POTENTIAL WORKS FOR
EL FESTIVAL DE DIA DE MUERTOS
At this moment, death is in the foreground of humanity. Usually within the western contemporary world we avoid it, run from it, keep it at bay, yet death remains hidden lurking in the depths of our psyches. Death held a gravitas and place historically during the seventeenth century in the western world although this has long been forgotten. However, the recent Covid-19 pandemic has proven itself to be a fierce and ruthless confrontation with life's greatest mystery. Regardless of our cultural understanding of life, morality, religion, politics, and so on, we all have death in common. It connects us to every sentient being. Furthermore, according to the cosmologist Katie Mack even our universe will die. Death unifies all that exist in the cosmos. Contrary to the contemporary western convention death has been—and continues to be—celebrated in Mexican culture for millenniums.
So how is it that so much of contemporary western society is built on denying and actively turning away from this fundamental certainty? Because of fear? Yes, of course, there’s fear of the unknown, and understandably so. However, the question we have to ask ourselves is: Do we want to live in a society that’s limited by, defined by, and built on fear? Or do we strive for one that’s built on passion, vitality, drive, and a deeper reverence for life and its essential counterpart, death? One that recognizes both life and death with respect and appreciation? The notion of death can even serve as a solace in an uncertain world in constant flux.
This Memento Mori—meaning remember you must die—is a contemporary interpretation in which I depicted myself minutes before my own death (aging myself significantly with the use of photoshop). Death doesn’t just consist of the destruction of the physical body, but also the deconstruction of the mythological and psychological selves. These are deaths and rebirths that occur within an individual’s psyche. As the Jungian analyst Robert A. Johnson puts it, “Often, when new growth occurs, the most dreadful things seem to happen, but then we see that they were exactly what was required [...] It is easy to be optimistic after the fact but it is devilishly painful while it is happening. There is a sort of inner chaotic evolutionary warfare” (Robert A. Johnson).This warfare is rooted in that old part of our brain, which is desperately trying to survive.
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Photography & Digital Painting
One must symbolically let this part of ourselves die so that we can live in new ways. Our brain's most important task is survival; therefore, the acceptance of death can feel counterintuitive, even though it is a reality that we will all face. Despite not being something that the rational mind truly wants to accept, stepping into the unknown is what both the Covid-19 pandemic and the climate crisis demands from us. All transformation comes from outside our comfort zones. This new form of existence may even revitalise our emotions.
Performance & Film
TURN SOUND ON
Film by Alondra Ruiz Hernandez
Music by Owen Ho
Somatic Shift is an installation, performance and film in which I heavily incorporate the body. The sound in this film is a collaboration with Local London Composer Owen Ho. The dirt patterns on the floor form a symbolic grave. The intuitive drawings counterpoise order and chaos in its juxtaposing geometric and organic forms. The film ends with my own burial. Death can either engender a paralyzing fear or it can serve as a mechanism to catalyze positive and meaningful transformation on both individual and collective levels. During this year I have lost friends and family. This was a direct response to the death of a family member. These experiences with losing loved ones engendered a fierce bodily pain. Much of modern society “place[s] higher value on thoughts than on feelings […] The result is a cortico-centric orientation in which there is a top-down bias emphasizing mental processes and minimizing the bottom-up feeling emanating from our body” (Stephen W. Porges). To only value the top down rational process leads to a sort of dead sensation within a living individual’s body. I believe it is essential to deconstruct the colonial thoughts, preferences and values that form a sort of allegiance to the rational mind. I do not intend to dismiss the rational nor the incredible discoveries which the rational mind allows for and nurtures. However, this allegiance materializes a divided mind where the rational is held in far greater importance over the emotional. If we neglect emotional wellbeing, it leads not only to difficult unnecessary suffering for individuals but for those individuals to further traumatize future generations.
Any path we choose in life will inevitably lead to some form of heartbreak. However, heartbreak is a symbol of genuine care. David Whyte explains “So many visions of the future are adultescent hopes of escape from the present, especially from the heartbreak of the present. Really you only have a future when you come into the heartbreak and ground of this life” (Whyte). Furthermore, the psychotherapist, writer, and soul activist Francis Weller argued, “if you care at all about the world your heart is breaking and it should be [....] it’s the broken heart that can fall back in love with the world” (Francis Weller).
