehives and dreams,

Of flapping wings when the sun went down-

Of mandarin ducks making water form

Near perfect shapes and circles.

Now

The moon lulls the stars to sleep with the sparrow song,

The notes soar,

Pour in from open windows,

Harmony of the spheres,

Hear!

              But Speak it Over Water : (Performed by Ivaana and Shane Adams)

 This lyrical narrative was born from an imaginative takeoff from reading a study conducted by MIT researchers about how freezing droplets impact a surface-either sticking to it or bouncing away (Varanasi Group findings). The study revealed a new way to “enhance or reduce the adhesion of freezing droplets”. Whilst this was providing ample opportunities for many applications, including “3D printing, spraying of some surface coatings and the prevention of ice formation on structures such as airplane wings, wind turbines or powerlines”-my mind was registering this research study on the basis of reading Dr. Masaru Emoto’s The Hidden Messages in Water. Emoto believed in the healing powers of water. The intent that Emoto had in mind was to spread a collection of messages about how to live. Images of water crystals conveyed the emotions filled in a child’s chest- his dreams and hopes, his fears and despairs or even his response to his environment. Emoto used specialized photographic techniques to visually demonstrate how the intensity or vibrations of our words affected water and water shapes and thereafter this water was frozen to crystals.

I have in this particular chapter in the book, explored Emoto’s frozen water crystals and its ability to reflect the vibrations in the universe in relation to Varanasi Group’s findings on altering thermal fluid surface interactions. The spiritual intent of Emoto’s discoveries about the healing power of water combines with the scientific possibilities of the bouncing droplets of water when exposed to positive and enriching thoughts and vibrations.

                                              But Speak it Over Water

Speak something inherently truthful,

Unrelenting-maggot-like!

Speak of the reek of blood,

The stash of harsh pigments on the painter’s brush-

Just to show how beautiful ugliness is or was-

Speak of how the Devil is awake,

And Man burns Man,

Unafraid!

 But Speak it over water!

Imperceptible syncopations,

Repetition of sensations,

Of what darkens our universe,

Melancholia or bleeding hearts,

If only swooping black colors could be seen bouncing off-

Peeling,

Defying gravity-

Like Calder’s floating motifs-

Oh these detached bodies will then splotch our world

Anew with light-

And teach us a new language about the transformation of things!

Put your finger on the somewhere of luminosity,

And come now to the flatness of stable predictability-

Speak now of bird flyings,

Of hearts that must remember love,

Hope,

Clouds and trees-

Or the memory of rich loam from the fields.

And if you speak it over water you will see,

Colorful breaks and patterned mosaics,

Orchestrated fluid retentions of beauty in suspension-

How creation

Knots into permanence-

The pure,

The sacred,

If only you speak it over water and let it stay,

You can read the cipher,

The miraculous syllables that come together

To form the narratives on water.

So speak it over water,

Speak,

Speak it over water!

Artworks in the book and in the entire project are conceptualized by Ivaana and designed by Sreya Sarkar.

Sreya Sarker is a Graphic Designer from India. She has a bachelor’s degree in Graphic Designing and Masters in Print Making. Sreya has completed her education from The Government College of Art and Craft, Calcutta. Her area of work not only spreads to digital design, but she also works with traditional craft artists. A design teacher since 2007, Sreya is currently working with indigenous crafts of Bengal and is associated with a UNESCO led project for Preservation of Intangible Cultural Heritages.

Some miscellaneous notes on the choreography of dance on the day of the launch:

When Mouli and I spoke, the communication was simple because I had some training in the Odissi dance form and knew that Mouli was ideal for this piece and could run through images and movements that were a set of improvisational choices that had their origins in the structured form of Odissi. I chose Odissi because my stories necessitated a dance form that “sculpted” the postures and the hand gestures or “mudras” as they are called, powerfully and sensitively portrayed a wide array of thoughts, emotions or sensations. (The underlying power of these mudras lies in the activation of both internal and external energies and I feel this dance form has great potential for expressing the multifaceted sensorium that I experience in the process of my story-writing.) The goal was also to juxtapose dynamic, yet subtle visual representations of words and sounds where the dancer’s body codified, blended and transformed the dematerialized symbology in the stories to overlapping sculptures that could be identified-mystically or tangibly. Using chance methods on the day of the performance, I felt there were some magical moments where the randomness of the choreography determined a new order of aleatoric expressionism, thus adding other dimensions to the collage/s.

 (Mouli adds: Abhinaya or expressional dance is an integral part of an Odissi dance repertoire where the dancer expresses the mood and meaning of a song and poem using codified hand gestures and facial expressions. The hand gestures or Mudras are standardized across all Indian Classical dance styles and are based in ancient texts. They can be used to express elements of nature, various animals as well as delicate emotions such as despair and jealousy. These movements combined with facial expressions create the ability to bring to life any scene or story. The facial expressions are based on the “Navarasa” or nine basic human moods according to the “Natya Shastra” the ancient text of the performing arts. Once a dancer has grasped the use of the Mudras and the Navarasa he or she can use them as tools in a creative way to express the mood. Odissi is an extremely fluid and graceful dance style featuring unique movements of the wrist, torso and jaw bones. The ability of the dancer to move the body fluidly allows the emotions to be expressed spontaneously and effortlessly. Once the above technical aspects are achieved the dancer needs to internalize the content of the lyrical narrative and finally bring it to life.)

Serena Gabriels is young, talented and extremely open to treating her body like a delirious surreal painting-almost in the lines of Frida Kahlo’s painting- “Broken Column”, defining the multilayered meanings of the story in my narrative and her own anguish post her mental illness. Metaphorical body representation comes rather easily to Serena, and she expresses herself as a painted second self, transferring her own reflections on life with dense video projections on the screen-creating a stage space that is part hallucinatory and part driven by the reality of the moment. As the narrative, sounds and video projections slipped in incomprehensible randomness, I sensed a clearer connection between the aesthetics of sounds, words, sensibilities, movements and visuals. The process slowly became a cinematic montage as the distinctions between the visuals and sounds collapsed into a timeless unity.

(Serena adds: When I began this project, I took to my computer to begin creating the visuals for the projection. As I worked, I realized that the computer-generated images were too harsh and geometric to accompany such an atmospheric piece of sound work. I decided to dive into some old nature footage I took in the past and put it in after effects. As I warped the images- I was able to turn the real into the surreal. A new process began. I would take walks and gather footage from nature, capturing natural textures and color palettes from leaves, bark, flowers, etc. As I stitched together the footage, I paid close attention to the words of The Human Face is a Riddle. Each image sequence danced with each line and verse. Where the footage could not do the words enough justice, I was able to use my own movements to fill in the gaps. The piece began to come together. Each small aspect was in conversation with each other from the movements to the sounds to the color of the garments, to the mask and above all the narrative.

