Mike Bruce, courtesy of the artist and Gagosian GalleryEdmund de Waal's "Atemwende, I" (2013), 476 porcelain vessels arrayed on an aluminum and plexiglass cabinet, at Gagosian Gallery.
"Time spent with Mr. de Waal’s work can teach a lot about the nuances of ceramics, but his work is ostentatiously precious and ultimately naïve. It forces a pastiche of received art ideas through the sieve of a different medium, gaining a physical distinctiveness, but little more. Too bad he found ceramics itself so deficient."Ouch! What a slam! It hit me personally, as my own work might be described in the same way, substituting "stitching" for "ceramics". (I am my own worst critic, and Ms. Smith's words seem cuttingly familiar.)
Seeking some balance, I looked up the meaning of the German title of the exhibit. Atemwende mean "turning of the breath." Oh, how beautiful. Google also provided me with links to some ways the term is used, and led me to a quote from Paul Celan, poet,
“Poetry is perhaps this: an Atemwende, a turning of our breath. Who knows, perhaps poetry goes its way—the way of art—for the sake of just such a turn? And since the strange, the abyss and Medusa’s head, the abyss and the automaton, all seem to lie in the same direction—is it perhaps this turn, this Atemwende, which can sort out the strange from the strange? It is perhaps here, in this one brief moment, that Medusa’s head shrivels and the automaton runs down? Perhaps, along with the I, estranged and freed here, in this manner, some other thing is also set free?”
Du darfst mich getrost/ mit Schnee bewirten (You may confidently/entertain me with snow.)
"The image of snow is an allusion to the time of the camps where there was little or no actual nourishment, only ash and snow to fill the mouths of the starving prisoners. So, perhaps, he is saying that he will allow himself to be celebrated through snow, an icy nourishment but nourishment nevertheless."All of which leads me to believe that Edmund de Waal knew exactly what he was doing in his installations. Ash and snow? Rows of white and black vessels, each one unique, yet on first glance indistinct from its shelfmates? I can't help but see a direct reference to Celan and his poetry dealing with his experience in the camps.
As his book reveals, deWaal is a deeply thoughtful artist, a researcher with the heart of a poet, and whose Jewish family suffered irreparable losses during the Second World War. All that is left of his family and their fortune is a vitrine filled with tiny netsuke, Japanese carvings, inherited by de Waal, and the inspiration for his book.
I'll end with another quote, this one from author Willa Cather. I don't know the context of this line, but I have carried it around with me for several years. It seems fitting here:
"The irregular and intimate quality of things made entirely by the human hand."P.S. The title of this post is, of course, a play on Victor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning. Which is, of course, relevant. I'm no dummy. But I do have to get off the computer. I could be following this trail of crumbs forever.