|"Spider Woman" - Ritual Event "Restoring the Balance" at the Muse Community Theatre (2004)|
1. Where can we see your work?
2. What do you want the world to know about your work?
I guess I would feel that I’ve succeeded if in some small way my work helps in the greater work of bringing reverence to the Earth, and to the arising of the Divine Feminine.
3. Who – or what - do you see as your main influences?
Early on I became influenced by the writings of Kandinsky (“Concerning the Spiritual in Art”) and others, and rejected what I saw as an aesthetic that disregarded spirituality and mysticism as being outside of “high art”. I find it ironic that spirituality was a significant impulse in the early development of Modernism. Theosophy, the Golden Dawn, Anthroposophy, as well as Einstein's new physics, enormously inspired the work of such innovators as Mondrian, Kupka, Kandinsky, Arthur Dove, and others.
Later I discovered Joan Halifax (“Journey of the Wounded Healer”), met Alex and Allyson Grey (“The Sacred Mirrors”) and others, and began to think of art process in new terms. Art for healing, art for transformation of consciousness, art as a bridge between dimensions. During the 80’s I was involved with a group called the Transformative Arts Movement, and I even wrote a book based on interviews I did with visionary artists.
Rachel Rosenthal developed a form of contemporary “shamanic theatre” that I found profound. I saw her perform Pangaian Dreams in 1987, and every hair on my body stood up. Sometimes, like a Sami shaman making the “yoik” she would allow sounds to come through her that were absolutely electric, sounds and words that charged the room. The Earth Spirit Community’s Twilight Covening introduced me to participatory ritual theatre and I made the “Masks of the Goddess” collection for the Reclaiming Collective’s 20th Annual Spiral Dance. I have great admiration for what these two groups have developed as ritual process.
3. Much of what you do seems to tell a story – even the single, stand-alone pieces. Where do you think that comes from?
The poet Muriel Rukeyser famously commented that “the Universe is made of stories, not atoms”.
I believe Native American mythology - and perhaps contemporary quantum physics - would agree with her. My patron Goddess is surely Spider Woman, the ubiquitous Weaver found throughout the Americas in one mysterious manifestation or another. Among the Pueblo peoples of the Southwest she was also called “Thought Woman” (Tse Che Nako). As a Creatrix she brought the world into being with the stories she told about it.
Myths and religions are stories, some more glorified, archetypal, literalized or contemporary than others. I think it is so important for artists of all kinds to recognize that we are weavers of the stories of our time, we are holding threads that recede behind us and extend beyond us into the future. We’re never weaving alone. So - what kind of stories are we shaping, collaborating with, how do we understand the gift of “telling the world” that Spider Woman has bestowed on us?
5. How would you describe your art...? (influences, history, school-of-art, your aesthetic)
Perhaps “Cross disciplinary”? I seem to jump around a lot, from sculpture to ritual theatre to painting to…………….whatever seems to be the best medium of expression at the time. Different “languages”. I guess I could say that my art-making is my spiritual practice, whether it is done with community (as in theatre and ritual) or alone in my studio.
6. What did you learn from working in theatre?
Being a visual artist is solitary, and I’ve always wanted art forms that were participatory, collaborative. Masks lead right into theatre, and questions about the traditional uses of masks as well. Masks are such metaphors – you can’t look at a mask, really look, without it suggesting some kind of being that wants to manifest through it. They are vessels for all kinds of stories.
My colleagues (among them Macha Nightmare, Ann Waters, Mana Youngbear, Diane Darling) and I have developed some wonderful ways of working with masks and community theatre/ritual. In early Greek theatre a performance had three components – the musicians, the narrators or Chorus, and the masked performers, who would pantomime and dance the characters. We’ve often used that approach, particularly with a Theatre in the Round, a Circle.
Because the masks are dedicated to the Goddess, we’ve brought neo-Pagan sensibilities to the ways we designed our performances. This can include creating a ritual entranceway so the audience enters a magical space, adding audience participatory components to the performances, calling the elemental Quarters and/or casting a Circle in theatrical ways, and concluding all performances with some kind of energy raising activity with the audience. In Wicca that’s called “raising the Cone of Power” and by so doing the blessing or overall intention is “released to do its work”, finishing with “de-vocation”, which is often a great conclusion with humor, or everyone gets up and dances, etc.
