Sunday, January 25, 2009

Informing the Work

Linen wrapping with Etruscan writing from the Mummy of Zagreb

When you read about an artist's work that "X's work is informed by thus-and-such" or "references such-and-such", have you ever wondered WHY artists do research and how it contributes to the development of their work?

When I took a master class with Michael James in 2007 and told him I wanted to begin to explore language imagery, he advised strongly that I research and study more about art and language to "inform" my work. I took his words to heart and have been researching and learning ever since.

What do research and exploring references do for our art work?

When I selected one language, Etruscan, two weeks ago, to explore for six months, I was a bit worried. There are few surviving samples of this written language other than funerary inscriptions of names. Because of this, experts can decipher individual names and words and phrases but don't completely understand the meanings.

One of the largest surviving Etruscan texts I've discovered is a great stimulation to my imagination. Five linen wrappings on the mummified remains of what scientists have identified as an approximately 30 year old woman from between 150 and 100 BC are covered with 1200 legible words written in ink that appear to be a sacred, religious text. They call her the Mummy of Zagreb.

The images of these mummified remains and the fragments of sacred texts and names of gods and goddesses written on the wrappings are new images in my thoughts as I practice writing Etruscan language fragments daily with a variety of tools, paints and inks. While there is no full translation of the writing on these burial cloths, my imagination creates its own stories and explanations.

Each day as my writing practice with the Etruscan alphabet evolves through the assignments in my correspondence class with Laurie Doctor, I feel the act of writing more. I am becoming more attentive to the movement of my whole body in the act of writing, how similar it is to drawing and how the marks I make reveal much about my state of mind each day, whether I am present and relaxed, tense or distracted.

Slowing down and feeling the instrument in my hand, relaxing the grip and giving my full attention to the process are helping me connect more deeply with the gestural act of writing. Even while I don't know what impact this practice will have on my new work, I can sense a shift in my approach to working.

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