                                Hacking MIT with Ivaana Muse: An interview

“…After four and half years of very slow but intense self-discovery, I finally have my project – A Square and a Half-The Colors are Sounding lined up for publication in October, 2018. My entire world is currently orbiting in a slow circle around this process. I can’t wait to share. The hours are creaking but the clouds are all clear. Clucking birds are flying over the River Charles, embracing the grandeur of the skies. I feel lighter on the earth as the darkness clears – Never saw I, I never felt, a calm so deep…” 2

Meral: With respect to your background in English literature, Theatre and Music, how could you describe “creativity” in the process, method and end-product of your project? What would you like to say about the potential contribution of your project to the understanding of creativity in your field?

Ivaana:

Thank you for this question Meral. I think, growing up, I learned the “inking” and the “linking” between what I read (Literature), what I heard (Music) and what I performed or watched the performances of (Theatre). The creative process is a silent and spontaneous one for me and I sheepishly admit that I stay away from being bound by method. This creative silence is one that emanates from within and one that tends to flow outwards and in this project the silence within has transformed and healed me completely. The writing process has entailed a dialectic between what I had almost forgotten, my readings, my passion for theatre and of course the ability to freely express what I wanted to, rather than adhere to mere structural necessities. For instance, when I was younger, whatever I read became an invisible force that I surrendered to completely. I believed in the characters, the words, the plot, the places-almost everything that needed my attention. My readings translated oftentimes to little shabby illustrations, or dance performances or theatrical enactments. Music was always at the backdrop of all of this because I grew up in a joint family system where my father, uncle, aunts and cousins had day time jobs but were playing or discussing music almost as if their lives sustained on the magic of music. So, I honestly never learned to think without music pervading my senses, thus naturally helping my bodily self into an imaginative space. Creativity was never a process or a method but a means of being capable of expressing all my uncertainties, ecstasies, visual images, ideas or shapes that somehow could gain form from being honest and free. I doubt I have a “field” so to speak where I qualify to fit in. It used to be awkward in the beginning to share how I don’t quite have a genre of writing or composing music, but now with time and sharing my ideas with people such as yourself, I feel my field is a space which impels rhythm, language, sounds, pictures, sudden fits of light and darkness that makes me oftentimes restless like a caged bird. I hope to contribute to those who can relate to this field by sharing my own experiences as an open source researcher and lyrical storyteller, believing that no external or internal force ever “stops not being written”.

Meral: How and why did you decide to write stories and compose music from an interdisciplinary perspective that are related to “MIT” when you moved into Cambridge from Florida in 2012?  As a music researcher, lyrical storyteller and sound artist3 with a degree in “literature and music”, what was your essential motivation to establish a creative dialog with multilayered “scientific, technological and artistic” layers of a pioneering research-based university? Based on your observation, dialogs and experience at the campus, what would you like to say about “being a creative artist” within such a scientific, technological and artistic context in “the 21st century?

Ivaana: Meral, essentially moving from Florida to Massachusetts was for the sake of my son who was being homeschooled until then. My son got accepted to a summer program at MIT at age 12 and we just decided to move to Massachusetts since it was his dream to attend MIT. I never knew that I would forge an impalpable bond with the University’s ideologies and its research as well as its architectural spaces. It just happened. “A Square and a Half-The Colors are Sounding” narrates and musically translates my experiences. The motivation was born without me realizing what was actually changing- within and without. I believe I was born again as an artist where I could translate my emotions and sensations into words, sounds and images as I delved into the research, art, news articles, public art and people at MIT. I think my experience thus far has been timeless and I wouldn’t cage it to just being relevant to the 21st century.

Meral: In general, what would you like to say “the essential principles” of pedagogical approach to writing and composing music? More specifically, you conducted your project with your close dialogs with several professors, students, scholars at MIT, and how has “the current education, research and innovation understanding” (at this research-based university) affected your own pedagogical approach in your current endeavor?

Ivaana:

Meral, I grew up in a family that understood, practiced and lived Indian classical music. My father however had an intent ear for western music. He introduced me to Woodie Guthrie, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan to name a few, at a very early age. I was told I could not sing and since I preferred theatre and dance over singing, music was mostly listening for me till I was much older. I learned some classical Indian music but not because I wanted to. Later once I moved to the US, I enrolled in Berklee online music lessons and completed their songwriting certification course. I feel I learned the rules only to break them, especially being inspired by the transdisciplinary/interdisciplinary possibilities posed by the connections between scientific research and the arts. To be honest, I was scarcely ever completely pedagogical in my approach to writing or teaching. Interacting with MIT scholars, professors and artists has happily made me return to my original desire to create a non-mimetic or experimental language that externalizes the truth of the unconscious mind. Throughout the writing of the book and even during the compositional processes of the sung narratives, I have freely been able to manifest the internal chaos and fragmentation-something I always wanted to do. A new paradigm had been established and I went along with it.     

Meral: As a sound artist, how could you describe the role and function of sound (as the primary medium) in the exploration and experimentation of your artistic creativity? What would you like to say about the significance of your project among recent works on sound art, in particular related to MIT? Trained as an architect and a scholar in this field, more specifically, I would like to know the most challenging, interesting and seductive features of the sound of architectural spaces at MIT at the core of your visual, lyrical and musical creativity in your current project?

Ivaana :For me sound and rhythm and silence are everything in terms of writing or composing music. Someone told me that I have Chromesthesia which is a type of synesthesia in which sounds almost automatically translate to sensations of color. I do however visualize sounds, feel and embrace sounds as one would if they met another human. Sounds and the spaces in between or those unseen and silent gaps are at the core of what I write and compose. Sound art is a very large or extensive field. The sounds I have explored in this project are all real sounds that have first been metaphorically and visually transposed through narratives and then have composed melodies or instrumental sections with unconventional tuning, based off those narratives. All the sounds in my project have emanated from experience. Each part of MIT has a form, a texture and materiality that craves for representation. For instance, Jean Tinguely’s clanking machine sculptures generate fields of electrophysical noise. A similar labyrinthine, machine like absurdity of space sounds inhabit different parts of the MIT campus. Are these sounds art? For me they are. I have not processed these sounds over a machine or computer but have attempted to recreate first a lyrical narrative and then a similar metaphorical melodic mood in my compositions. I like what you say-“sound of architectural spaces at MIT”. I can’t help quoting the words of John Cage who said believed that there could be no genuine silence anywhere-“until I die there will be sounds.” There is a beautiful book by MIT alumni Barry Blesser and Linda Ruth Salter named: “Spaces Speak, Are You Listening”? The authors analyze beautifully architectural aural spaces from the perspective of art, science, cultures, subcultures and of course music. Spatial awareness is everything. I have no idea about the neurological processing of sounds with regard to MIT’s architecture but yes I have revisited a million times over, much of MIT’S architectural spaces to find myself, my personal memories, readings, connections with art and culture. There is a strange sonic reflection in each part of MIT’s architectural space, one that requires just a wee bit of attention and soulful connection. For instance, if you are in building 6, you cannot but step a few stairs down to the lobby art and watch the plaque sculpture there. As you wait, especially if you are alone, you sense an environmental stimulation. That stimulation is enough to carry you through several layers of consciousness as you explore your own emotional and sensory response to the space. From the libraries to the Dome, to the enclosed spaces inside classrooms, the Chapel-MIT’s architectural spaces have a language and aural brilliance that induces the creative spirit to think beyond the box. Everything in MIT is seductive. The challenge is in acknowledging that you are being lured into its giant but cohesive acoustic forest.