It’s actually very effective, and can be integrated as good theatre. For example, in “Restoring the Balance” (2004) we concluded with “Spider Woman”. While the music played and the narrators told the tale, “Spider Woman” wove invisible threads. With a rising crescendo of assistants, she wove a web with the entire audience. And indeed, for that moment of breathless intensity everyone in the theatre was literally connected, holding onto a thread “from the Great Web” with everyone else. The “Blessing” was experienced as part of the performance.
7. What would you like to say to other artists (of any genre)?
"Our job was not to just re-tell the ancient myths,
but to re-invent them for today. Artists are the myth makers."
Katherine Josten, The Global Art Project
I agree entirely with Katherine Josten, who founded the Global Art Project in Tucson, Arizona – we are the myth makers of our time. So, what kind of myths are we disseminating? What are the new stories, how are the old stories still important - or not?
We have become a global society, with a global crisis. I may sound like I’m preaching, but personally, I don’t want to experience any more art forms that are self-indulgent, nihilistic, violent forms that don’t further evolution into empathy in some way.
I’m not entirely comfortable when people speak of contemporary artists as “shamans” as I have too much respect for the long traditions of indigenous shamans, which have evolved within their particular cultures for thousands of years. But I do know artists can participate in healing and vision, and can find new contexts for creating new forms of what might be called contemporary shamanism.
I’d like to quote from a 1989 interview I did with the early performance artist, Rafael Montanez Ortiz. In the 80’s he studied energy healing , as well as working with some native shamans in the U.S. and South America. Raphael was also a great influence for me. In the conversation I recorded and transcribed, we were talking about what an “art of empathy” might be, and he spoke about his studies in native Shamanism:
“You feel what you do……….Within the participatory traditions found in (indigenous) art, there is no passive audience. That's a recent idea, which is part of the compromise, the tears and breaks from arts original intentions. Ancient art process was a transformative process; it wasn't a show, it wasn't entertainment.
We need to see ourselves again as part of a brilliant, shimmering web of life. An artist at some point has to face that issue. Is the art connecting us and others in some way, or is the art disconnecting us and others? I think it is not enough to just realign ourselves personally either – as we evolve, our art should also do that for others, and further happen outside of the abstract. It must be a process that in its form and content joins us with the life force in ourselves, and in others.”
8. Do you feel that the questions of the spirit influence what you do?
I think Spirit influences much of what I do, and I’m not alone in that by any means! There’s a many-layered conversation going on all the time when you open creative channels.
Working in the collective process of ritual theatre is always amazing. When you make a strong, vibrant container with performance that is alive and meaningful for the participants, then dreams and synchronicities abound, the “container” of the developing work becomes charged. “If you build it, they will come””.
I remember in Joseph Campbell’s “Power of Myth” interviews with Bill Moyers, he spoke about “invisible means of support”. I think we’re supported by quite mysterious sources all the time, and when an artist finds her or his “burning point”, or for that matter a group shares it, doors do seem to open where we did not think they would.
9. Would you like to tackle your relationship to the fines artes?
Oh, I get a headache when I think about “the art world”! But I did get an MFA, I have been a part of it, and I’m probably unfair in my allergic reaction. It’s just that I think the premise of the “art world”, as it reflects capitalism, is way off from the original functions of art.
Of course artists need to be supported by their communities. But when art becomes an “investment” and value is determined as a financial commodity (witness some of those Sotheby Parke Bernet auctions) you enter into a form of “soul loss”. Within this construct there is no acknowledgement of the transformative dimension of art. The conversation is corrupted. People are taught to appreciate a work of art because it is hanging in a museum, or worse, it is “worth millions”.
I always cringe inwardly when I hear someone talk about a painting they have in terms of what they paid for it, or what they hope it may be “worth”. The real “worth” should be what pleasure, insight, meaning, and questions they derive from being in the presence of a work of art, from being able to live with it in some way.
