mixed media collage
mixed media collage
mixed media collage
Installation shot of Lynda Frese’s “PACHA MAMA: earth realm”
Installation shot of Lynda Frese’s “PACHA MAMA: earth realm”
by Reggie Michael Rodrigue
What is a cave? For most of us today, a cave is simply a large hole in the ground with a range of unpleasant inhabitants we’d rather not think about or come into contact with: bats, roaches, snakes, rats, bacteria, etc. Caves are cold, damp, and dark places. We generally have little use for them. However, our ancient ancestors did. They used caves as places of refuge. They used caves as places of worship and ceremony. Our ancestors believed that caves were ideal locations for making, using and displaying their sacred art. One could make a convincing argument that civilization itself was born in caves. Our ancestors definitely had a strong attraction to them, and they thought of them as much more than big holes in the ground. They respected and beatified them. The cave was the “Earth Mother” embodied in rock. Our ancestors drew parallels between caves and female genitals. Life, as they new it, came from both.
It may seem like a strange confluence to us today, but our ancestors saw everything in nature as being alive and connected to everything else. Over the course of our history as humans, many of us have lost this rich way of seeing the world. In the last 3000 to 4000 years, the importance of nature has shrunk in our collective esteem. Monotheism dealt the first blow, restricting believers from worshiping nature deities. The Renaissance dealt the second, ushering in the age of “man as the measure of all things.” The empiricism of the Age of Reason taught us to break down things and relationships to their smallest parts and clinically analyze them separately. The Industrial Revolution sent us hurtling even further away from nature. This was when man truly began to exploit the world around him to meet the needs of growing national economies. Ever since then, modern man has typically held nature in contempt or viewed it as a commodity to be infinitely harvested, bought, sold and exploited.
Today, we are beginning to see the fruits of such a view of nature, and they are rotten on the vine. Widespread pollution and deforestation are wreaking havoc on the delicate ecology of the planet we inhabit. If we maintain the trajectory we are on at this moment, collapse is inevitable. Throughout human history, there have always been stories of apocalypse or instances of great destruction at the hands of “God” or nature. Today, we may be on the verge of an apocalypse of our own making.
This is why it’s vital for brave and conscious individuals to sound the alarm – to warn others of what we are doing to the planet and ourselves before it’s all for naught. Artists (we are an idealistic lot) are generally up for such a challenge. One, in particular, is University of Louisiana, Lafayette art professor Lynda Frese.
“PACHA MAMA: earth realm” is Frese’s current wake-up call in the Side Gallery of the Acadiana Center for the Arts. In this exhibition, Frese offers viewers a stirring body of multimedia collages that speak to the connection between man and nature. To create these works, she mixed her own photographic images of ancient, sacred sites around the globe with found, antique prints. Frese then painted egg tempera (a compound made of egg yolks and natural pigment) on them to add more depth or detail to the collages. Metal foil, such as gold leaf has also been added in some of these works. The egg tempera and the metal foil impart an ethereal luster, yet they both draw the viewer back to thinking about the richness and bounty of the earth. Frese learned how to use egg tempera and metal foil from a series of residencies in Italy in which she studied Renaissance art. During one of these trips, an Italian friend/colleague gave her the pigments that were used to tint the egg tempera in this series. They are reportedly a century old. Trips and yoga retreats to India, South America and Northern Europe also influenced this body of work.
What makes the “PACHA MAMA” series so resonant is the way the media mirrors the imagery and content of the work. The series is an exploration of the richness of the heavens and the earth, as well as the sacred sites and objects that man has made to connect to and interact with them. Frese taps into the spiritual dimension of the work through a dreamlike juxtaposition of images and symbols ranging from stone menhirs, botanicals, a sphinx, forests, cathedrals, birds, pre-Columbian statuary, the Virgin Mary, woodsmen, mountains, burial sites and human remains, Dante’s Inferno, vessels and jars, sunlight, the Tree of Knowledge, organs, a lion, eggs, a lotus, snakes, sacred hearts and Christian icons, soldiers and war, along with many references to fire and water in the form of rivers, lakes, springs and seas. Fire and water here represent spiritual purity, yet the also represent absolute destruction in certain apocalyptic images. Frese is truly concerned with the way we pollute and misuse the waters of our planet. Using a bit of artistic karma, Frese depicts ravaging floods consuming the world. It is an act of cleansing, clearing the way for the next age. In this sense, apocalypse is both a cataclysm and a revelation of the truth lying dormant underneath man’s occasional stagnation in thought and action. The scale of the imagery is overwhelming and monumental, much like the reality of our world, the universe and time itself. Yet, Frese has chosen to keep these works intimate and precious in size. It’s as if she is saying, “This is your world and your reality. You own it. Take care of it before it’s too late.”