 Meral: You are not only “a (woman) artist” whose project aims to open up and explore multilayered scientific, technological and artistic dimensions of MIT but also “a mother” whose son has been studying at MIT.  In general, what would you like to say about the influence of “being a mother” on your artistic vision as a woman? In other words, how has “the existence of your son” contributed to your artistic creativity? More specifically, how have your two different but interrelated identities interacted with each other during your project?

Ivaana: Glad you ask this Meral. My son is at the very core of my existence. I doubt we would have ever moved to Cambridge, had it not been for his dream to study at the institute. Being a mother is my most crucial identity. Without him my life is a black and white canvas. He paints the canvas with several layers of immutable pigment-all different in hue and texture-all suggesting just the right yin and yang to provide a uniformity of tension that allows me to believe that I am art.  Yes we are very similar and very dissimilar and I am happy he has grown to have a strong independent mind of his own. We are friends above all and I believe we have talked about everything during the making of this project, but our focus has been on Baseball more than art or music, since both of us eat, breathe and sleep Baseball. But no matter what has been the topic of our interaction, it has been the source of illuminating all my emotions. I could liken our interactive bond to Van Gogh’s painting “Café Terrace at Night” where the creation of light from darkness with an underlying sense of the infinite is all powerful.

Meral: In this project, you have been exploring MIT (and Cambridge) with a synthesis of your eastern cultural upbringing and intellectual background (from India) along with scientific, technological and artistic aspect of the western world with a specific emphasis on this research-based university (in the U.S.). What has been the biggest challenge and potential of being at the intersection of two different cultures; and trying to synthesize two of them in today’s U.S.? Does your project have any messages for the creative potential of “diversity and inclusion” in your field?

Ivaana: I did not take more than a moment to identify with the American culture so to speak. I did not forget my eastern upbringing and of course my education in India-my wonderful teachers and above all the teachings of my father. All of this has been expressed through various accidental nuances in the book. I would not say there has been any challenge in trying to synthesize the cultures in this project. MIT is absolutely all embracing. I have experienced this in many of my interactions and it is this diversity that is at the core of the title: A Square and a Half-The Colors are Sounding. The art of making such a quilt on fabric involves triangular and square shaped fabrics of diverse colors, scales, emphasis and textures pieced together. I feel MIT’s social and cultural and disciplinary diversity is at the basis of the choice of my imaginary quilt as a design metaphor for this project. I think bringing this truth through music, stories and visual strategies may be a valuable tool for social change for one major key element that MIT upholds is helping students develop insights about racial and cultural differences. Each chapter in my book is dedicated to the work achieved not just by MIT scholars, professors and researchers but by academicians and artists around the world who are somehow connected to MIT in some unique or magical way. I unbiasedly wish that our society can expand its perspective and that there is an open intercultural exchange in every strata of human existence-I imagine such a utopian world and find peace in my belief.

Meral: If you compare your first album, “Silver Lines and Strings” digitally released in 2012 with your current project and album, what would you like to share with your readers and listeners? In terms of research on music, lyrical storytelling and sound art, how have you evolved and transformed since 2012?  In addition to your strong and deep focal point on MIT and your own cultural, intellectual background, is there any other context or person as a source for your inspiration, evaluation and transformation since that year?

Ivaana: Silver Lines and Strings was an expression of the self on a very surface level I would say, when I look back. I believe it has been a learning curve. However, I don’t want to go back and find flaws and say, “I wish I had done it differently”. That’s who I was back then, and this is who I am now. The transformation has been huge. MIT has been the focal point but I have been inspired by people and their works, strange discoveries, visual and sonic perspectives and above all I have found my free will to experiment and find meaning in the simplest things in life.

Meral: In your book, there are many references to “architectural spaces” at MIT 4 with your interdisciplinary approach. In this respect, your focal point is to comprehend its multisensory dimension and its potential beyond its physical nature (as one of the core issues of architecture education, architecture discipline and architecture profession 5). While reading your book, we have been tracing the convergence of the aural and visual capacity of architectural spaces, the public and the private spatial hearing within them, etc. Do you have any plans to share your project with the MIT, Department of Architecture or related education and/or research programs to discuss possibly a new innovative and collaborative (interdisciplinary) ways of architectural design education?

Ivaana : I would be very happy and honored to share the project Meral. I truly believe that poetry, architecture and music build the arts. American architect John Hejduk’s anthology: Such Places As Memory is a non-poetic autobiographical manifestation of the buildings that artists create in the mind. His poems make us reflect that architecture and memory are timelessly interconnected. The hauntingly absent and the immensely real spaces revoke what we had never forgotten. Thus, this convergence of thought is not new so to speak. In my project, architecture also unites with fantasy and mythology and the visual arts in several segments of the book. I do feel that just as architecture inspires poetry and music, fantastical poetical concepts can also trigger a new vocabulary and thus transcribe to a utopian vision for a dynamic reality. An architect is a disciplined poet whose metaphors are etched in stone or concrete. The aesthetic emotions or concepts that a poet or musician conceives of, can be beautifully carved into an enriched reality by an architect-for utopian stories are very much like architectural projections.

