ways of art, ways of life, life as art ...
Western society has decided that life, art, spirit, and science are separate domains that have little to do with each other. This attitude is the very thing that has caused multiple crises on the planet. Below is a brief description of the journey I made as a heartist, in which all elements connect. The heart is a model of unity—it has four chambers, yet it is one.
Works 2010 Onwards
Rivers Run Through Us (2012-2021), a collaboration with artist Bobbe Besold and poet Valerie Martinez, is a community engagement that utilizes art to change minds, hearts, and actions. Artists draw lines; we did ours by walking the whole length of the river (54 miles over five days from an altitude of 12,000 ft. to 6,000 ft.) before we could pretend to know the subject who had called us to speak on her behalf. Our heArts responded to the Santa Fe River, the river watershed, and the people and communities who live along the waterway.
The children, our children, are very much aware of what is happening to the world. In this outdoor installation in 2014, marking the 50th anniversary of the signing of The Wilderness Act, they decide not to wait for us and go on a Pilgrimage to the Wild.
Little children are born collectors. Maybe this inbred tendency can be explained by the human capacity for wonder or traced to our hunter-gatherer past. Rocks fill pockets; leaves are stashed in hands; flowers adorn hair. Little ones express surprise, happiness, awe. I am still that child. In One Thousand Treasures du Jour, I celebrate the miracle of life.
In 2015, I created an installation called Letters from the Earth. Coming upon a beautiful coral D on the beach inspired my thought that letters correlate to natural forms. By now I have the complete alphabet without manipulating the familiar shapes. It has taken me quite a few years… but what a celebration of relationship, interconnectedness, and wonder!
As I began recovering from a major hiking accident in 2010, I was called to do art that would encompass my present circumstance and continue to be inspired by Nature’s prompts. One Thousand Arms of Compassion is an installation bringing to light the visible relationship between letterforms and Nature. It consists of a thousand forked branches looking like Ys, installed in concentric circles in the tradition of the mandala.
Works 1987 to 2009
The Great Cleansing of the Rio Grande is a seven-year performance I began in 1987… my heart calling to speak and act through the intention/attention-filled gestures of ritual… Once a month, I walked the river’s bed and banks doing a literal and symbolic cleansing… the deep-listening portion being as important as the collection of found objects. A journal, “riveries,” chronicled my song as an Earth heartist… my awe at the Earth’s all-encompassing artistry… While the Great Cleansing served as my Earth initiation, my very first performance, Forgiveness, Key to Peace, a one-week working/living/sleeping performance in a Soho storefront window, opened the door to the magic of intention.
My performances are pilgrimages. Their themes arise from a constant dialogue between my experiences and my conscious understanding of these experiences; they also evolve organically. In 1993, the river, too full from spring runoffs for me to do my cleansing, 'sends' me on The Road of Meeting—a one-month journey in North Carolina to meet and honor environmentalists... an invitation to see one another as “Earth colleagues”… a pilgrimage where meeting (listening) and finding commonality are sacred acts.
The next participatory works rose out of a dark personal period, which left me with the realization that the Earth was my most important relationship. The Most Precious Jewel, a pilgrimage begun in 1998, asks participants to remember how precious the Earth is. I invite them to stitch beads on their favorite place on a fabric globe of the Earth. The act of sewing beads is like the act of reciting prayers using a rosary or the malah. Beads also symbolize tears. Tears of joy. Tears of grief. Also, perhaps, gestures. Gesture already taken, or considered for Earth’s sake.
Listen, Listen: A Whale Ceremonial, a spiral land/sea installation and performance at The New Bedford Whaling Museum, was another art/life connection that fully illustrates the amazing dialogue between life circumstance and personal journey.
The Point of Tears, a performance connecting participants with a deep listening to the heart, has taken me twice to Colombia and once to Russia in the years 2001-2003.
In Route 33: The Magic Road, I travel to every corner of New Mexico to connect the people of all 33 counties through a dialog about peace.
The installation Yitzhak and Leila, the Romeo and Juliet of the Holy Land gave me a chance to speak about peace in the Middle East.
In 2005, at a great moment of synchronicity, the performance Hearts of Light came into being at SITE Sante Fe. Working with 60 women was a breakthrough for me. The number 60 became a symbol for time. Sixty has repeated itself in subsequent years. The following year, in Allons les enfants... I place 60 children, represented by little shoes, on a mountain path... they are off on a pilgrimage, they have had enough... they know better than we adults seem to...
Old themes like forgiveness recur, awakened by events of my life. The Sorry Book Traveling Shrine leads the yearly Peace Day public vigil. Another theme guiding my life is reflected in Kwan Yin's Priestess and Priestess of Generosity both in 2007. The old connection for rivers as threads of a great web enlivening the Earth, as well as women as weavers of light, is reflected in 60 Water Weaving Women. This ritual performance, which took place in the Capitol of the State of New Mexico, embodies many levels of my passion, art for life's and earth's sake, activism for the love of community and collaboration.
There was a time when public art meant a bronzed war hero on the plaza. Today, it means something radically different. Today it is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the living and the dead face-to-face for all eternity. Now it is ceremonial art, collective art, political art, environmental art. It is new-genre public art, the artist as aesthetician and activist exploring her aliveness on the streets of her community.
— Eric Maisel, Affirmation for Artists