Saturday, April 2, 2011

Codes – Lost Voices
A Semiotic ArtCloth Installation

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

My artwork has appeared in a number of exhibitions which have been featured on this blog spot. For your convenience I have listed these posts below.

ArtCloth: Engaging New Visions (Marie-Therese Wisniowski - Curator's Talk)
Sequestration of CO2 (Engaging New Visions) M-T. Wisniowski
Unleashed: The Rise of Australian Street Art (Art Exhibition) Various Artists
Merge and Flow (SDA Members Exhibition) M-T. Wisniowski
The Journey (Megalo Studio) M-T. Wisniowski
Another Brick (Post Graffiti ArtCloth Installation) M-T. Wisniowski
ArtCloth Swap & Exhibition
When Rainforests Ruled (Purple Noon Art & Sculpture Gallery) M-T. Wisniowski
When Rainforests Glowed (Eden Gardens Gallery) M-T. Wisniowski
My Southern Land (Galerie 't Haentje te Paart, Netherlands) M-T. Wisniowski
The Last Exhibition @ Galerie ’t Haentje the Paart
Mark Making on Urban Walls @ Palm House (Post Graffiti Art Work)
Fleeting - My ArtCloth Work Exhibited @ Art Systems Wickham Art Gallery
My Thirteen Year Contribution to the '9 x 5' Exhibition at the Walker Street Gallery & Arts Centre
Timelines: An Environmental Journey
Man-Made Fish Kills

I have explored ArtCloth as an artistic expression for over two decades. My work directly relates to my interest and study of semiotics, culture, socio-political landscapes and environmental landscapes.

A powerful focus for me has been the concept of creating ArtCloth of great integrity, depth and complexity, whilst at the same time respecting its delicate yet powerful qualities. It is within this framework that I created a solo exhibition – CODES – in Australia (2001). It was shown in a number of galleries (e.g. WattSpace Gallery, Facets Gallery etc.) but currently it is not on display.

The ability to communicate complex ideas is a human trait and it takes various forms. My sojourn into different cultures and worlds enriched me beyond belief. It was no wonder that when Picasso saw the cave drawings from the stone-age period he said “…that the Modern world has really discovered nothing new”.

“Codes – Lost Voices” explores the fragmentary and fragility of our knowledge of lost civilizations.

Synopsis of Installation: CODES – Lost Voices
In an age of mobile phones and the internet, it would be hard for us to imagine what it would be like if you cannot verbally, precisely and rapidly communicate with others. You want to tell someone - just anybody - of what you have seen and what you have experienced. Yet there is somehow a veil between you and them. It appears to us inconceivable. It is like being in a communication nightmare.

Currently this nightmare occurs when we uncover past communities and civilizations. We initially only have a fragmentary knowledge about their methods of communication. For example, we cannot identify precisely when language was first developed. We have theories - it is believed that human speech developed between the times of the Neanderthal Man (beginning in 100,000 BC) and the Cro-Magnon Man (beginning in 35,000 BC) – but proving this beyond doubt or narrowing this window is fraught with inconsistencies. Our knowledge of lost civilizations by their very nature is fragmentary and fragile.

So where did written communication begin? The Phoenicians are credited for developing the first standard alphabet. However, their alphabet contained only consonants. The Greeks, around the eighth century BC, invented symbols for vowels and so finally ushered in the alphabet, which we use today (with minor changes).

Not all writing is alphabetical. Languages like Chinese, ancient Egyptian, ancient Sumerian and ancient Hebrew, all had a pictorial rather than an alphabetic basis. For example, written Chinese employs thousands of different pictograms, each having a different meaning. Whilst Chinese is highly expressive, it is hard to write it down unambiguously. How a word is pronounced is not clear from the written character alone.

Alphabetical languages like English possess a clarity, efficiency and breadth of vocabulary - when written - that few languages possess. The reason resides with the 26 letters that constitute the alphabet itself, and with its extensive vocabulary - incorporating a vast array of borrowed words from a very large selection of diverse languages (e.g. “sari or saree” – origin: late 18th century from Hindi “sarhi”).

As I traveled around the world, I purposely gutted museums, art galleries and libraries for information about lost communication systems. I did so to devote one of my ArtCloth installations on the epistemological study of written communication. I call it “CODES – Lost Voices” in order to depict that there were human beings - just like you and me - trying to tell us something about themselves and their experiences and yet, due to the passage of time, what they were saying became lost and so has become encrypted to us.

At the outset, I built the installation around a set of three triptychs highlighting “ambiguous”, “unfathomable” and “iconic” pictograms of past communities and civilizations. These artworks were to be physically large in size (to over-power you), layered with a large number of images (to bewilder you) and bright as well as lively (to make you feel that they are trying to talk to you in the “now” and not in some distant, faded past). I encircled these nine textile pieces with the - “Four Australian Seasons” – the latter to represent the sands-of-time (see previous blog for the latter).

Above are three views of some ArtCloth works of the "Codes - Lost Voices" installation at WattSpace Gallery.

The “ambiguous” triptych ArtCloth pictograms are my interpreted images taken from Kangi (the Japanese Chinese characters), the mysterious scripts of the Philippines and the beautiful symbolic writing of the Harappan civilization, which existed along the Indus River in present day Pakistan.

