Small, ink on watercolour paper, 8.5 cm x 8.5cm This piece done while I was immersed in my series A Complex Grief is a response to an historical image of a refugee child. During WW2, so many children bore the brunt of WW2 that in a PBS documentary about children and war, I heard a phrase that has haunted me ever since. “In WW2 the face of the front line became the face of a child.”
So it’s Mardi Gras today. A very subdued one due to pandemic. Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, which marks the time of fasting and contemplation in preparation for Easter. Emmaus Community, AbbeyChurch and St Matthias ( of Chapel Gallery fame ) have made a booklet of reflections and prayers by community members to accompany this time of year. I am thankful to have contributed a reflection and the cover images. I was asked also to suggest a title. I chose to combine two words found in a brainstorming list from the clergy into a simple phrase: Spring in Winter. It sounds sort of unexpected, miraculous like the blossoms here in Victoria that bloom in early February. It is magical. It is a play on words- is it spring or is it a spring? A spring that emerges from the dark, the deep underground. Flowing water, not ice or snow, emerging just like the blossoms from the dark and the deep of the body of the tree and then are let go and transform into fruit. Spring in winter….we are weary, but perhaps, by tapping into that life beneath the surface of our circumstances, we too might feel something blossom and flow within us.
“We cannot protect something we do not love, we cannot love what we do not know, and we cannot know what we do not see….” – Richard Louv.
How do we reclaim our intimacy with creation? How might we open our eyes and minds in a way that allows the revelation of God through creation into our souls?
In this workshop Matt Humphrey (of Wild Church Victoria, A Rocha Canada and the Emmaus Community) introduces us to different ways we pay attention known as ‘analytic’ and ‘synthetic’. Because our society has emphasized the analytic mode, he’ll suggest that we have become fragmented in ourselves and in our relationship with God’s creation – and that we need to repair this divide and rediscover an approach to attention which takes in “the whole.”
Cornelia van Voorst introduces us to science that shows how improving the ways we see the world through art helps heal attention and lead us into embodied mindfulness. Geared to those who might not identify as artists, simple, practical exercises train our eyes to understand the world so that our relationship with creation is enriched and restored.
Cornelia van Voorst is a visual artist and theopoetic practitioner based at The Abbey Church in Victoria British Columbia. As well as exhibiting as a contemporary artist, she practices photography and sketching as a means of cultivating connection with the world around her.
The Art Of Paying Attention- Opening Our Eyes (was) a free online workshop facilitated by Matt Humphrey and Cornelia van Voorst Co-hosted by Wild Church Victoria, A Rocha Canada and the Emmaus Community (Victoria) Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more info or with questions.
How do artists keep in touch during lockdown? How do we keep our spirits up? Over 60 artists in Victoria BC, Canada answered these questions with the project ‘Postcards From the Pandemic.’ The project was intiated and facilitated by BOXCARSIX and included 60 artists and produced over 900 postcards. The cards were exhibited at The Fifty Fifty Arts Collective. Here is a note from one of the organisers: Wow! What a fantastic project, successful show and fundraiser. We raised over $3000 for local Victoria charities – Victoria Women’s Transition House, Our Place, and the Mustard Seed, as well as happily supporting the fifty fifty arts collective gallery with the sale of our postcards.We wish to send out a huge thank you to the 60 artists involved for your generosity, playfulness, imagination and commitment to our project. We are humbled by the scale of participation, and delighted by the creativity imbued in each card. This project has been a testament to the possibilities of collaboration, and we are very proud to have initiated it. There are still many cards remaining, and it is our sincere hope that we will be able to find another venue to continue to share this body of work in the future! Here are a few of my favourites that I worked on with artists Amber MacGregor, Heather Barr, Amber Morrison Fox, Trish Shwart, and Meghan Krauss. (photos of the gallery collection are by Jill Ehlert.)
abstracted images from photos of roses in my neighbourhood for the BOXCARSIX Postcard Project
For the last number of weeks, I have participated in an initiative by a local contemporary artist collective BOXCARSIX in their Post Card Project. It was conceived as a means for members to be in touch with each other and continue making art together during the time of lock-down.
Each artist would begin a card, and then send it to another who would add to the image and then pass that on until it was felt a small artwork had been completed. Eventually other artists joined in. It took me a while to get going as I wasn’t sure what to send out to other artists to work with, but then realised I wanted to extend the ideas in the “…Persistence of Love….” work I had just finished.
