Level 1 Space, Jugglers Art Space, 103 Brunswick Street, Fortitude Valley. 4006.
“Eros Embraced” Water colour pencil, charcoal on book pages on matt board, framed. $520
Level 1 Space, Jugglers Art Space, 103 Brunswick Street, Fortitude Valley. 4006.
“Eros Embraced” Water colour pencil, charcoal on book pages on matt board, framed. $520
“Drawn to Silence”
Presented at Jugglers Art Space Inc on September 31, 2016.Peter Breen
Welcome and thank you for coming to this exhibition of drawings and sketches on this theme that strikes a chord with me and many others – Silence.
Let us acknowledge the traditional custodians and elders past, present and emerging and take time to reflect on this.
What might this mean to be drawn to silence?
Thomas Merton wrote this “In Silence”:
Listen to the stones of the wall
Be silent, they try
To speak your
To the living walls
What are you?
Are you? Whose silence are you?
Who [be quiet]
Are you [as these stones are quiet] Do not
Think of what you are
Still less of
What you one day be.
Be what you are [but who?] be
The unthinkable one
You do not know.
Only be still, while
You are still alive,
And all things live around you
Speaking [ I do not hear]
Speaking to the unknown
That is in you and in themselves.
Will try, like them
To be my own silence:
And this is difficult. The whole
World is secretly on fire. The stones
Burn, even the stones
They burn me. How can a man be still or
Listen to all things burning? How can he dare
To sit with them when
All their silence
Is on fire?
1957 from The Strange Islands.
Thomas Merton interests me along with other poets and writers and artists and musicians primarily because I am drawn constantly and have been for years to silence and mystery. When I was a minister of religion – for 20 years – the hunger I had was for a life of connection to silence and mystery. In that role I facilitated a range of programs and events and readings that along with all of the other accoutrements of religion formed the direction I took. In leaving the religious framework and beginning Jugglers and returning to radiography in 2003 I eventually have come to a new understanding of such things as eternal life as a present knowing of wonder and beauty found in nature –eg Ireland’s natural wonder – and a range of other spiritual experiences and sources that for me are centred not only in the Christian Scriptures but across the bottom line of seeking to know. An honest integrity and passion to know has a reward of its own missing from consumerism and the GDP and religious belief.
White Silence has been driven by this drawing to silence, mystery and epiphany. My trip to Ireland gave me the opportunity for silence in beauty and for beauty in silence.
There is now, a growing hunger for silence for stillness and renewal of the soul and a move away from the division of the enlightenment and rationalism including Greek “spirit, soul and body” non-dualistic holistic experiencing .
The pressure of consumption is reducing, we have reached peak car and a time is coming when we will walk away from our phones and computer screens. Into silence. And the world will be a better place and so will we.
There is too much noise.I am diminished by the flashing signage at the 5 ways.
In Ireland there were hardly any billboards and none on the roads from north to south.
Thomas Merton though a Christian Hermit, an artist, theologian and writer was a full blooded human. Though a priest and Roman Catholic monk he began to fully embrace Buddhism and while still under his Trappist orders, fell in love with Maggie Smith, 25 years his junior and his nurse at the local hospital. The Eros works in the show are representative of this experience.
The search for silence and mystery and god and understanding is not about denial of the body as much as a loss of the ego in order to embrace all things as good and beautiful in which the silence and mystery dwell and where occasionally an acute awareness and passing by happens. The normality of this is what I long to experience and long for us all to be aware of as normal. We do not deny our sexuality, sensuality or hunger for beauty as much as let it be part of our spirituality while understanding that love and ethics form part of our behaviour. Coming from a narrow and repressive religious dualistic framework for me and for Merton has taken time to abandon.
In the sketches on old dictionary pages “Talking and listening” I confess my own slow journey into the embrace of silence: I talk too much, listen reluctantly, shouting in the wrong direction but I also know the wonderful personal joy of “the thin whisper”!
Merton’s journey and writing and art was unfinished but finished. His path to silence, to knowing god, to being fully human and fully alive was a journey into death, a disappearance both physically and spiritually.
Read the new children’s book:
“The Sound of Silence” by Katrina Goldsaito illustrated by Julia Kuo [Little Brown and Company, New York and Boston, 2016]
This is the edited version of the opening speech I gave at Jugglers Art Space on September 3, 2016 at the “Refugees Exhibition”.
“If our life is poured out in useless words
We will never hear anything
and in the end,
because we have said everything
before we had anything to say,
we shall be left speechless
at the moment of our greatest decision. “
Thomas Merton, American Mystic and Trappist Monk, Peace activist and anti-nuclear campaigner who died in a tragic accident in Bangkok, 1968 at 53.