This idea of time ticking away runs through the exhibition. There are no images of clocks present, yet each work can be viewed as a slice of time in the ongoing saga of our relationship with the world. By the same token, the accretion of disparate images (contemporary photographs of ancient works that are now global heritage sites, new photographs of jungles and soldiers in modern conflicts, antique prints, contemporary flourishes made through the use of media that were used primarily during the Renaissance) speak of the contemporary notion that the march of time is only an illusion we perceive. The current view that contemporary physicists take on the nature of time is that it really doesn’t exist, at least not in the form that we perceive. This is a paradox with which we must contend. Frese’s “PACHA MAMA” series addresses this directly, displaying our perception of discreet moments, while speaking of the epochal cycles of nature as well as exposing the fact that the past, the present and the future are all taking place simultaneously in the infinite now.
Standing before these discreet works and gazing into their seemingly inexhaustible depths, one is overtaken by the sublime. The experience is one of beauty and terror, love and death, earthiness and cosmic ecstasy – eternity in the guise of a series of diminutive collages on walls. They silently shout for a reassessment of our short-sighted priorities. They state that our position in this world should be one of humility but also one of empowered stewardship.
Of late, a handful of philosophers have been discussing a shift in our global mode of thought. For approximately the last 50 years, we have lived in a world that has been described as postmodern, and our art has reflected this. The period was marked by a tendency to deconstruct meaning, to eradicate the notion of subject or narrative, to view history as dead, to tear down hierarchies and replace them with lateral strategies meant to devalue the subjective experience of the individual, to favor spectacle over substance, and court irony and cynicism as a mode of thought and a way of life. The period also ushered in a much needed conversation about the importance of women and minorities in our society. Postmodernism brought them to the table, so to speak. Now, however, we seem to be moving into a period that is being touted as “metamodernism.” It is a consolidation of the modernist and postmodernist positions, which court both irony and feeling simultaneously. The subjects of love, sincerity and hope are returning to the fore as a balm over the postmodern malaise. Narrative structures and figuration are also being introduced back into art. However, we are doing so in a more worldly and knowing way. Irony isn’t dead. It’s just tempered by its exact opposite. In a sense, we are rebuilding what we tore down in a new image based on the resolution of paradox and dichotomy. It is a more complex view of the world that takes all positions into account as valuable and life affirming.
There is something about Lynda Frese’s current body of work that meshes with this concept of the metamodern. The works are definitely cut-ups and pastiches analogous to postmodern sampling. Yet rather than breaking down meaning, they re-engineer it. They infuse collage with substance, purpose, narrative and feeling. The overall effect, due to the over-painting of egg tempera and metal foil, is one of cohesion, rather than the usual effect of collage – dislocation. At the same time there are moments of postmodern irreverence. Two of the images include “googly eyes,” the small plastic craft supplies used to imitate eyeballs. They act as instances of humor injected into some otherwise serious and profound work.
Adding even more layers to Frese’s enterprise, the exhibition also has a book to accompany it. The book shares the same title as the exhibition. Within it, beautifully rendered photographs of the individual works in the “PACHA MAMA” series are paired with occasional poems by Louisiana poet laureate Darrel Bourque, who is also a professor at the University of Louisiana, Lafayette. Within the structure of Bourque’s poems, he explores the images present in certain works, bringing an extra layer of sublime narrative and insight to them. The book also includes short essays by friends Kathi von Koerber, a dancer/healer/filmmaker, and Michele Baker, a yoga instructor, as well as a personal essay from Frese herself. The book is currently on sale at the front desk of the Acadiana Center for the Arts for $25.00.
In conclusion, I highly recommend a visit to the Acadiana Center for the Arts for an introduction to Frese’s “PACHA MAMA” series. It’s one of the most compelling, engrossing, mind-expanding, soul-nourishing, awe-inspiring and beautiful bodies of work I’ve seen in recent memory. You’ll never look at a cave, a forest or the sea in the same way ever again. It’s all about synthesis and really seeing the universe as a unified system in which discreet thoughts and actions manifest in ripples that, over time and space, amount to seismic shifts in consciousness and the nature of reality that feed back into the fabric of eternity. Make the connection.