Friday, October 16, 2015

What we cannot speak of, we must remember

Sarachek, After Fukushima (O), 2014

As visual artists, we are most sensitive to what we see.  What we see in fact could be said to become part of our body's tissue, which soaks in, while we walk around and conduct our lives, events happening or glimpsed at the most remote distances, as well as those from nearby, not to overlook those from the snapshots and clips of television, magazines and cinema that our culture has so carelessly laid before us.

With our organs of sense therefore we extend ourselves, and what is there is also, by this extension and in a way, within us.  We may ignore it - we are free to do so, as some artists strike a pose of doing - or we may be so engaged emotionally by it that we are wracked with outrage, heartbreak, and despair.  There is an art of protest that comes from this, often reduced to naive cartoons, graffiti and posters, as if all the rights and wrongs were already established in everyone's mind; and there is a deeper art that is itself a struggle for expression.  One thinks here of Goya's El 3 de mayo (1814) in the Prado or Picasso's Guernica (1937) at MoMA, pictures of a specific time and place and yet the most devastating statements imaginable about man's injustice to man.  There is also an art of response, call it political or not, which, quite unlike these stirring calls to arms, sustains itself more softly as meditation, commemoration, memorial, or prayer, and may last the lifetime of the artist.  Examples abound; to mention them all would constitute a poem of epic length, a prolonged lament for life and for peace on earth.  One favorite of many is the 40-year series of pictures by Robert Motherwell, Elegy to the Spanish Republic, begun in 1948 but based on memories of the Spanish civil war a decade earlier.  Some versions are of an astounding simplicity of gesture, such as this lithograph in the Tate.

Motherwell, Spanish Elegy I, 1975
This appropriately brings us to the present exhibition of works on paper, twelve chemigrams in all, together with an installation of ceramic funerary bowls, by Norman Sarachek entitled After Fukushima, on display at the New Arts Program Gallery in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, until November 1, 2015.  Norm's intent is to draw attention to the meltdown of four nuclear reactors in Fukushima, Japan, in March 2011, with the accompanying release of deadly radioactivity into the water and atmosphere that is, quite inconceivably, ongoing to this day, and not only to honor the memory of the victims of that tragedy, which it almost shames us to say in passing, but also to stimulate public discussion of the dangers of nuclear power in its aftermath.

Sarachek, After Fukushima (D), 2014
Sarachek, After Fukushima (C), 2014

Sarachek, After Fukushima (H), 2014

The fragile, flowery imagery, lazy with the relaxation of a summer's day, recalls Norm's deft chemigram touches from previous outings, in particular the handsome show he had in Philadelphia in 2010, which we covered then.  The strategies and devices haven't changed much over the years, nor need they : it's a language waiting for good use and he has found it.  His images amass a subtle power as they confute the public's relative indifference to the tragedy and even perhaps ironize it - but it all takes place by tiny, slow movements which achieve their graded effect almost without one's noticing.  He helps complete the picture by placing funerary bowls containing clear glass beads, an allusion to radioactive particles, beneath each picture, with inverted chopsticks that, I'm told, symbolize death.  It's his conception that each picture becomes an altar.  OK, maybe the staging's too obvious, but maybe also it has to be : the exhibition will serve as a platform for future poetry readings in traditional Japanese modes and for public discussion of issues raised by Fukushima.

Sarachek, After Fukushima (L), 2014

installation view showing funerary bowls

Sarachek as pot-maker

Sarachek's chop on lower right of an After Fukushima scroll
The twelve chemigrams are printed as an edition of 10 on Moab museum rag paper, each presented as a 56 x 24 " scroll, in further tribute to traditional Japanese practice, with an impressed chop in the corner fashioned by Norm himself.

For further information, the reader is invited to contact the artist at his site,