So I took my postcard sized paper and drew the images of the roses from my neighbourhood onto them. I was delighted to see the effect of abstraction and was happy not only to be sharing my theme with other artists, but to perhaps have discovered a way forward for new work.
Here are some of the “starters” I sent out back in April, it has been fun to see the transformation of these over the last weeks. Some artists enhanced the rose theme, some transformed the starters in ways that I could not have imagined.
Since British Columbia has opened up we’ve had news to finish up by June as it looks like there is going to be a show of all the cards this summer! Stay tuned.
I am very glad and grateful that four of my pieces from A Complex Grief are included in Victoria Arts Council’s magazine ‘Until 5‘ which engages with the theme of memory. Here is an excerpt from the foreword: “In the following pages, there is a surprising array of interpretations to the theme of Memory. Some artists are ruminating on geographic memories (both pleasurable and painful) while others look to the memory of objects through social and personal histories. Memory becomes tangible through stories, poems, and other artworks both lived and imagined here; these memories become touchstones for past atrocities while signaling the wellspring of hope for future possibilities.”
For me ‘memory’ is a timely theme. I am familiar with the personal effect of history’s generational wounds. These are often active below the surface and never fully called into the open even though they affect the present profoundly. Today, through the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as enormous turmoil, there is tremendous change being released through the breaking open of deep wounds and long memories. Wounds that are hidden come to the surface to heal, that is what I have learned and that is what I hope is happening in our world today.
The foreword for ‘Until 5’ includes a call for us to work for a more compassionate future in this time of upheaval: Here in Victoria, this past Sunday nearly 10,000 citizens took to Centennial Square to protest in solidarity with the global Black Lives Matter movement in support of anti-racist actions. The killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by Minneapolis police officers will have ramifications. Already that city has taken steps towards disbanding their police force in order to invest in community-based public safety programs. This will have ripple effects around the world. What has become crystal clear is that Canada is not immune from our own histories of injustice and so we must remember going forward, together, that we can be better and we must be better. While we are thrilled you’re taking the time to read this very special issue of UNTIL… we also urge our non-BIPOC readers to take stock of how you are addressing the various ways we all contribute to the ongoing racial and social inequalities in our own neighbourhoods and City, and more importantly what measures can be taken to address this systemic problem. Take time to educate yourself on these racial inequalities by listening to those who face them. Speak up when you see it happening, in the workplace or on the street. And if possible, donate to one of the many organizations helping to fuel the Black Lives Matter movement. Remember, all lives cannot matter until Black Lives Matter.
Ink, wax, paint, matt medium, china pencil (detail) 2020
I take courage from an idea by Gandhi, which I paraphrase: Love must exist, it must be powerful – otherwise how is it that human beings survive even with all the awful things we perpetrate upon the world? Gandhi points out that history is full of news of trouble, hurt and catastrophe, but it neglects to speak of the persistence of love that occurs in our everyday. This love manifests in acts of forgiveness, of compassion, courage, kindness, patience, gentleness- often found in domestic life, family, and friendship- that are taken for granted and go without remark, yet keep our world alive and intact.
When I was working with material that eventually became the exhibition, The Other Side of War, I would often say, “I just want to make art about flowers.” After that exhibition, I began learning about the German Resistance and realised how much the motif of the rose featured in that story: from the name of the resistance group “The White Rose” to the Rosenstrasse protests. For me the rose became the antidote to the swastika. It spoke to me about love being the antidote to violence. I realised that I had the idea I needed to fulfill my desire to make work about flowers.
By using portraits of roses from my everyday life and neighbourhood, I incorporated into the the story of resistance, my own endurance beyond childhood violence that had its origin in my German father’s experience of the Second World War. It is an underlying compassion that enables recovery and allows me to recognise the moments of beauty and love that are embedded in the difficulty of my family’s story.
The series is called Meditations on the Persistence of Love in a Time of Disaster. Three of the large panels were shown in the exhibition History as Personal Memory ( February 2018.). The first six were made between November 2017- February 2018. The second set of six between December, 2019 and mid-March 2020. It felt fitting to me that they were completed in the first weeks of our worldwide lock- down for Covid 19. Since then, we’ve had the wisdom of Gandhi being lived out in front of our eyes.