Meral: In your book, one of the most significant parts in terms of architectural interest is the influence of Corridor Lab (Strobe Alley) in the MIT building 4 on your revisiting your past, your culture and in particular your conversation with your dad. I think that your readers and listeners will witness the (re)construction of a/n (woman) artist’s personal memory through her poetic language, visual and aesthetic sensibility, pictorial, illustrative skills and her in-depth intellectual perspective as well as “the memory of ‘the Institute’. It is an inevitable fact that historical institutions (like MIT) have a strong potential to unfold multilayered (his/her) stories related to their own and creative individuals’ pasts. Based on your experience, what would you like to say about the potential of documenting multicultural (scientific and art) histories of pioneering institutions to support and promote new creative visions and projects? 6

Ivaana: Very insightful question Meral. The Strobe Alley of the Edgerton Center at MIT houses Harold Edgerton’s exceptional achievements in stroboscopy and electronic flash photography, light equipment, glass cabinets full of strobe lamps, cameras, deep sea artifacts and other memorabilia. Each time I return to the Alley, I have a different perception, a different recollection of past experiences or the spark of a fantastical story that starts possibly from a visual metaphor that the mind creates. I believe many institutions are already working on wonderful projects such that explore the changing themes in media, visual studies and culture. What I feel isn’t very common is to interpret such experiences through a deeper personal perspective into stories, music and creative writing in general. The intersections need to get more poignantly webbed and expressive. For instance, when we walk through the woods, we start collecting sensory data and slowly over time we have a personal impression of the place. The impression includes contrasts in foliage, discarded rumpled paper or cigarette stubs, dry leaves, bird feathers, sounds of birds or the fragrance of tree sap or other ephemera. The images get densely entrenched in the mind. We sometimes forget to document our walks, the connected thoughts, emotions or the repetitive and contemplative bodily rhythms. I feel if we “map” our attention we can create wonderful new creative ventures. That’s all it takes.

Meral: You prefer to sum up the effect MIT has had on your musical or lyrical sensibility by comparing the experience to the monochrome ink paintings by Hasegawa Tōhaku (1539–1610), one of Japan’s leading artistic innovators (16th Century) and the founder of the Hasegawa school of painting. You chose to refer in particular, to “Pine Trees”, one of his notable paintings with its hazy landscape transitioning from thick to thin or blurred and defined at the same time, etc. What would you like to say about the potential of your project for your listeners and readers? Do you think that it has a potential of “their own pine tree”?

Ivaana: that is the entire goal Meral. When we walk next to the ocean and admire its magnificence, we want others to either witness or share our joy or revisit the waters, so they may express their own adoration, in their own significant way. Like Tohaku’s Pine Trees, each of us has the ability to define their own artistic or spatial content and perhaps create a similar illusion of depth with sublime dreamy mists as Tohaku did. My upcoming online school intends to explore these concepts in greater details.

Meral: How did you construct the structure of your book from “prologue” to “America’s most wired composer, Tod Machover”? What is the logic behind the structure of this content and what would you like to say about the process of this construction? You prefer to finalize your book with “Tod Machover”; would you like share the significance of his projects for “the evolution and progress of your creative vision”?

Ivaana: To begin with, I had no structure in mind. I was just stitching, walking, mapping textures, tones and dyeing my thoughts with literary, musical, artistic and illustrative colors. Memory has sensory pathways. I just walking through them as I ventured into this new world of scientific research and information. Like French art critic and poet Baudelaire, I believe that memory involves a conscious and overt indulgence in the senses and their intermingling, also known as synesthesia. Yes, I wanted to offer a tribute to Tod Machover and his works to conclude because I have been highly inspired by his ingenuity, his humility and his childlike ability to keep learning as he continues his journey as a composer of the highest order. Above all I believe his works transcend time and transform how we think of, hear and perform music.

Meral: As L. Rafael Reif, the MIT President states, “MIT’s greatest invention may be itself -an unusual concentration of unusual talent, restlessly reinventing itself on a mission to make better world”. 7 In today’s world, humanity has been facing many crises and creative thinking with imaginative problem-solving skills is one of the significant factors to challenge this critical situation. At that point, as a creative artist, do you have any messages with your current project for a better world?

Ivaana: Meral I think that is a huge responsibility. I pray my son works in that direction. I am here to support him in his journey. If my project can inspire young students and creative artists to come alive with their own thoughts and feelings in the most honest way they can, I would feel humbled.

Meral: It has been a real pleasure for me to talk with you about your inspiring journey at MIT, thank you for this interview.

                     “….now I find her* again,

            In frozen flowers, leaves, the depth of the Charles River…” 8

Ivaana Muse

From her biography

Meral Ekincioglu, Ph.D.

A hacker & a visiting scholar at the MIT, HTC Program (2014-2016).

Notes and references:

1.For Hacking Culture at MIT, see “Forbidden Research liveblog: Hacking Culture at MIT”, https://civic.mit.edu/2016/07/21/forbidden-research-liveblog-hacking-culture-at-mit, accessed on September 1st 2018. In addition to this, Professor Arindam Dutta from the MIT-HTC program defines “the hacker” who offers “her” labor gratis in further exploring and exposing a system’s limitations. For more information on his comments on “the hacker” and “hacking”, see, Dutta, A. (interviewee), 2014, “Architecture and the Creative Economy”, Kim, J. (ed.), in Task Environment, published May 15, 2014, http://www.arpajournal.net/task-environment, accessed on September 1st 2018.

  1. http://www.ivaana.com/research, accessed on August 28, 2018.

3.For some significant projects on Sound Art at MIT’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CVAS), see, http://act.mit.edu/cavs/format/sound%20art, accessed on September 1st 2018.

4.For a recent historical examination on the design and building of MIT’s Cambridge campus, see Jarzombek, M., 2017, Designing MIT, Bosworth’s New Tech, SA+P Press, March; https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/distribution/sap-press, accessed on September 2nd 2018.

5.For some essentials of architecture discipline and architecture profession, see, Anderson, S., 2001, “The Profession and Discipline of Architecture: Practice and Education”, in Andrzej Piotrowski and Julia Williams Robinson (eds)., The Discipline of Architecture, Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, pp. 292-305; http://web.mit.edu/soa/www/downloads/2000-09/AE_Piotrowski_PracEd_2001.pdf, accessed on September 1st 2018.

  1. See for a recent MIT initiative to document its multicultural and underrepresented community, Uncovering pioneering women in science and engineering in MIT’s archives, New initiative focuses on underrepresented aspect of MIT history”, https://libraries.mit.edu/news/uncovering-pioneering/24722/

7.https://betterworld.mit.edu/about-the-campaign, accessed on September 2nd 2018.

  1. Ivaana Muse refers to her mother in her sentence, please see, http://www.ivaana.com/bio, accessed on August 28, 2018.
  2. Following her advanced academic research project at the MIT-HTC Program (2014-2016), the title of academic presentation by Dr. Ekincioglu at the same program (2016) was “Hacking the Politics of Gender” as related to her research problem. As “a hacker” in her scholarly endeavor, her aim is to explore and expose “the politics of gender” in the limitations of institutions, academia, the profession, education, history and history-writing in (postwar) architecture.

