LEAP OF FAITH 2009

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IMANTS TILLERS
LEAP OF FAITH

2009

EXHIBITION TEXTS

“Reality works in overt mystery” Jorge Luis Borges

This work consists of 120 canvasboard panels installed as a painting on a wall (one could call this ‘element1’) with 6 sculptures on plinths arranged in front of it (this could be ‘element 2’). Each of the 6 sculptures consists of 144 5” x 7” canvasboard panels cast in bronze. This new work incorporates an earlier painting, Leap of Faith, 1995, and transforms another, Tableau with closed loop, 1993, bringing them together and thereby creating a new totality.

Leap of Faith, 2009, spans 16 years from its gestation to its completion and comprises 984 panels (including the now inseparable bronze panels) and the work is numbered accordingly from 85904 – 86888.

The sculptural part of this work suggests to me a kind of ‘self-portrait’ but of the type explored by Jorge Luis Borges in his essay of 1922, The Nothingness of Personality, in which he wants “to tear down the exceptional pre-eminence now generally accorded to the self.” It is a ‘self-portrait’ which declares: “There is no whole self”; “I am like everyone else”; “the self does not exist”. And in being turned to bronze the immaterial, the evanescent, the dispersible canvasboard (self) becomes solidified, frozen and fixed forever.

There are echoes of this in the painting on the wall, in those panels which are inscribed by the word ‘NEZINAMS’ – meaning ‘unknown’ in Latvian. These are transcriptions from tombstones in a cemetery in Liepaja – my mother’s birthplace in Latvia, referring to the ‘unknown soldiers’ buried there, unable to be identified. As Ben MacIntyre wrote recently in The Times - London; “World War II tore Latvia to shreds. Annexed by the Soviet Union, occupied by Nazi Germany, then occupied again by the Red Army, brutalised, degraded and devastated, Latvia suffered dictatorship, colonisation and mass murder.” My father’s and mother’s lives were profoundly shaped by this tragic history and their trauma is part of the legacy that I have inherited. Leap of Faith is a tragic work. The strange but distinctive loop, which its two components (element 1 and element 2) share, is a kind of secret mark or cipher of destiny, which occurs in Giorgio de Chirico’s metaphysical painting Politics 1916 where it adjoins a map of some unfamiliar and indeterminate geography - a premonition, maybe, of the secret pact between Hitler and Stalin in 1939 that sealed Latvia’s desolate fate.

Leap of Faith is nevertheless infused with the redemptive spirit of the German artist Joseph Beuys. As Pierre Restany has written, Beuys came to be recognized in post-war West Germany as the intellectual model of the “good German”; “socialist and not communist; anarchist and not terrorist; poet of nature and lucid critic of the consumer society.” Part of his redemptive aura also “came with his involvement with the spontaneous practice of the expanded arts, a multimedia expansion of every kind of expression as advocated by the Lithuanian inventor of FLUXUS, George Maciunas.” Here there was a Latvian connection too, in the form of Valdis Abolins who took part with Beuys in one of the very first FLUXUS events - held in Wiesbaden in 1962 (Abolins’ name is celebrated in Leap of Faith). Indeed there are a number of references to Beuys in my work, in both imagery and text - in particular to his ‘action’ Manresa of 1966.

Leap of Faith also reproduces, in the original German, Beuys last powerful pronouncement that he transmitted by telephone from his sickbed, to a performance being enacted by Nam June Paik and Henning Christiansen in Hamburg in 1985. His brief but weighty words were a strong plea for the release of all the creative power that was held captive inside people (like the New Zealand artist/prophet Colin McCahon, Beuys spoke of “load–bearing structures”). For Beuys believed that ‘everyone is an artist’ and that it was this huge untapped reserve of creativity which could be humanity’s salvation if it could only be set free. Thus Leap of Faith is a tragic work that also contains much hope. Could this be part of the meaning of the enigmatic litany from the ‘action’ Manresa that can be found here and there in Leap of Faith:

“Here speaks FLUXUS / FLUXUS
Here speaks FLUXUS / FLUXUS
Now element 2 has climbed up to element 1
Now element 1 has climbed down to element 2
Now element 2 has climbed up to element 1
Now element 1 has climbed down to element 2
Repeat, repeat etc…”