As a disciplined hermit and mystic, Merton, in advocating silence as the only way to approach and maybe touch mystery which he saw as the edge of god, or god’s thin whisper, continues to have a profound impact on genuine spiritual inquirers and social activists.
His life of inner dwelling was wrapped in nature in his hermitage in Kentucky, USA. While for a busy person the desire for this as an essential for the hearing of the whisper is almost impossible my intentional experiencing of silence in constant search for the thin whisper was given some time in the nurturing areas of Connemara and Kerry, Eire.
Art, when it springs from silence and mystery, pain and suffering either voluntarily or involuntarily is, in whatever form, however naive or sophisticated, affecting. It will and does have something to say to those who listen.
That is why this event, so wonderfully conceived of and managed and curated by Jugglers QUT intern Moojhan Kheiri – is so important.
In this room “the words of the prophets [are]written on the [subway] walls” are the “Sounds of Silence”
You have come here tonight as artists, former refugees and asylum seekers, friends, family and supporters to see, to support and more than that I hope to hear, listen and sense what these artists are saying so cogently even if it takes time to find the spaces where the whisper lives.
Art exhibitions can easily be decoration or they can be banging a wedge into wall crevices to open up the possibility of that thin whisper from the heart and pain and voice of the artist. That is what this exhibition is.
The art can be collectible, it can be ugly, it can be beautiful [in the narrow sense of that word] it can be dark, it can be light but if it is more than decoration then it will be arresting, grabbing, silencing.
This exhibition is all of those. We are here compelled to listen to the thin whispers and under this compelling we begin to hear a rising shout.
I returned from Ireland this morning where I was linking up with my sibblings to celebrate some milestone birthdays and to find our relatives – a good Australian thing to do. While we were there we visited Shankhill Road and Falls Road, small suburbs in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
The history of Ireland is the history of religious wars and colonisation by the British. The Irish people have fought to return to self-rule and so 100 years ago this year the Easter Rising in Dublin saw the start of the last revolution that led to the establishment of the Republic of Ireland in 1922. But the British, after handing back the South, kept a foothold with the annexation of Northern Ireland. With the Northern Ulster groups mainly Protestant and pro-British, the Catholic Sien Fein and now demobilised IRA presence in the North continuing to agitate for a total end to British rule the conflict continues. In this conflict two very famous roads/suburbs in Belfast – Shankhill Road and Falls Road are full of patriotic fervour and ground holding.
Shank hill Road is pro-British and protestant.
Falls Road is anti-British and Catholic.
Right down the centre of this area is “the wall” – a 7 metre high 1o00 more long wall built by the British armed forces.
The Protestant side is constantly covered in graffiti. The Catholic side is a static exhibition space of Marxist and pro-justice workers rights murals. I could not find one tag on that section of the wall. This does not mean I am anti Marxist. Far from it but I found that the living graffiti art on the Protestant side indicated an organic development rather than a party specific one.
On the day that we visited, we were told that not so long ago – about 2 years – our Republican number plated hire cars would not have been welcome in the protestant sector.
So what has changed? Why were we allowed in now?
It seems that it is the graffiti on the Protestant side that is having the change effect. A writer who was there and who knows Jugglers alma mater Sofles, Fintan Magee and Guido van Helten and who comes from the south to run workshops with young people there told me that it has been the workshops, graffiti and art focus that has seen the reduction in slogans and the decrease in animosity as people have begun to embrace the positive affect of this arts practice. The protestant gate keepers in the houses opposite the site began to visit the site and bring beer to the artists and writers. Their view was that this art wall was the best thing that had happened for a long time as a means of peace making.
Art changes the world.
Former refugee Sha Sarwari art installation boat burning, April, 2016.
Art creates conversation, builds respect, drives wedges to let whispers leak out, shouts to those who are listening – or not listening just as this work does here tonight.
Brisbane trains as art canvas after the 2011 floods.
This exhibition, as with Amensty International’s upstairs body of work is about justice. Justice, welcome and kindness for refugees, asylum seekers and aboriginal people and children in adult jails. This is about exposing how we as a nation under our representative governments have failed to act, have failed to work from that value base of justice, kindness and welcome for all.
Art influences policy makers as it reflects values starkly and subtly.
It is critical that we celebrate these artists as significant voices, listen until the thin whispers begin to be heard, let the change change us and celebrate the artists’ skills.
