Art Review Archives:
Indira Freitas Johnson:
The Chicago Cultural Center
The essence of the practice of meditative cultivation is to be mindful, the quietude of contemplation opening the way to perception and insight. Familiar in cultures throughout Asia, the face of Buddha with its half-closed eyes and introspective serenity has long served as a peaceable catalyst for reflective thought. The effect in Indira Freitas Johnson's Lifetime Offer, Dimensions Variable is a palpable calmness, the feel of being in the presence of a great awareness, vastly contemplative. A gathering of Buddha heads, eyes closed, half dreaming, rest upon airy supports of various heights in this sculptural installation, which in its use of ancient and revered imagery combined with modern materials is an effective blending of the eternal past, and the momentary present.
The supports are made of rusty bedsprings, whose round, compact coils form resilient yet weightless pillarlike bases. They are arranged in orderly array, their various heights distributed at random, some low, some high; some bear Buddha heads, others do not. The Buddha heads, or rather half-heads, are made of fired ceramic, smooth, heavy from the look of them, and graceful in their harmonious details of wavy hair and the noble contours of eyebrows and cheeks. Even simply in texture, shape and order, the work presents innumerable pleasing balances between the bedsprings and the heads: the roughened natural oxidation of the wire and the smooth, pale presence of the ceramic heads, or the orthogonal tautness of the bedspring blocks and the graceful organic flow of the faces, are all aspects which enhance the contemplative appeal.
The Buddha heads end at the nose. The incomplete faces are suggestive of immersion or emergence, seeming either to be sinking into or rising from whatever plane the Buddha head rests on; the carpet for the one on the foremost right, or upon the bedspring plinths of various heights. With this impression comes a feel that one is witnessing a slow and deliberate respiration. It is the feeling of rising and falling within meditation, enhanced by the differing heights of the bedspring supports and seeming to suggest different moments in the breath of the various sitters. At the gallery talk regarding the exhibition, the artist noted that the half-heads included suggestiveness of the "process of becoming", their incomplete state reflective of our own individual and constant growth. Though there is stillness here it is a stillness without lethargy, a stillness intimately involved with reflection, regeneration, and change.
Lifetime Offer, Dimensions Variable works. Its 'working' is an argument for why conceptual art doesn't. Art that requires a mediating layer of interpretive text, that derives from an elaborate scaffolding of intent, ends up relying on a written statement of idea without whose explicatory twists and turns the image itself may be incomprehensible, even banal. Conceptualization is no substitute for direct, personal experience -- not a plan or schema of the art, but the work itself. No such texts or justifications are needed here. Lifetime Offer, Dimensions Variable successfully incorporates modern elements, while being unassuming about them. Even were the Buddha not a well-known, if not universally known symbol of human experience and divine serenity, the lineaments of the face alone would convey such suggestiveness. Its balancing complement, the bedsprings, lend additional levels of thoughtful context. At its most basic this work conveys the quietude of concentration and the repose that leads to reflection and understanding. At the same time its contemplative awareness encompasses all things outward, including you, the viewer. Stand, breathe, and be still. Indira Freitas Johnson: Lifetime Offer, Dimensions Variable is at the Chicago Cultural Center through October 7, 2007.
Running concurrently at the Cultural Center is Daily Life: Photographs by Christopher Rauschenberg, also through October 7, 2007. Read the review here.
--Katherine R. Lieber
Editorial Note: Chicago artist Indira Freitas Johnson was previously reviewed in ArtScope.net in the exhibitions Upon an Ether Sea: Water and Ship Imagery from the MCA Collection, August 2007 (http://www.artscope.net/VAREVIEWS/ethersea0807.shtml), and SPECTRUM: Contemporary Art of Chicago, May 2002 (http://www.artscope.net/VAREVIEWS/ChicagoAthenaeumII-052502.shtml).