A Building for Breathing

Processed with VSCOcam

Processed with VSCOcam

I spent a day one time learning the basics of manuscript illumination. The instructor was an immersive teacher, reading psalms to us and playing monastic chants as we worked. The day had a long, slow cadence that involved layering and waiting, eating together and discussing the symbolic aspects of, for instance, breathing warm air onto the adhesive before floating a thin skin of gold leaf over the surface. When I got into a car at the end of that time, I was overcome by the panic of speed. The movement seemed too great compared to the low slow pace I’d been keeping. The project “A Building for Breathing” with Serrah Russell has felt a little like this oasis of stillness and contemplation. Serrah invited me to contribute writing to an exhibit she was preparing at Gage Academy, and this evolved into a book project.

The process began with our discovery that we’d both been reading Gaston Bachelard’s “Poetics of Space,” and we began discussing the ways that his book had been influencing us. We shared thoughts about the domestic space as a psychological and oneiric stage, about the ways that buildings (especially houses) both echo and double our own bodies and about the idiosyncratic approach Bachelard felt free to use in this text. Serrah’s work was a wonderful jumping-off point for me, since it is evocative and visually sophisticated, but open ended. I find, in her work, the hush between sounds. The awareness of an edge before you arrive at an object fully formed and named.

The books we had published are embellished with handmade collages and drawings on vellum, so each is unique. This was another interesting level of collaboration, since I did not want to distract from the visual subtlety of Serrah’s work. Above, you can see one example of my pared-down approach. The exhibition (which is viewable at Gage Academy until November 15th) includes additional text written on the walls and Serrah’s work displayed on vellum. More to come on a closing reception and documentation of the exhibition!

If you are interested in purchasing one of the edition of 10 ($100 plus shipping), write to me at galabent@gmail.com

A Building for Breathing Cover.indd


sharon horvath

A sense that the world is made of ether and nets, lights strung along sinuous lines, grids that superimpose slinky slips of implied form.

Sharon Horvath: Afterlife, 2002-09, pigment, polymer and collage on canvas, 68 by 76 inches; at Lori Bookstein.

…[T]he artist deals differently with space in the scale-shifting Nightbed(70 by 76 inches), 2002-09. Irregular, undulating, finely wrought black lines enmesh regions of grassy green and fleshy pink, and are anchored by white-spangled blocks of blue-black. The homey cradle of the title can also be read as an elevated view of a baseball stadium during a night game. The frame of reference leaps from intimate to public, domestic to civic, bassinet to coliseum. (Art in America)

Artist’s website here.


expansion, contraction

…and respiration, as one example of the expansion/contraction rhythm. The sleeping scene in this William Kentridge animation (around the 1:00 mark) has been stuck in my mind for some time. I can’t put my finger exactly on why, but I am fixated on the persistence of these small rhythmic continuities (heartbeats, eyes blinking, swallowing spit, drinking water, peeing, etcetera) that accompany us living things wherever we go. It’s about life and its delicate edges, I think, too. And our vulnerability.

I suppose Kentridge is also fixated:

wrinkles in time

{above: Tiffany Bozic}

Time is terrifying. Can I get a witness?

When I read “A Wrinkle in Time” as a child, Madeleine L’Engle blew my mind into orbit. I remember lying in bed with the universe spinning around me, trying to comprehend the beginning and end of my life– trying to imagine the world before my window on it opened up. And seeing time as something that went far beyond my own small scope. It was a first exhilarating and terrifying look at mortality.

At this age, L’Engle’s view of time is more comforting. The mortal L’Engle is gone, but her words are here. And I suspect she is a new creature somehow. She was (is?) pretty wonderfully wacky. A holy fool. I’m forever different because of her.

“It’s a good thing to have all the props pulled out from under us occasionally. It gives us some sense of what is rock under our feet, and what is sand.”

“I am still every age that I have been. Because I was once a child, I am always a child. Because I was once a searching adolescent, given to moods and ecstasies, these are still part of me, and always will be… This does not mean that I ought to be trapped or enclosed in any of these ages…the delayed adolescent, the childish adult, but that they are in me to be drawn on; to forget is a form of suicide… Far too many people misunderstand what *putting away childish things* means, and think that forgetting what it is like to think and feel and touch and smell and taste and see and hear like a three-year-old or a thirteen-year-old or a twenty-three-year-old means being grownup. When I’m with these people I, like the kids, feel that if this is what it means to be a grown-up, then I don’t ever want to be one. Instead of which, if I can retain a child’s awareness and joy, and *be* fifty-one, then I will really learn what it means to be grownup.”

From “A Wrinkle in Time,” about Earth: “They are very young. And on their earth, as they call it, they never communicate with other planets. They revolve about all alone in space.”  “Oh,” the thin beast said. “Aren’t they lonely?”