Chris Inwood de-installed his exhibition “Vouyer” from the Level 1 space at Jugglers today after two weeks and no art sales. He has secured a show at the BCC Square gallery in the city in 2017 after some serious lobbying and foot work and in a climate of closing spaces and an expanding artist cohort in Brisbane this is a significant success. His work as a new and emerging artist was expensive for Brisbane but it sometimes happens that good work – his work is good – and conceptual exhibitions like his fail to connect with collectors. Chris is a philosopher with a serious focus on understanding and meaning. It is a good thing that he has begun Art History at UQ as even though his self taught arts practice has reached a level of aesthetic impact with viewers, he has an obvious passion for making sense of his world and the world in general using his art as a spring board. This is not to say that he isn’t passionate about his arts practice as it seems that he is, but his ability to frame his work as scaffold for conversation and dialogue move him on from artists who only seem interested in their practice. As a collector and Director at Jugglers I am fine with that focus and the hundreds of artists and art works I have seen here attest to my passion for the aesthetic. However, to find someone so young who has a well developed grasp on at least the process of inquiry into a range of visual impacts is refreshing. Chris’s artist talk on the Saturday afternoon was a lively and helpful group discussion that he led with a mature group approach rather than a lecture.
His installation including 2 data projectors suspended from the ceiling included the scrolling of thousands of text messages between him and his girl friend Kate – who was the subject of the main body of painted work – and a series of GIFS he had collated into a looped stream. The theme of his work was around vouyerism as a habit that we have now all been drawn into where a “like” and a short sharp GIF means that our minds are being fast tracked away from a more reflective approach to art and life, a kind of shallow acceptance or rejection of commodified visuals. Chris’s skill as a painter and as one able to bring art movements onto canvas where some of his painting triptychs were intentionally art movement influenced, focused our eyes and inner responses into more than the well resolved works that he had painted. We were forced to assess what this was really about and why one photorealistic painting might not have been enough. As a young person influenced by the market driven world but with obvious understanding of its limits and of the benefits of a fairer and perhaps socialist world, he still had marketed himself with cards, printed books and TShirts which he did make some money from. We have been treated to a well thought out exhibition that had firm foundations and where Chris should move towards a successful career in bringing some impact on the deepening of our culture and our understanding of what it’s all about. Peter Breen.
Today was a full lurching kind of day. From the moment I drove into Jugglers with a group of over 75’s from the University of the Third Age standing across the entrance I knew it would be one of those days. Then there was the installation of the new dishwasher that didn’t fit that led to a leaking drain spilling water across the office floor to 3 kids helping mum deinstal her show by running and leaping around the gallery space to drafting a budget for the Stairwell Project’s Australia Council grant application and then hosting a political party’s ( The Greens) attempt to understand the state of the arts and artists post the Australia Council’s slash and burn policy in favour of a consumerist model. There were spaces in there where other things happened like taking paracetamol for cold symptoms and doing a phone referee interview for a former studio artist. Not forgetting the wonderful Dom keeping an even keel and sending me off to buy dinner and our intern making seat covers and our other intern helping me carry and hang paintings in between painting the outside loo a beautiful socialist revolution red! This was part of my day, rich in texture and impact for countless people. Not the least being me.
James Mulholland’s pencil and charcoal on paper drawings at Jugglers Art Space Level 1 gallery space are captivatingly haunting works, an unpacking of his own experience as a young male attempting to make sense of maleness incorporated as it so often is in young adult male violence, threat and fear. Self identity and a sense of self comes out in this body of work as a pathway still clouded with uncertainty.
Even the clenched hands have an element of nervousness and the shadowy self-portraits carry a feeling of lostness or shrouded desire, a common feeling in young white males in Australia. There have been excellent programs and money spent on key issues such as once punch can kill, drug fuelled violence, depression and suicide but reaching male maturity in Australia in both indigenous and the white community seems to have become stuck. Perhaps not everywhere but from my observation certainly in the general population. Some schools, mens groups and churches have developed programs and support networks and books such as Biddulph’s “Manhood” are making a significant impact. My view is,however, that we need a spiritual, legitimate and honoured process of leaving boyhood and entering adulthood that is celebrated by all families,and mothers in particular. James works are confronting and arresting with a powerful ability to hold the gaze. They are aesthetically appealing and his drafting skill second to none, but as one couple confessed to me at the opening, they didn’t want such confronting work on their wall. Perhaps their, or rather her feelings evoked by these drawings, are part of the confrontation that needs to happen. Art is the nerve end of the culture. Over the weekend after this show opening I watched “Kes” a 1970 movie made about Billy [David Bradley] whose desire to not follow his father into the coal pits of northern England is an impossible dream until he finds, trains and becomes enamoured with an injured Kestrel [hawk]. The bullying, belittling and victimisation of Billy reflected cultural norms of the late 60’s in the UK but the view of James Mulholland would be that in 2016 in Australia, the same kind of attitude is rife. Young males are trapped by a system unable to see itself or find a way to wholeness or full humanness. As a stark contrast I also watched a short video of Our Lady of Gethsemane, a Trappist Monk monastery in Kentucky, USA where the reclusive anti nuclear activist Thomas Merton lived before his untimely accidental death in 1968.