I had a real revelation in Bali, where they really don’t have an understanding of what we call “being an artist” at all, let alone the rather “macho” myth of the alienated “great artist”. When I lived there, I found that virtually everyone made some kind of art, whether dance, offerings, music, etc., and virtually all of it was “dedicated to the Gods”. It all had a ceremonial/ritual purpose. Art to the Balinese is a way to pray.
They obviously make many things for money, including masks. But the “special masks”, the sacred masks, are kept in the Temples, commissioned and repaired by traditional Brahman mask makers. They are not made available for tourists except as they may be seen in performances of the traditional dramas such as the battle between light and dark represented by the dragon/lion Barong and the witch Rangda; after such uses they are “purified” with holy water before being returned to the Temple..
This revelation became an inspiration to create a contemporary, multi-cultural collection of “Temple Masks”. That’s how I conceived of “The Masks of the Goddess”, as special masks dedicated to the Divine Feminine throughout world mythologies.
10. A Couple of technical questions:
a) what is the process you undergo in creating a mask?
For the face masks I find a person with a face I like. Then I take a plaster impregnated bandage cast that becomes a plaster positive cast, and then I form the mask over that cast with a thin, flexible leather. The technique is very similar to the old Italian “del Arte” mask technique.
b) how did you find *your* media and materials in the very beginning?
I’d like to think the masks found me. But I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that in the very beginning I started making masks because I was broke. I was a jeweler at the Renaissance Faires and business was bad, so I started making masks hoping they would sell better. They did, and very soon they began to introduce me to a whole new world.
11. What do you think the state of visionary art is today?
There are some great visionary artists out there. Film in particular, with special effects technology, is quite astounding. Think about AVATAR – what an incredible feat, to create an entire cosmos in that way. The Life of Pi - astounding.
Ritual Theatre is an art form that is literally “visionary”, and I wish it was more widely experienced in mature, effective ways for audiences other than groups that are generally esoteric. As Americans, many feel we’ve lost our rituals by and large, or the ones we have don’t have much energy left in them. People are hungry for potent events that offer rites of passage, mythic enactment and immersion, and shared transpersonal, visionary experiences. It’s really a very ancient human heritage continually renewed.
I was thinking of a ritual I experienced with the Earth Spirit Community years ago close to Samhain, All Souls Day. We processed in the twilight through a field with candles into the ritual hall, accompanied by the distant sound of drums.
The final segment of the ritual involved everyone being seated on the cold floor, in a large dark room, and blindfolded. For what seemed like forever we heard distant voices, people brushed by us, hands moved us around, strange music was heard. It was powerfully disorienting, suggestive, and frightening. Then at last our blindfolds were removed, and we found ourselves in a room beautifully illuminated with candles. In the center of the room was a woman in white, surrounded with light, flowers, fruits, water – the Goddess herself, the “return of the light”. Finally, as we left we were greeted by figures with mirrors for faces: we beheld our own reflections.
I’ll tell you, you felt that experience! We had truly been “between the worlds”. When we left the ritual and gathered for food and drink, every one of us felt love for each other and joy for being alive.
12. Any final words?
Here’s a quote I love by the Buddhist philosopher David Loy:
"Stories are not abstractions from life but how we engage with it. We make stories and those stories make us human. We awaken into stories as we awaken into language, which is there before and after us. The question is not so much "What do I learn from stories" as it is "What stories do I want to live?" Insofar as I'm non-dual with my narratives, that question is just as much, "What stories want to come to life through me?"
|"Dream Weaver" (2009)|
David R. Loy, "The World is Made of Stories" (1999)
Ortiz, Raphael Montanez Ph.d, "Interveiw with Lauren Raine" (1989)
Josten, Katherine, "Interview with Lauren Raine", the Global Art Project (2004)
Ortiz, Raphael Montanez Ph.d, "Interveiw with Lauren Raine" (1989)
Josten, Katherine, "Interview with Lauren Raine", the Global Art Project (2004)