Sunday, October 2, 2005
The artist as shaman
Last Thursday I linked shamanism with artmaking. Shamanism is a highly stratified complex of practices going back to the Upper Paleolithic Period. These practices include the use of ecstasy, the belief in guardian spirits (who are often in animal form, with the function of helping and guiding the dead) and beliefs concerning metamorphosis and traveling to the beyond. In the rituals, the shaman uses different objects; some are natural, such as precious stones, bits of metal, teeth and claws of animals, bones, plants, and so on (sort of ready-mades). Then, there are man-made amulets, which include medallions, small figurines, carved knives, drums of all sizes, wheels and masks (see them as sculptures). They drive away evil spirits or serve as objects for invocation, divination and heeling. I showed some cosmological renditions, where male/female, day/night/, birth/death, animal/totem oppositions are clearly established. These diagrams are epistemological and aesthetic renditions of the universe. See the relation? Art is another symbolic condensation of our environments, a way to depict and evaluate the universe. Then there's the place of worship. I find a parallel between the altar and the artist's studio --or the white cube for that matter. These are the places of convocation and worship. Think of the most elementary site: a massive rock or a hilltop, with no accoutrements, to the Greek megaliths to the Hindu yupas to other sacrificial sites (whether hollowed out in the earth or raised or constructed on stone slabs resting horizontally on legs, columns, or lateral supports). The artist as Shaman: solving, expressing, and suggesting alternative codes to understand the universe. The tools: all the paraphernalia to execute the work. And the altar, the creative place.