Merton had lived a wild “normal” life as a young male until his epiphany and conversion and “call” to his reclusive life as both a theologian, poet, activist and spiritual biographer. The stark contrast to Billy’s journey and Jame’s drawings is profound but I am not sure that Merton or any of his brothers were any more sure of their own maleness than the rest of us. The stark contrast however is that there is no violence in such a place, nor in the careful loving training of Kes by Billy. Gentleness is a path less travelled by men but it is in stillness, silence and reflection – along with courage, ritual and hard physical work – that men find missing parts of their maleness lying dormant under layers of bravado, fear and ego. James Mulholland’s “Decoy” is an important addition to the conversation and action so urgently needed if young men from twelve to twenty are to find a new way of being that is free of violence, force and ego. A helpful follow on to this exhibition would be an artist’s talk with small group discussion to follow. Peter Breen.
Early last Wednesday morning, before sunrise, I drove to a small beach in Northern New South Wales with a handful of artists and students. We had been invited to the burning of a boat, the next phase of an art project by Sha Sarwari, a former Hazara asylum seeker from Afghanistan and graduate of Griffith University [Queensland College of Art]. Sha has become a close friend over the past 3- 4 years through his work which I see as a very public journaling of his journey from asylum seeker/ refugee/detainee to Australian citizen and justice advocate. When not caring for his new son and developing his arts practice, he works as an interpreter for asylum seekers and detainees under the Australian Government’s “pacific solution.”
As I crept around the house at 2.30am I found myself in some kind of imagined world where Sha and other asylum seekers were quietly leaving a coastal village in Indonesia to board a boat only twice as big as his sculptural work. For 5 days – and one day with a broken down motor – they sailed across calm seas towards Australia and finally to a confrontation with an Australian customs vessel. Christmas Island and then Curtin detention centre led finally to his release and approval of his application for asylum. This was before Kevin Rudd’s pacific solution and the inevitable different trajectory of his life had he attempted asylum in 2016.
A full moon sunk majestically down on a still and glorious morning beach as the grey lights of dawn filtered up over the horizon and the moment of burning arrived. The symbolism of the burning was wrapped up in the theatre of the event as the turps fuelled paper and cardboard fire took hold. Sha invited me to pour the turps on the vessel with him and so it seemed like baptism, a preparation for death and rebirth. The moment had a deeply spiritual sensibility about it for me. There was a sensual almost romantic element to this morning’s fire on the beach and Sha’s walk to the water’s edge evoked images of New Testament mythology around the Jesus person’s post resurrection breakfast on a secluded stretch of Palestinian sea with his friends.
As we watched in a mesmerised trance fueled by metaphor, symbolism, tragedy, determination, kindness and luck Sha’s palpable relief broke into a smile on his handsome face. There was no closure, a word only applicable to doors, but there was a sense of being in a liminal space a space opened through this threshold experience.
The cooling embers were smothered in water and sand but not before a couple of kilograms were gathered into bowls for the next project – an ash brick.
The art making process seems to be a never ending exercise if both the aesthetic and emerging story are held as unfolding chapters. It is possible that in the attempt to construct meaning an essence statement or position arrives and there is an approximation to meaning but until that moment the making must continue to validate its beginning. My view that cultural and spiritual inquiry must be inextricably tied to the infinite creative core to hold their integrity and authenticity has Sha’s project as a fine example. There is yet more to be told of this man’s courage, pain, grief and growth and we do well to take our time to be present both to him and his work slowly and with respect and humility. The lesson is that if we are sidetracked as artists, designers, makers and collectors into only the ephemeral and utilitarian then our output and contribution to bringing understanding, meaning and depth to ourselves and our culture will be diluted.
* Sha added another element to this story on the beach as the boat was burning down to the sand. It seem that the burning ritual had set him free to tell me another chapter. His cousin had wanted to come to Australia from a refugee camp in Pakistan and to do as Sha had done, come by boat. Sha had discouraged the boat idea but in a horrible twist of fate his cousin was killed in a suicide bombing in a pool room on his way home with friends. He had been in the room when the first bomb went off and as he went to help the wounded, the second bomb was detonated – a well tried terrorist strategy – and he was killed. The ash brick is, I suspect, part of a memory shrine for Sha and his family.
Peter Breen [c] 2016