These are the “ambiguous” pictograms, because their precise meaning is still unclear. The “exact” meaning of some Kangi characters is still imprecise and so can lead to many interpretations. The lost scripts and writing systems found in the Philippines on ancient objects like the Calatagan Pot, the Laguna Copperplate, the Butuan Silver Strip and Ivory Seal are still not deciphered. The symbolic writing found on sealings from the mysterious culture of the ancient world of the Harappan civilization is a source of much conjecture. These baked clay seals were inscribed with real and imagined animals and marked with the Indus script writing style. Hung around the neck they were used to attest the person’s social and professional position. The seals and sealings (positives) depicted the tree, inscriptions, the deity and more commonly the unicorn. The image of the Bull on sealings also appears to be a frequent motif, as the bull is seen to be magnificent. One “interpretation” sees bull fighting and chasing to hold the horns of a bull as acts of heroism in order to claim the hand of a fair maiden.

Kangi Rendition (foreground)
Technique: Dyed, lino-block, screen-printed and laminated motifs on silk and velvet.
Size: 1.4 (width) x 2.6 (length) meters.

Harappan Sealings (left) and Philippine Leaf (right).
Technique: Dyed, lino-block, screen-printed and laminated motifs on silk and velvet.
Size: 1.6 (width) x 3.4 (length) meters.

The “unfathomable” ArtCloth triptych pictograms are my interpreted images taken from the petroglyphs of the American Anasazi Indians at San Rafael, Utah, chiseled and carved into rocks, that no-one has yet been able to interpret their meanings.

The monumental geoglyphs from the Nazca Plains of Peru and Rock art from Namibia, are a complicated communication system where symbols and metaphors are an important feature of its visual language and whose mythical world is difficult to interpret. Scientific observations or otherwise have not been conclusive or consistent to date. Intriguing to me and known to the Andean shamans as a place “beyond the veil of time” - legends of mysterious, spiritual phenomenon, including extra-terrestrial and UFO activity, encounters with inner-earth beings, and tales of levitation are not uncommon to the ethereal landscape of the Nazca Plains of Peru. Also not deciphered, these incredible, indelible artworks were created across hundreds of miles of the desert surface. Etched works of monumental proportion form a montage of geometric formations called “geoglyphs”, with whimsical portrayals of animals, birds and human forms. Lines are seen everywhere, criss-crossing, zig-zagging, radiating and oscillating. Neither carved nor painted, these images were made by clearing away the dark, rust-colored surface stones and exposing the light-colored sub soil beneath, thus creating patterns in the contrasting soil. One thing that is known about this visual system is that the Nazca peoples used the drawings’ alignment with the sun as a calendar. Their meaning is still a mystery and has been the object of speculation for centuries.

(a) Petroglyph Dream (foreground).
Technique: Silk-screened, string block printed, sponged and hand painted on calico.
Size: 1.3 (width) x 3.2 (length) meters.

(b) Geoglyph Zooms (background).
Technique: Wax resist, hand painted, over-painted, lino-block and screen-printed on calico.
Size: 1.5 (width) x 3.5 (length) meters.

(a) Petroglyph Dream (foreground).
Technique: Silk-screened, string block printed, sponged and hand-painted on calico.
Size: 1.3 (width) x 3.2 (length) meters.

(b) Namibian Expressions (background).
Technique: Wax resist, hand-painted, sponged, sprayed, stenciled and screen-printed on calico.
Size: 1.5 (width) x 3.5 (length) meters.

(a) Geoglyph Zooms (foreground).
Technique: Wax resist, hand-painted, over-painted, lino-block and screen-printed on calico.
Size: 1.5 (width) x 3.5 (length) meters.

(b) Namibian Expressions (background).
Technique: Wax resist, hand-painted, sponged, sprayed, stenciled and screen-printed on calico.
Size: 1.5 (width) x 3.5 (length) meters.

The “iconic” ArtCloth triptych pictograms are my interpreted images centered on Ancient Greek encryptions, Egyptian Hieroglyphs and the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Phaistos Disk found on the Greek Island, Crete is inscribed on both sides with a hieroglyphic text, arranged in spiraling bands and depicts people, animals, weapons and plants. This undeciphered unique writing system remains an enigma. After visiting the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, where I saw the Funeral treasures, sarcophagus’s and hieroglyphs found in Tutankhamun’s royal tomb, I was surprised to learn that to date scholars are still unable to decipher many of the hieroglyphs and that in Egypt and elsewhere there are still great debates on content and interpretation.

Phaistos Enigma.
Technique: Multi-dyed, discharged, stitched panels and embellished with gold lurex strips on velvet.
Size: 1.2 (width) x 3.2 (length) meters.
Note: Images of original drawings and explanatory text about each work on the back wall including a black and white detail silk-screened print of the discharged image on the Phaistos Enigma ArtCloth length.

Words of the Gods (foreground).
Technique: Multi-dyed, dyed, over-dyed, discharged, painted, stitched, foiled and embellished on velvet. Hand painted papyrus panels.
Size: 1.2 (width) x 3.2 (length) meters.

In 1996 I went to Israel and visited the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. On its grounds was a building known as – “The Shrine of the Book” - that houses the famous Dead Sea Scrolls and found artifacts. Once again I was captivated by the fact that the scholars studying them have understood only fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls. There were heated debates as to what one segment did or did not mean. There were debates as to the nature of the “Enlightened Teacher”. It was clear to me that the complete structure of the written Essenes culture had been lost and recovering it from fragmented leather parchments was now a difficult process.

Scribes and Scrolls (foreground).
Technique: Discharged, screen-printed black background text, laminated silk-screened pyro art panels, stitched leathers, safety pins and embellishments on velvet and cotton.
Size: 1.2 (width) x 3.5 (length) meters.

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