We are seeing in the midst of fear and uncertainty, small everyday acts of compassion and kindness in quiet and intimate moments between friends, family and strangers. We see all around us -most visibly and noisily expressed through childlike hearts in windows and the banging of domestic pots- the recognition of essential workers and others who keep our world going. In these small persistent acts we are bearing witness to the presence of love that gives hope and courage in this dark time of pandemic.
“Cup” was made with conte and acrylic paint in 2010, and digitally edited in 2020. This image was published in the Emmaus Community’s booklet of meditations for the season of Lent. Here is my reflection:
As I considered the scriptures for today’s reading, an early artwork of mine came to mind. What does it depict?
Might it be hands holding a cup of communion; or hands seeking to support a wound? Do we see wings speaking peace to grief? Perhaps it is an intimate detail of Christ’s suffering in Gethsemane. The image may be all of these things, just as it resonates with these words from each of the scriptures today:
“Listen to me, Lord….” “Into your hands I commit my spirit; deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.” “But I trust in you, Lord; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hands” “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”
(the readings are for March 11th; Jer 18:18-20; Ps 31:1-5, 13-16; Mt 20:17-28)
the juxtaposition of images and objects used for contour drawing and collage
the absorption of creative work
Nanaimo waterfront a few steps away from the conference at St Paul Anglican Church
participating in collage
Art is often described as either a luxury or past-time. Rarely do we hear art being described as essential. But science is showing that art is a valuable tool for developing empathy and attention.
I was thankful to be asked to provide a workshop ‘Art and Empathy’ for the ‘We Together‘ Conference for the Anglican Dioceses of Islands and Inlets in Nanaimo BC, Canada.
Most participants did not identify themselves as artists.
In this workshop I shared a short talk and provided three exercises.
The first was an introduction to the practice of contour drawing as a form of mindfulness. This is a simple method to encourage hand and eye co-ordination which allows us to look deeply and develops empathy with the natural world around us.
The next had participants pair up and draw, however arbitrarily a description of something that they really love. Then partners were told about that activity by describing the drawings. This allowed story telling with the aid of an object which alleviated the pressure of one on one encounter and encouraged empathy with the ‘other’ without losing a sense of one’s own self.
The last activity was using collage to find relationship with random selection of images and textures. This was a direct use of the creative act which is about pulling apart and putting back together. It is also a means of ‘listening’ and exercising empathy to ourselves without passing judgment or demanding explanation.
By the end of the workshop there was a wonderful atmosphere of busyness, connection and joy.
I am very grateful to the Diocese of Islands and Inlets for the opportunity to share the every day benefits of the visual arts.
( update: In November, I adapted the talk I gave with this workshop and the related sermon I presented at the Abbey Church into an article for the Diocesan Post which can be found here.)
Interworld opened on May 3rd and ran to May 12, 2019. It was the first of two exhibitions from the mentorship program at arc.hive. “Seven artists navigate the Interworld to produce works exploring time, transformation, the uncanny, and the secretive and silenced worlds of trauma and mental health.” The artists included Shae Anthony, Desiree DeRuiter, Markus Drassl, Susan Feilders, Sheryl Fisher, Amber Morrison & Cornelia van Voorst. We are all so grateful to our mentorship facilitator Connie Michelle Morey.
The exhibition showcased the art that was made during the program since September. I produced over a hundred rose pictures and edited them to 40 which were displayed as a grid.
Here is my exhibition statement:
A Complex Grief There is an ambiguity to these portraits of roses from the neighbourhoods in which I spend my days. As I made them I began seeing them as plumes of bombs seen from above. Sometimes they look like glimpses of landscape from the air through a break in the clouds. I also imagine them as broken voices or wounds. And sometimes, thanks to the sheen of the ink, they look wet, and the roses become small pools of tears.
My experience as a child witnessing my German father’s memories of war influences the concerns of my practice. The materials and images of this body of work are simple yet demonstrate complex feelings and ideas about war, good and evil, loss and hope; about the connection of history to the present, of grief to healing.
A perennial symbol of love, the rose is often presented as an image of romantic perfection, yet these roses are set in the midst of a dark ground and are in various states of wholeness, integration and visibility. By reclaiming the image of the rose from a limited, sentimental narrative I am referencing not only personal persistence in the face of suffering but a social activism and idealism that calls upon love as the means by which to overcome turmoil, violence and uncertainty.