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Agnes Martin and Consciousness

I had 15 minutes today to look at the Agnes Martin exhibit at Pace Gallery in Chelsea, NYC.  Agnes Martin was an abstract expressionist painter, her classification of choice.  Her work is also referred to as minimalist, being identified by lines, grids and very subtle fields of color.

I had a profound experience of seeing her work today, which feels relevant to discussions happening now about consciousness.  I had looked up the exhibition online, saw photos on the Pace Gallery website, and thought ‘oh, maybe I’ll skip this’, but I happily made it there before the gallery closed.  My immediate reaction was that online photographs of artwork don’t do it justice!  This is what we say in dance about video recordings of our pieces.  There’s something vibrational and immediate about having a 3D experience in real-time in a theater or other space as audience or witness.  Similarly, I felt as though I could immediately sense the vibration of Martin’s work as soon as I entered the large gallery space.  Her minimalist work immediately gave me so much space to reflect and experience.  I don’t know much about her, but I picked up a press release and read that she favored looking at her work from a personal and spiritual vantage point rather than an ineffectual one.   (Ha!  That was supposed to say ‘intellectual’ but I must have had a Freudian typo.)  I became aware of the amazing rigor of her work, which I most definitely experience on a relatively uninformed level, not knowing the technicalities of what it takes to create that type of work.  But what was even more amazing was that it was almost as if consciousness were leaping off the canvases!

It took me back to the ‘Dance and Consciousness’ Studies Project panel that I spoke on last week.  I had listened to a BodyTalk lecture where BodyTalk founder John Veltheim gave a metaphor for our human consciousness.  He spoke about scientists’ putting a frog in a blender, pouring the contents into a beaker and then waiting for the frog to form as if having all the components is what makes the whole–a biological perspective.  (And…beyond that, as scientists continue to try to find the smallest particle, all they can do is keep finding smaller and smaller particles.  Tangent to that is the ‘way’ alternative theory that we are composed of black holes…had to mention it.)  In other words, we are not simply the sum of our parts…arm, leg, foot, nose, brain.  There is something larger that holds the whole being together.  Consciousness is proposed to be the base matter for all beings/matter in this scenario.

So back to Agnes…  I saw the lines, colors, grids, gray, shades of white….in and of themselves, simply that…lines and colors.  But there was something beyond the pieces…beyond intellectual concept, beyond theoretical composition…that I wanted to call ‘consciousness’.  I experienced an invitation to perceive differently, i.e. consciousness created through the action of perception (Alva Noe).  It was something not easily put into words, maybe not meant to be put into words.  I felt like I experienced all the ‘consciousness’ that went into this creation, and it was quite a beautiful, affecting experience.


Quote from Agnes Martin (1912-2004):

‘It is quite commonly thought that the intellect is responsible for everything that is made and done.   It is commonly thought that everything that is can be put into words.  But there is a wide range of emotional response that we make that cannot be put into words.  We are so used to making these emotional responses that we are not consciously aware of them till the are represented as art work.’

–Michelle Boulé, Dance and Consciousness Studies Project Panelist

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