“But unless we are creators we are not fully alive. What do I mean by creators? Not only artists, whose acts of creation are the obvious ones of working with paint of clay or words. Creativity is a way of living life, no matter our vocation or how we earn our living. Creativity is not limited to the arts, or having some kind of important career.”

“I think that all artists, regardless of degree of talent, are a painful, paradoxical combination of certainty and uncertainty, of arrogance and humility, constantly in need of reassurance, and yet with a stubborn streak of faith in their own validity no matter what.”

— Madeleine L’Engle

olfactory ghosts

I know it’s the day after Halloween, but let’s talk about being haunted. When I first moved to Seattle, I remember smelling an unfamiliar plant smell some evenings– especially at dusk. A salty green cabbage-like odor. It slowly occurred to me that I was smelling our new neighbor– the sea inlet, Puget Sound. I’d never been by the sea so long, especially in a northern setting, where the cold water gives off a different sort of aroma. Anyway, there are specific smells for every place, and most people are aware of the strong connection to nostalgia.

This year, I am being haunted by a smell that I think might be wild yeast. I catch it on artisan breads and Belgian style beers, which is why I think it might be yeast. But all of a sudden, I am smelling it EVERYWHERE. On my sons’ and husband’s skin and hair, when doors open as I walk down the street, in wafts of air from any direction. {Just in case you’re wondering, we’re not suffering from any yeast-based infections– thrush or rash or otherwise.} I love it– it’s warm and round and earthy, sweet and complex. And while the microscopic forms of yeast are not that interesting (unless you get even smaller than their outside forms, they tend to look like tic-tacs), the frequency of this experience has got me thinking all the time about the microbial botanical garden/zoo that we live inside of every moment. Just as you can see little pixel specks of light in everything once you understand the phenomena that make up the study of optics, so you can sense and imagine the world of too-small-for-the-naked-eye creatures that make their habitation all around us.

I imagine as I walk that I’m parting a sea of orbs and domes, invisible wonders like the improbably beautiful jellies we see floating around in our aquatic oceans. Electron microscopes back me up.

tarkovsky + plato

As I study for an upcoming animation class, I’ve been fascinated by the history of human ideas about vision and light. Especially interesting is the common connection between images “inside our eyes” and those in dreams. Contemporary science doesn’t seem to make a link between these things at all– relegating them neatly into the categories of optics and psychology.


Str. We know that we and all the other animals, and fire, and water, and their kindred elements, out of which natural elements are formed, are one and all the very offspring and creations of God, do we not?

Theaet. Yes.

Str. And corresponding to each and all of these there are images, not the things themselves, which are also made by superhuman skill.

T. What are they?

Str. The appearances in dreams, and those that arise by day and are said to be spontaneous—a shadow when a dark object interrupts the firelight, or when twofold light, from the objects themselves and from outside, meets on smooth and bright surfaces and causes upon our senses an effect the reverse of our ordinary sight, thus producing an image.

T. Yes, these are two works of divine creation, the thing itself and the corresponding image in each case.

Str. And how about our own art? Shall we not say that we make a house by the art of building, and by the art of painting make another house, a sort of man-made dream produced for those who are awake?

T. Certainly.

Str. And in the same way, we say, all the other works of our creative activity also are twofold and go in pairs—the thing itself, produced by the art that created real things, and the image, produced by the image-making art.

[excerpted from Plato’s Sophist]

Andrei Tarkovsky stills… from Stalker and Mirror:

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“What matters to me is that the feeling excited by my films should be universal. An artistic image is capable of arousing identical feelings in viewers, while the thoughts that come later may be very different. If you start to search for a meaning during the film you will miss everything that happens. The ideal viewer is someone who watches a film like a traveler watching the country he is passing through: because the effect of an artistic image is an extra-mental type of communication. There are some artists who attach symbolic meaning to their images, but that is not possible for me. Zen poets have a good way of dealing with this: they work to eliminate any possibility of interpretation, an in the process a parallel arises between the real world and what the artist creates in his work.

“What then is the purpose of this activity? It seems to me that the purpose of art is to prepare the human soul for the perception of good. The soul opens up under the influence of an artistic image, and it is for this reason that we say it helps us to communicate—but it is communication in the highest sense of the word. I could not imagine a work of art that would prompt a person to do something bad…Perhaps you have noticed that the more pointless people’s tears during a film, the more profound the reason for these tears. I am not talking about sentimentality, but about how art can reach to the depths of the human soul and leave man defenseless against good.”

(“Against Interpretation: An Interview with Andrei Tarkovsky “, Framework, no. 14, 1981, Reprinted in Andrei Tarkovsky Interviews, ed. John Gianvito, University of Mississippi Press, Jackson, Mississippi, 2006, p.68-69)