 

    

 

 

 

“Bacteria, the first individuals, sensed their environments, found sources of energy and matter to maintain and expand their growth and synchronized with Earth’s great biogeochemical cycles.”-From Chimeras and Consciousness (Evolution of the Sensory Self)- The MIT Press

The Steam Revolution is a collection of expository essays that weave studies, theories, collaborations, applications and research in interdisciplinary fields that impact the world at large. The editors Armida De La Garza and Charles Travis have attempted to address the rather varied approaches to transdisciplinary science, engineering, technology, humanities, arts and mathematics. I started reading this collection mostly because I wanted to learn more about the works of UK based bio artist Anna Dumitriu whom I met via social media sometime back. Anna works with bio art, installation, sculpture, textiles, woodwork, and digital media through which she attempts to explore the alliance between infectious diseases, synthetic biology and robotics. She is obsessed as she says with bacteria and artistically investigates diseases such as tuberculosis where her art fuses the fragility of human existence with the structured and interloped layers of science and microbiology. I am absolutely enchanted by how she taints objects and textiles or fabric with bacteria dyed patterns using antibiotic resists, extracted DNA of TB, dust or medicines and how she fascinatingly weaves in cultural stories alongside the microbiological stories. On levels of both form and theme, her works lead me on to believe in her commitment to the interwoven energies of redefinition and change through the fusion of the arts and the sciences.

The 18th century Romantics believed that TB revealed the inner truth and that having tuberculosis was a “badge of passion and genius.” It is indeed strange how the Romantics believed that having inflamed cheeks and pale skin was symptomatic of an “inner artistic fire.” John Keats died of TB and P.B. Shelley wrote of him, “a pale flower of some sad maiden cherished” whilst Keats himself wrote fatalistically: “My spirit is too weak, mortality weighs heavily on me like unwilling sleep, and each imagined pinnacle and steep of Godlike hardship tells me I must die…” Scottish novelist Robert Louis Stevenson, American poet Charles Bukowski, Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, German novelist Franz Kafka, English writer D.H Lawrence are among the many other notable writers/poets/artists whose creative souls blossomed despite the debilitating disease. Anna reminded me about English novelist and critic George Orwell, “who experienced many operations to remove parts of his lungs”. Orwell suffered from pulmonary tuberculosis and his constant battle with tuberculosis and bronchiectasis is painfully depicted in his acclaimed novel titled 1984, especially in the depiction of the tortures and the haplessness that the protagonist Winston Smith had to undergo. I recall having read 1984 during my high school years and retain some fragmented memories of the strange character of O’Brien and his unusual relationship with Winston Smith. The ambiguous connection between rats and betrayal and torture is left open to interpretation but now when I think of it, I realize that these hallucinations were possibly a result of Orwell’s response to his disease, his dejected mindset and the medications that he was being administered. Winston Smith is possibly the most -long suffering of Orwell’s central figures and the novel itself is a dystopian nightmare possibly an outcome of the despair that settled in Orwell’s heart due to his long-drawn illnesses. This in turn makes me return to my reading of Virginia Woolf’s essay “On Being Ill” (1930) which explores the notion that the body cannot be treated as merely “a sheet of plain glass through which the soul looks.” Woolf writes about the language defying powers of illness and “how tremendous the spiritual change that it brings, how astonishing…” and reflects on why no great novel has been written on the subject of illnesses-“novels one would have thought would have been dedicated to influenza, epic poems to thyroid, odes to pneumonia, lyrics to toothache”. She strongly believes that to “hinder the description of illness in literature, there is the poverty of the language.” On the other hand, though, Woolf who was herself prone to mental illness equates illness with a delirious state of creativity–“this incessant making up of shapes and casting them down, the buffeting of clouds together…this incessant ringing up and down of light and shade, this interminable experiment with gold shafts and blue shadows…one should not let this gigantic cinema play perpetually to an empty house.” It is so obvious how Virginia Woolf was deeply influenced by the Romantics-especially Wordsworth and much like the esteemed poet, wondered where human beings find empathy and consolation for their anguish.

PneumothoraxMachine_1 credit Anna DumitriuSequence Dress credit Anna DumitriuThe Antibiotic Resistance Quilt_Anna Dumitriu1Where theres dust theres danger credit Anna DumitriuRest Rest andRest credit Anna Dumitriu

This brings me full circle to a paper written by Anna titled Confronting the Bacterial Sublime and in reality this paper persuaded me further to delve closely into her works. She explains why she chose “Bacterial Sublime” as the title of her work- inspired as it were by Edmund Burke’s Philosophical Enquiry of 1757 and Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Judgment of 1790. She delves into the “Cult of Romantic Terror” and acknowledges “We owe the value of terror as an aesthetic pleasure in art and nature to Burke’s enquiry.” Anna’s scientific-artistic journey is laden with deep insights into the cultural and literary worlds and she is able to translate her fascination with the terror and beauty of plague in words-

“ the modern procedures of the lab, the way my enquiry was structured did not allow room for me to experience the aesthetic sensation of the sublime I was seeking…but some sense of the ‘bacterial sublime’ is still within me every time I step inside a microbiology lab and it is an experience that I would like to be able to share, through my own art practice with others…”

For Edmund Burke, sublimity is in direct opposition with beauty and associated with the terrible and is a state that is achieved by the soul as a result of the astonishment of our senses. Anna’s works are also very intricately associated with sights, sounds, smells and touch and feelings that range from privation and power to magnificence, obscurity, pain, darkness, difficulty, diffidence and terror. There is a complete loss of boundaries between beauty and fear in her works as a mystical sensorial awareness prevails as one reflects upon her works. “Confronting the bacterial sublime” can be petrifying as she narrates how she confronted plague at first hand with the support of Novel and Dangerous Pathogens Training at HPA Porton. She says-“ And I held it in my hands, the most terrifying of all ills.” Anna’s complex emotions led her to create the Plague Dress (2018) in which she has successfully endeavored to help us understand the paradoxical experience of delight and terror. The 1665 style Plague Dress is made from “raw silk, hand dyed with walnut husks in reference to the famous herbalist Nicholas Culpeper who recommended walnuts as a treatment for plague.” According to Culpeper, dry walnuts along with other herbs and leaves “preserves from danger of poison and infection that day it is taken.” The dress is impregnated with Yesinia pestis bacteria (Plague) and appliqued with 17th century embroideries. The dress is also stuffed and surrounded with bunches lavender( which helped ward off plague during the Great Plague of London) and the roll under the dress contains a mixture of herbs and spices reminiscent of what the plague doctors would have worn inside their beak like masks. What Anna creates is sheer poetry. It reminds me of a song I wrote when I was a student at Berklee School of Music, titled “The Black Walnut Tree.” I recall my grandmother (who was from Kashmir in India) telling me stories about black walnut trees and how the husks were used to treat skin diseases or gastrointestinal problems. My grandmother was beautiful and very affectionate. When she died, I wasn’t around but her memories live on and whenever I feel estranged from the world around me, I feel I can lean against her metaphorical presence-

The Black Walnut Tree.

