The promised return of a seed planted is as old as the hills, as they say. Humans have been making their living on this promise since we left our wild-time of hunting/gathering. And, by recent evidence, it was women, the gatherers in this hunter/gatherer deal, who invented agriculture (Graeber & Wingrow 2021). Women, the inventors of comfort, were technologists, inventing, as well, spinning, weaving, pottery and most astoundingly, the sewing needle. Around 25,000 years ago (at least, some say 60,000 YA), this tiny device allowed for tailored clothing which gave freedom of movement and greater protection against the cold.
The Art of settled humanity produced spectacular long-lasting monuments, on the other hand, the Art of the hunter/gatherer people, largely lost to time—though, what little remains, is spectacular, preserved deep in caves, and wholly different from Art the grain and animal growers made. Exceptions are being uncovered in the last thirty years, namely Göbekli Tepe and the surrounding area in southern Turkey. Once agriculture took over, the Art changed to set aside time and space to keep alive and honor the energies of the seed; the vitality of the husbanded animal.
Art isn’t something that happened once-upon-a-time, it is happening right here on our little plot. So we’ve made our gesture toward honoring the Sun-Goddess Amaterasu, and while this is a gesture of the imagination it is also a gesture honoring the rational mind. And it’s no accident Amaterasu is female. In the dim past, as a pre-med student I “took” organic chemistry, or should I say it “took” me. It took me right into Art studies, and very glad about that. But, I was left with a deep appreciation of the workings of our metabolism—turning food into thought and action, that is the essence of organic chemistry. Here is the chart of metabolic pathways, the complex workings in most every of our trillions of cells.
“In biochemistry, a metabolic pathway is a linked series of chemical reactions occurring within a cell. The reactants, products, and intermediates of an enzymatic reaction are known as metabolites, which are modified by a sequence of chemical reactions catalyzed by enzymes.”—WIKI
The prime chemistry for all of this complexity, besides the production of essential enzymes, is the production of a substance called ATP, adenosine tri-phosophate. The breaking of the tri- to a di- gives off energy. This makes your next breath possible as well as the astounding piano playing of Hiromi Uehara.
In Japan the Shrine of Ise-Jingu is a shrine honoring the seed and this is the promise of our three-part sculptural installation. We built a structure as a mnemonic to reference the original, the outer structure borrowing elements of Ise-Jingu and as such, is for us, a shrine to metabolism itself. And, what is sculpture, if not memorializing a moment, a person, a state of mind. The roof-line is patterned on a traditional rice barn. In Japan, this shrine, the #1 shrine of Shinto, is torn down and rebuilt every 20 years in a ritual of life and death in a dance that is the essence of Shinto, and they have been doing it for at least 1050 years, some say 2000 years. Why metabolism? It is grain which nourishes the body, the sun goddess of Japan, Amaterasu is the deity honored. This is the outer structure and even though it references an imagined deity, it is wholly rational in its intent; this paean to the basic functioning going on in every cell of our bodies. We eat, we move, we love, we think, all because of the basic flow of energy as we metabolize what we eat. It is rational in its conception, but radically imaginal in its function. We wanted to build this installation just because we like how it looks. This is what artists do. And, like the shrine in Japan where they plant a rice field adjacent, we planted our gesture of a wheat field next to our sculpture.
The flow between the rational and imaginal is what energizes this installation. It has been our long-standing project to bridge the rift between the Arts and Sciences; this piece is one of those attempts. The interior of the structure is the imaginal moving to the rational. The seven objects filling the interior are the standard line-up of the Vedic conception of energy centers of the body called the Kundalini. We think of it as an aid to meditation. You can imagine the outer structure as the solid body, full of its rational functioning and the inside of the structure as the imaginal life.
The finishing touch was realized yesterday when we harvested our four X four-foot square patch of wheat we had planted last fall. Obviously not a terribly sustaining bit of agriculture, but a gesture toward the IDEA of metabolism. We’ll probably get enough wheat for a couple of muffins, but this makes us very happy to feel a circle has been squared, meaning the rational dancing with the imaginal.
Escaping the bounds of strict styles was and is important, as a way of extending the imagination into developing cultural norms. Holding fast to strict style is a way of governance of human society. If you look at cave art from the Ural Mountains to the cave of Altamira’s great bulls, 6000 miles apart, you see stylistic conventions spreading all along that pathway. The style of Egyptian Art held fast for 3000 years, and while the Egyptians perfected writing, it was their visual style that unified their empire. Same with the styles at the far reaches of the “Fertile Crescent” with the Assyrians, Babylonians; style was infectious, unifying and fairly binding.
You might well ask, “Why bother with all of this? What possible use is all of this?” We feel the meaning of all this is in it’s use to us; it is to say how we feel about being alive. First of all, to have an idea and actualize that idea in the materials of the world, is one of life’s greatest pleasures. The greatest amusement we know. This runs the gamut of simple amusement to ourselves, to creating a monument in the town square for all to enjoy. Is simple amusement enough? Maybe. This piece is best viewed here, in situ. We can arrange a visit. It was created to exist on this spot and extending beyond to our Art Mind Park via the electronic versions we’ve created on these pages, along with the pictures and their accompanying stories. Our intension is to enliven or re-enchant (Suzi Gablic, The Reenchantment of Art 1991) interest in Art that extends toward a unity of thinking, bringing Art into the world as full as we can make it, dragging along our sisters and brothers in the sciences, the rational mind, married at last, to the bride of the imagination, fulfilling Marcel Duchamp’s wish in his seminal work with Rrose Sélavy, The Large Glass (1917-1923), what Jack Burnham has called “an agricultural machine.” (Great Western Salt Works 1973). Hmmmmm.
This enigmatic sculpture in Philadelphia’s Museum of Art has had book after book written about it. It’s a puzzle, a mind-game, and worth looking up; a cornerstone of what we call Contemporary Art. Rrose was Duchamp’s female alter-ego. What’s it all mean? Duchamp wrote lots about it, specifically End Game, the condition of two kings left on the chessboard, which Duchamp thought of as the end of Art. In that, he was all wet. It goes on and will go on, long as there are humans on Planet Earth.