Story # 1. Reclining not Dying
Recently, Heather Heyer was killed in the Charlottesville riots, and many other innocent bystanders were physically maimed and emotionally scarred while the rest of us watched the horrifying images on the news. Heather’s life senselessly cut short by a cowardly young man purposely and determinately ploughing his Dodge Challenger into the crowd. Ripping into living flesh with the new terrorists’ weapon of choice— a vehicle. This, for me, is a stark contrast of how our world can seem so large and beautiful and small and mean in equal lightning-fast tandem measures.
What drives a man to such hatred that he rams his car into a group of people peacefully protesting? Is his sole aim to cause pain? What has happened to this human being so filled with hate and anger that makes extinguishing another’s life the right thing to do? Over the past weekend I have read and watched the analyzing from both sides of this awful spectrum and the retoric coming from a world leader who is set on dividing people. One voice, however, stood out eloquently above the cacophony.
No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin or his background or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love. For love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”What happened in Charlottesville, Virginia is the culmination of many years of racism, discrimination and fear of the other fanned by flames of the political rhetoric of the America’s chosen leaders. ** Former President Barack Obama quoting Nelson Mandela, The Long Walk to Freedom
For many reasons, which will be part of thorough investigations and studies that will be far more reaching and educated than my own, we have arrived here to this day August 12, 2017. A day, perhaps, where the majority of the 7 billion people born on this Earth lived to see the following sunrise from their perspectives, their homes even, where life went on with all its messiness, triumphs and losses…like any other day. In stark contrast, on this very day I was hypnotized by the sculptures of Karen Lamonte. The sculptures are part of a group show titled Glasstress 2017 in the ever contrasting island city of Venice, Italy. And like most artwork which has had an impact on me, I discovered them by chance as I wandered around Venice thinking about the tragic ironic beauty of this aging watery municipality. They seemed so relevant to what I was experiencing.
Karen Lamonte is an American artist who grew up in Manhattan. She was the recipient of a Fulbright scholarship that allowed her to develop complex and advanced techniques in cast glass. The outcome is an astonishing body of work which is beautifully haunting and in my mind will be forever related to what was happening in Charlottetown, VA. A testament to our human condition by their sheer size (slightly larger than life-size cast glass representations of female garments darped over absent bodies) Lamonte’s sculptures proclaim and demand attention, recall ancient Greek statues like the Venus de Milo; their transparency a nagging reminder of our own mortality. The glass dresses of Lamonte are of invisible bodies draped by meters of transparent fabric—blue or grey tinted glass—which flow over breasts and hips like silk. There is strength and fragility in the transparency that allows my eye to see past the outer layers, into and through absent bodies. The forms are reclining or standing as if posing for a photo or modeling for the artist, or just being. They portray vulnerability, perhaps physical expressions of love as well as loss— even fear. The light filters through the folds which makes the figures glow from the inside, projecting an eerie presence of the soft curves, the warm skin of the female who wore these garments in perfect stillness. The glass sculptures gave me a sense hope, even warmth albeit leaving me with the thin residues of melancholy.
I felt a sense of acute longing for happier times. Perhaps, because the loss of a life in such a tragic and public way always leaves a trace in our collective memory and a sense of magnification for the small spaces allotted to living out dreams. The works created by artists almost always leave a trace of something or someone gone from this moment and remembered by the imagination and unimaginable courage of the complex act of creativity.
As I stood in front of the glass dresses I was overwhelmed by the sense of loss emanating from where there was only beauty. In a way, they reminded me that light and love will always take over hate and darkness— at least this is my secret hope. Had I known Heather, I would have liked to ask her if she felt the same way, I am sure she would have agreed. I would have liked to meet here in this fascinating and busy city to talk about these beautiful sculptures and their resonance in a seemingly senseless world. We may have talked about the contrasts and likenesses and then gone for a Cappuccino or an afternoon Spritz at a nearby café on the Grand Canal. There will always be a conversation that shines light on darkness, there will always be art created by artists who grasp the thin veils of beauty (and its opposite) and ultimately spark conversations. There will not be another Heather Heyer, but we will always be reminded of her strength and resolve like the Venus statue depicting Aphrodite, Goddess of beauty and love.