From petal to leaf just you and me,

And hand in hand we strangely sang,

Of one eternity-

Under the Walnut Tree.

Now hours have creaked through nascent feet,

There are thinking, tangling shadows in the deep-

Full of lichens-barnacled weeds.

But I still think of how I loved you through the leafy tongues

Of Time exploding slowly-

Loved you through the Divine Destruction,

Of that Black Walnut Tree.

(Oh that Black Walnut Tree,

Scattering constellations of pollen in the looming silence,

Billowing signs and portents-vernally,

That tree.)

I kneel at your rootsteps and weep-

Don’t blame me if I succumb under the green branches,

Of your cherished Sun.

The womb of night lies curled at your feet,

Fast asleep.

From the cauldron of your kiss,

I breathe-oh Black Walnut Tree.

All I seek is for me to weep,

At your tangled feet,

Let me be complete,

Black Walnut Tree.

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I remember having cried as I composed the song. The tears have dried over the years but Anna’s Plague Dress has brought all of those emotions back-like a rupture of all that has been suppressed- now intertwined with new painful, beautiful networks of experience-an affirmation that indeed- I am in the midst of the sublime.

Anna’s Sequence Project involves a series of artworks that cleverly fuses digital technology with bacterial bio art, traditional media and ‘altered historical artefacts to artistically investigate the emerging technology of whole genome sequencing of bacteria’ . The Sequence Dress takes data from 2.8 million base pairs of the sequenced DNA of the staphylococcus aureus bacteria cultured from Anna’s own body and sequenced meticulously by herself to investigate and pose an artistic and cultural voice to the global threat of pandemic outbreaks and the lack of new antibiotic treatments. There is also the Hypersymbiont Dress which is stained and video mapped with bacteria that could be “enhanced to turn us into human superorganisms with improved creativity, improved health and even improved personalities.” The video mapped version was created in collaboration with British artist Alex May whose digital works reflect a fine passing from light, air and water and thus the softly patterned and colored dress becomes like a poem with coded messages for us to perceive and transfuse in our own minds as we would. As I shut my eyes and ponder about the infinitely ethereal dress for some reason I think of blue horses and yellow water, of torn edges of scratched skies stuck hopelessly between twigs and pale flowers-of the sounds of the bassoon and the crackle of dry leaves falling from the birch tree. I am possibly being influenced by the audible-visual world of synesthetic artist George Sanen whose artworks visualize sound and where mathematics and intuition come together in multifold permutations. Anna’s works transport us to this multisensory domain which I believe helps me understand the world around me from an entirely different perspective and is extremely rewarding. This brings to mind a poem written by French poet Stéphane Mallarmé titled L’aprèsmidi d’un faune (The Afternoon of a Faun) which was impressionistically set to a beautiful composition by Debussy and when heard by Mallarmé himself heard the music he said: “I was not expecting anything of this kind. This music prolongs the emotion of my poem and sets the tone more vividly than color.” Anna’s multisensory installation creates a similar tone for the observers and through finesse, nostalgia, remembered and unremembered lights and shadows, rich and mellow colors and patterns makes me want to mimic Mallarmé and say what he told Debussy:

O forest God of breathing air,

                      If you have made your flute aright,

                     Now hear the way that Debussy breathes into it,

                    The broad daylight”

Dumitriu’s “The Romantic Disease: An Artistic investigation of Tuberculosis” is a solo exhibition contains “altered historical objects and textiles combining ancient treatments for the disease, such as dyes made from madder root, safflower and walnut and textiles created using various kinds of mycobacteria…” There is also a breathtakingly beautiful VRSA (Vancomycin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus) dress which has been patterned with VRSA bacteria and sterilized antibiotics. The colors, the dyes, the fabrics are symbolically or literally incorporated into her installations or art objects-making them an expression in synthetically harnessed artistry that is uncovered by navigating the shifting realities of microbiology funneled through time, culture, beliefs, literature and other endless possibilities. Tuberculosis has been more than a disease-it has been an art over the years amongst poets, philosophers, artists and scholars but Edgar Allan Poe took it steps further by describing the disease as gentle and glorious: “ I would wish all I love to perish of that gentle disease. How glorious!” The visual poetry in Poe’s imagination is concretized in Anna’s works with pervasive energies almost like Tolkien’s animate woods brimming with sensorial impressions.

I have been working on the writerly expressionistic edges of interdisciplines for a while now and recently published a book cum musical project titled A Square and a Half-The Colors are Sounding which has a strong morphological relationship to weaving accomplished through coding the language of diverse research energies. The project is an outcome of almost 6 years of investigating connections between science, technology, art, music, architecture, time, space, perception, chaos, order and culture. Amongst some of the disassembled monologues, is my project based off the collaboration between MIT postdoc (2012) Tal Danino and visiting artist Vik Muniz who painted bacteria so to speak by manipulating these microorganisms. The project titled Colonies Series focused on the artist/scientist duo attempting to keep the cancer cells alive, moving, energized-all in dynamic aesthetic patterns. My own musical and metaphorical project that was inspired by the Colonies Series was titled Changeling and ever since I have been in the quest of other microbiology artworks that explore the ever expanding dimensions between science, art and life. And then I found Anna and Anna’s works which through which I would like to explore unresolved and fragmented harmonies and melodies and celebrate poetry and music strengthened surreptitiously by her mesmerizing works. Anna writes in The Steam Revolution: “…there has also been an element of serendipity which has been developed through meeting new people and making connections.” I couldn’t agree more. In a world where people are closed their minds to yielding to honest assemblages of thoughts, ideas and artistic or scientific endeavors, Anna comes across as someone who is inherently tied to the interconnectedness of disciplines, cultures and ideologies. Meeting her has been a complete act of serendipity for me as I am completely taken in by all her buccaneering works and relate closely with her investigative philosophies. Her research and experimentation suggest a whole new world of interpretative possibilities which I find deeply pervasive.