During the creation of Incorporeal Shift I employed an auto-ethnographic methodology in which I revisit my sketchbook reactions of my experiences with Mexican artwork and artisanry. The aesthetic and cultural vibrancy of my Mexican ancestors captivated me and vigorously poured into my oil painting. Visually fused forms and colours intertwine. Nothing is an absolute solid form, rather an echo of a material that once existed and now it transformed to the next element. This painting encapsulated the distortion of time I experienced during the lockdown as nothing felt certain or solid—similarly to forms within the painting. Incorporeal refers to the non-material, the non-physical; The liminal space between life and death. It isn’t either death or life but simultaneously it is both. “We live in a world where the space surrounding our bodies is at all times permeated with the information of countless radio stations and websites, where we carry devices in our pockets capable of connecting us instantly with people on the other side of the world. Today, deep interconnectivity is recognized as a basic truth to our world both in terms of our technology, and also in the deep structure of reality as revealed by our most advanced physics. Quantum physics tells us that our world emerges out of deeply interconnected fabric, and that under certain conditions, the underlying nonlocal order permits different points in space and time to be mysteriously interconnected.” (Adrian David Nelson)
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Photography & Digital Painting
The shots depict my symbolic self-burial.
I would argue we are in a liminal stage where humans can either work together to build a fierce reverence for life or be condemned to follow a suicidal path to catastrophe. Historically, we are situated in a unique pivotal and uncertain place. Covid-19 has drastically changed our lives but has also allowed people to reflect – barring extreme cases, where individuals are in complete survival mode. We no longer need to just contemplate and address our own struggles and mortality, but due to the climate crises, that of our entire planet. The painter Andy Patton writes, “I know that I too will die. But to contemplate the worsening climate crisis, ringed with denial and inaction, is to realize that our whole cultural world will die” (Andy Patton). He reminds readers of not only our mortality but of the death of culture if we continue to deplete our resources. That is the death of everything we know and love. Perhaps this potential death could lead to the birth of a greater transformation? Our brains cling desperately to the identities we’ve built for ourselves, but real transformation pushes us. It doesn’t come from comfort. It comes from discomfort. It comes from pain and grief. Change is difficult, and radical change demands commitment. Summarizing the philosopher Brad Evans power courses across borders, so the issues we face in the 21st century are by definition global. As the philosopher and sociologist Zigmunt Bauman puts it, “There are no 20th-century solutions to 21st-century problems” (Bauman). Will the predicaments we face today catalyze sufficient transformation in enough individuals to create significant and meaningful change?
There is a sort of shared pain in the collective realities we’ve all endured during this pandemic, albeit at varying levels with some suffering more than others. The psychotherapist, writer, and soul activist Francis Weller said, “This is not my sorrow, this is our sorrow, our communal cup of sorrow that we are sharing. Every one of us knows grief, every one of us knows loss. None of us have been spared that reality [...] It helps break us out of that fiction of individualism. This is a shared reality, a mutually entangled experience. Not only of sorrow but compassion.” Vulnerability comes from the Latin word vulnus, or wound. The poet David Whyte urges his readers to cultivate vulnerability, which he says is not a weakness but rather a vehicle for compassion. Whyte explains the notion of the wound as a symbol of being “open to the world whether you like it or not” (Whyte). As Weller says, “When we shun grief, the heart begins to freeze, and grief is a profound solvent. It can soften the most hardened places in our lives” (Weller). Philosopher Brad Evans notes that COVID-19 has brought out a mutually shared vulnerability, which in turn has put a spotlight on the truly vulnerable in our societies such as those who faced economic and food insecurity long before the virus affected our world. He argues that the crisis has revealed what is already broken in our society.
The idea of a mourning ritual for our collective focuses on mutual experience rather than the individual one. We can choose to allow the old systems, which no longer function for us, to die, mourn their loss, and then strive for the rebirth of a new world that is more sustainable, peaceful, and egalitarian. In my view it is a myth that the future is forthcoming; That the changes of our future begin at a different time. We can only dream of a better future when we fully embody the present and confront the contradictions of our past. Is it possible to allow injustices when we remember what it is to look into the eyes of another and see the human, see the same essence that creates and sustains our own bodies? Writer and director Kristi Nelson explains how we can be deadened to beauty and joy as much as we can also be deadened to suffering and injustice. Sometimes we fail to see and to be an embodied witness. She urges readers to “keep death always before your eyes […] [as it may be] the pathway to the deepest joy” (Kristi Nelson). My perspective is that it would be an immense loss for humanity if we leave the pandemic the same way we entered it. Covid-19 has the potential to reveal our discontent with the status quo, what is broken in our society. What I’ve discovered through my work is that if an individual can change their understanding of death, it ultimately leads to the reshaping of their experience of life. As Nelson articulated, “The impermanence calls forth for a deeper engagement with life”(Nelson)
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Body as The Frame
Dual Identity Series
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