My father was a student in mathematics and philosophy and someone who introduced me very early to the interdisciplinary Fluxus artistic movement. With a profound emphasis on overlapping creative practices, the occasional study of the blurred territories between documentation, happenings—participation, especially in Fluxus performance art made me yearn time and again, to break free of the rigidity of theater and musical norms that I was taught in school/college. Besides John Cage, I followed the works of Yoko Ono, Nam June Paik and Tomas Schmit and their works acutely influenced me in my approach to writing and theater practices. My father wrote to me once, “Write some words or a melody or two and then let them sit like loose score leaves on the music stand. Let the fan blow away some or all of those sheets. Catch the shadows of what you remember. Go perform.”

I shall turn my entire attention to Anna’s The Antibiotic Resistance Quilt (2017) which was exhibited at the Science Gallery in Dublin October 2017 through February 2018. The project was an extension of her MRSA Quilt Project and the quilt was “impregnated with actual traces of the most significant drug resistant bacteria such as strains of klebsiella pneumoniae, E.coli, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Enterococcus faecalis, Enterobacter cloacae, Neisseria gonorrhoeae and MRSA (Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus aureus) grown on multicolored dye containing agar jelly normally used for diagnosis.” It is fascinating to note how the patterns that form on the silk fabric where the infectious bacteria has been allowed to spread unrestrained and in other parts of the fabric, the design becomes circular like polka dots, because the fabric contains antibiotics and thus prevents the bacteria to spread freely. This handsewn quilt symbolically heralds the grim facts of the global antimicrobial resistance crisis and at the same time draws attention to the effectiveness of gene editing technologies such as CRISPR which could help cure diseases. Much like a weaver who becomes part of the loom, Anna melds into the world of sensation and iteration-feeling the wool, the colors in the dyes and the biological processes-twisting her mind onto the microbiological processes and allowing it to spin powerful narrative metaphors.

Textile artist and printmaker Anni Albers asserted that all weaving traces back to the “event of a thread”, likewise Anna Dumitriu draws upon the world of microbiology to emphasize that patterns in weaving make us think, evolve and find solutions to serious world issues as the changing relationships between fabric and bacteria and thus reconfigure our alliance with infectious diseases. Her “threads” ignite memory, awaken the senses and help us understand the emerging practice of infective textiles in a deeply personal way-(the bacterial sublime as she herself calls it) and we are sewn as it were unto layers of material performance, tactility, visual eloquence and mnemonic experience.

As a narrative storyteller I am carried along with the MRSA Quilt and its layers of fabric and impregnated dyes and this bacteria project suspends my imagination in an ideological space invested with many lost voices and smells. I sense the poetic freedom, idling humming images shifting from the present to the blurry past- dull and radiant at the same time-like paint and light forms, coloring my imagination to create music and words that can be easily erased yet remembered all at once. Yet before the overlap from the arts and the sciences to my world of fantasy happens -rather a consilience spontaneously occurs, I step one more time into the Infinite Corridor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The cross-disciplinary presences in my narratives started here. To tell my new story, I must retrace and recursively pick up the threads of research here at the institute before I spin, loop or knit my own narrative yarn. Just by reading about the research in Fibers@MIT one can fathom that a piece of material fabric can increase our sensory awareness, allow us to smell, hear and see fibers that emit light or unfold stories that are overwhelming or evocative. There is an ongoing relationship between writing, music and textiles that are oftentimes fragmentary and rather abstract-yet if we stretch the filaments of our imagination-felt experiences and readings or images can be transcribed into never-ending narratives.

Anna’s bio art begins with a vision and continues thereafter to stir and overwhelm the imagination with structure and purpose as her artistic representation hovers between harmony and dissonance. The tension between the curves, abstract circular or rectilinear edges of the patches in the MRSA Quilt is carefully wrought with vibrant meaning between the folds of the changing hues in the dyed fabric. The secret to the beauty of the quilt lies in the multipigmented fabric that allows a formidable interplay between bacteria and antibiotics and yet comes together in a condition of simultaneity. In ways more than one, her artwork reminds me of the visual sensibility in the works of French artist Robert Delaunay. The unequal measures, movement of colors and the simple statement of forms makes me look at the MRSA Quilt as a textile installation that deserves to also be recognized as a charming poetic expressionistic painting.

{I shut my eyes for a moment, as a memory archivist would. I navigate between structure and piercing broken lines that eventually become a part of my body. I am wrapped in extreme cold and hot temperatures and sense that I have no language to express myself with, save the language of the senses. I am floating on air and the clouds and looking down at the universe. I am Frigg*spinning my colored clouds, writing my wisdom runes for the angels in the sky.}

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                           This My…

This my body is swathed in unprogrammable light fibers,

And this my heart filled with tales of ordinary heartbreaks.

Shimmering sets of warps duplicate the radiant timbers

In Terry Riley’s -A Rainbow in Curved Air.

This my world of sound is colored in red

And sometimes other shades,

Tangled with  this my-need to code or decipher.

Like faith,

Like the human heart,

Without visible closures,

I weave disconnected patterns and sequences

Refining my art by connecting disciplines-

Crocheting liquid spirals with my invisible sewing machine.

I speak of patterns as a language,

I am the white space between lines and circles,

Touch me and listen to the metacommentary

On fabrics and poetics.

Brooding threads inked in death and hope

Open pools of shrieking images- death and loss,

The renewal of life-

What is this vision bridging darkness and light-

the birth of a child,

or a little funeral of yesterday’s bride?

From day it becomes night,

I at the loam, under the snuffed candle’s leftover light-

The threads push the colors into firm inflexible lines.

Little by little the world of symbols becomes accessible,

Like the eddies of the river,

My eye wanders from one form to another-

Studying the strange logic of shapes and colors.

To see is a movement,

To find myself in what I see is rhythm-

I am color,

I am composition!

This my self- a story a looping, a knitting of the same yarn again and again,

Touched, sounded and changed by the weaver’s frame.

(* Frigg-Norse fertility goddess and the embodiment of earth, sky and clouds. She spent most of her time in her palace of mists known as Fensalir. She would sit at her spinning wheel in Fensalir and weave elaborate fibers. She was known as the weaver of clouds and the asterism Orion’s Belt is also known as Frigg’s Spinning Wheel. In her hands, the spinning wheel became a powerful weapon of magic. Frigg was also the healer who ordered the interweaving strands of body mind and soul to promote overall wellbeing.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks Joanna. Its been a pleasure working on ‘Snow’. I relived so many moments in the process.

JOANNA KUROWSKA

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It’s been half-a-year since Ivaana Muse composed music to “Snow”—and the more I listen to her composition, the more I love it! I am so happy and humbled she chose my poem as the lyrics to her amazing work.  So today I am celebrating Ivaana‘s composition—and asking you that you please take a moment to listen to it!  Here’s “Snow” in Sound Cloud—composed and performed by Ivaana Muse.

I also posted links to the composition, its history, and the poem itself, in the POEMS section of my website.

And here’s a photo of my childhood garden in Olsztyn—my native town in Poland, one very snowy winter.  Echoes of that garden play in “Snow”…

IMG_4352

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https://soundcloud.com/ivaana/ivaana-snow-with-live-cello-mix-2-mastered-1

Joanna: Several months ago artist Ivaana Muse contacted me about the possibility of using my poem “Snow” as the lyrics to her musical composition. I gladly consented, and then Ivaana asked me if there were any sounds I could associate with “Snow.” I should mention, the poem was my reaction to the news of my father being taken to a hospice, where he spent the last few months of his life.  Though separated by thousands of miles, in a vision I saw my father in his hospice room. His bed was near a window, which opened to an old park, with dark-green trees swaying in the wind. Then a few images from my youth appeared, among them a bus trip in my native Olsztyn in Poland, to my parents’ house to celebrate the traditional Christmas Eve supper—the Polish Wigilia. For each Wigilia, father used to prepare delicacies only he knew how to make—a Jewish-style pike, carp in aspic, tartar sauce… Sitting on the bus, I watched the lights on Christmas trees glittering in the windows we passed. The streets were empty, snow was falling. Then I saw snowflakes sitting—but not melting—on my father’s hands.

As I thought of Ivaana’s question, the past suddenly started to speak to me not only in images but also in voices. Snow is silent, so the first sound that came to my mind was silence—the mighty language of the dead. There is silence in “Snow”; also the cries and laughter of children running on sleighs, the roar of the bus engine, the trees rustling; finally my father’s voice, once strong and deep, then gradually fading into whisper… I can hear all those sounds in Ivaana’s complex, haunting composition. It is as if through the silence of snow, the voices of our fathers—Ivaana’s and mine—suddenly resounded. Perhaps they now engage in a conversation of which art has managed to capture some distant echo?

Ivaana: I didn’t grow up knowing snow. Snow meant fake cotton balls scattered randomly around the Christmas tree, poetry read in school or stories narrated by my father just before bedtime. Those stories then became the voice of my space spirit. I believed in the power of that voice which commanded me to express my deepest emotions through sound and music. My father then decided to make me experience real snow in a lovely hill station called Nainital in Uttarakhand-India, which crowded around a deep volcanic lake. He told me that the British found their Cumbrian retreat here. For the first time I experienced the silence of snow and recalled Longfellow’s: “the troubled sky reveals, the grief it feels”. Both my dad and I missed my mom (who had renounced the worldly life to find her spiritual core), and the snow kept burying those emotions quietly. The experience was cathartic for us.

Dad and I went for these flake filled walks amid the soundlessness of snow and ended up sharing so much wordlessly. Flake after flake the snow fell and created deep memories that made me aware of the spaces again and again. Years later when I relocated from India to Florida and lived there for 12 years, the memories receded to some unknown corner in the deepest crevices of my brain. And then in 2012 we moved to Massachusetts. Snow came back and I then realized how large of a role auditory memory had played. I could hear my Father’s voice though he had passed away several years ago during my lonesome walks in the snow. My memories about my father seemed to have been imprisoned in an anechoic chamber and the sonic energies trapped for years seemed to crave for release. When I read Joanna Kurowska’s “Snow,” I somehow wanted to manipulate the open spatial acoustics in the poem. I could relate to the interconnecting spaces of heard and unheard sounds and stories in the poem. Simple and profound were these words. I didn’t want to tamper with the words just to structure and bind them to a lyric and make it into a song. I chose to experiment using the aleatoric technique, in which elements of the composition is left to chance. It allowed me to play around with the fragments of the poetic content and my own acoustic memories in a spontaneous un-structured manner. Rhythm, meter, chords, harmony, dynamics did not seem to come in the way of expressing my musical imagination to compose and sing Joanna’s ‘Snow’.

I recorded the sung melody in a single take in my studio letting the element of chance overpower me completely and happily. I felt a strange sense of oneness with unknown mysteries that blurred the boundaries between form and content and became a part of the layered unplanned painted space. I was telling my own story through Joanna’s words, weaving distances, memories, dissonances and harmonies into a continuous musical scroll. Both Joanna and I hope you are able to experience this story of Snow.

 

As a poem, “Snow” was first published in Penwood Review, and then in Joanna Kurowska’s book of poetry Inclusions (Cervena Barva Press, 2014). The poem is available on Joanna’s website http://joanna-kurowska.com/poems/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writing in fragments is beautiful. Love it when halves make a whole. It allows me to follow a pattern of self-induced breaks from reality. It intrigues me to take flights into self-generated euphoria to mindless brooding–memories scraped out from childhood tales-to rejections and acceptances and a final oneness with the central mystery of life. I have been collecting fragments since forever. Fragments and wonderments. You can’t walk away from your own shadow. Yet sometimes I see my fleeting shadow deliver me from myself. I feel the breath of the Periwinkle and then I laugh and think I am daft. I leap to the summer breeze rocking with blossoms and my warm hands suddenly feel cold -I realize it’s winter still.

I think of my Mom’s cold hands as she is lain on the white floating bed, while the Doctors try to put her together again. I am standing at the doorway against a grazed september sky. Is it Autumn? Maybe the seasons are crawling backwards. I see pieces of  the blue sky taped over the red harbor. Would it quench my thirst to drink the silence of those colors? 

I have to run back home. That old coal voice sounds familiar. Possibly my great aunt. She is always calling out for me. I am hungry. It is morning already and I am expecting hot eggs, burnt toast and oatmeal with dripping caramel. Instead I find myself swallowing Blackberries. Don’t like them much. Though Blackberries are better than Peaches.

My granny had a complexion that looked and smelled like Peaches. She ate fruits all the time and insisted that I eat Apples. She talked to me about the Apple Orchards they had in Kashmir. I miss her, the forced Apples and her Apple-sy nail polish. She was lovely. Her chubby arms around me made the world feel sleepy. I hardly sleep now. And then those ghosts of children at their nonsensical games-make a lot of noise.

At the water’s edge, I stand, waiting for my father to return. Lilies lie still on his stable, smiling face- he is at peace in some other world. But I am waiting for him, for I know he remembers the way back. He has a amazing memory.

I wish you were here with me Daddy to walk towards the dusk, where the bay rolls with liquid fire. You had so much to share with me.

A wind passes over my mind and I am dissolving in scuds of clouds, like a stranger on Earth. Once I used to live on a hill and old music scores would fill the hallway. No one lives there now. Earthlings, Must I learn again to breathe?

I am tired of wanting more out of life. Wish I could be rocked between the layers. A postcard arrives from Niagara Falls. I’ll give it to the Angels.