Monday, November 16, 2015

The Commission 2016

Begun three years ago as a way to showcase VCCA Fellows' work and demonstrate exactly what VCCA does, The Commission presents a major site-specific collaborative work by at least two artists from the three disciplines (literature, visual art, musical composition) VCCA fosters.

The first Commission, Bright Shiny Me (2013), brought together visual artist Maja Spasova (London, Berlin) and composer Luis Hilario Arévalo (Mexico City). The 40 foot-square piece was made up of 1,600 mirrors secured to metal spikes. Loudspeakers produced a low frequency sound similar to a heartbeat, created by Arévalo, which caused the mirrors to move fracturing and reflecting light.

Coming to Know What We’ve Always KnownThe Commission 2014 took inspiration from the glorious natural surroundings of Central Virginia. Created by visual artist Georgia June Goldberg (Ross, CA) and poet Sally Dawidoff (Berkeley, CA), the piece combined 150 saplings painted bright green that were planted across the landscape like living trees. As the viewer walked through the installation, motion sensors at the base of each tree activated hidden speakers so that Dawidoff could be heard reading her poem.

Visual artist Brice Brown (New York, NY) and composer, Alan Shockley (Lakewood, CA) won the 2015 Commission commission with their Glass and Bridle, Pomegranate and Pears: On the Viability and Transience of a Free and Perfect Union (pictured)A site-specific work combining sound, performance, sculpture, printing and painting, Glass and Bridle, Pomegranate and Pears: On the Viability and Transience of a Free and Perfect Union draws on themes related to the history of nearby Free Union, Virginia, namely its founding by a freed blacksmith slave named Nick.

Modular units organized the space like a kind of maze through which The Commission guests could wander while experiencing a shifting sonic and visual landscape. Each of these modular units was composed of two 4’ x 8’ wood frames that were connected at a 45° angle. The surfaces of the frames were charred in the Shou-sugi-ban style, giving them a luminous black color. Hanging from the center of the frames were printed/hand-painted textiles featuring imagery derived from The Batsford Colour Book of Roses as well as 19th-century etchings of alchemical processes. These images created a landscape within a landscape, and referenced the transformation from one state of being to another—from potential to fully realized form—inherent in the blacksmithing process. In the middle of this maze was a special 4-panel unit containing a live sound performance.

Contained within each modular structure, an mp3 speaker played an independent piece of music, which, when combined with all the other pieces of music in each pod, created an overlapping sonic composition for the viewer. The individual musical works featured electronically manipulated sounds with various source materials connected to the story of Free Union. Sounds of a blacksmith’s shop and of local birds and insects, the sounds of wind and water all figured prominently. Several of the sound modules projected works created by reductively processing and fragmenting material from a handful of American shape note hymns. The original hymns are ones that would’ve been part of life in Free Union at its founding, but the new compositions were much more spacious, empty and still.

The live performance featured Shockley playing a Native American bass flute, a lap steel guitar, and various melodicas and small instruments, along with a laptop computer running Max/MSP for the live electronic manipulation of the sounds generated by all of these instruments. This performance worked with the very same source materials as all of the other sound components, making for a non-discursive, interactive sonic environment, which, with many of its sounds coming from nature made for a sound world that is always part inside, part outside, part music, and part natural environment.

The title of the installation references the tradition of still life painting, where titles are often formed of simple lists of the objects depicted. Its length is characteristic of 18th century titles (the era from which some of the musical materials were drawn), and also referenced the organic images that inform the sound modules’ fabric walls. The title also links with the story and background of the town of Free Union, as well as the ephemeral and collaborative nature of the installation.

Part vernissage, part rollicking good time, VCCA’s The Commission is a major event on the art and social scenes of central Virginia and beyond. This year the event will be held at the timeless and beautiful Pharsalia on May 14, 2016. 

An 1814 plantation built by Thomas Massie for his son William as a wedding present, Pharsalia is located in the fertile Tye River Valley and sits on the shoulder of DePriest Mountain in Nelson County, Virginia. At its height, Pharsalia’s working farm was part of a family owned tract in excess of 10,000 acres. Crops and products produced at Pharsalia included Wheat, Hops, Tobacco, Potatoes, Apples, Cranberries, and Smoked and Cured Bacon and Hams. In addition to the original family smokehouse still on the site today, a large commercial smokehouse was operated for the commercial exportation of specialty hams by bateaux. The smokehouse from William Massie’s father’s home, Level Green, also graces Pharsalia today. It was disassembled and moved to the property in early 2000 for complete renovation. 
Nearby Massie’s Mill and Tyro Mill were large mills built and operated by the Massie family for the commercial production and exportation of fine wheat flours to Europe and Northern and Western American markets. Still in private hands, Pharsalia is quite simply one of the most beautiful properties in Virginia.

For specifics:

Corinne Teed's Poetic Explorations of the Marginalized, Both Human and Animal

Corinne Teed’s Feral Utopias is a multi-channel animation that uses cross-species affinities to explore parallels between the alienation faced by LGBTQ people and that faced by animals. Both of these groups are “struggling to find a sense of home in a human society that has repeatedly communicated to us that we are unwanted.”

Corinne continues, “There’s a whole field of study in critical theory called Queer Ecology that greatly influences my work. While I am interested in breaking down the boundary between human and non-human animals and what those distinctions mean, I am particularly interested in the perspectives of marginalized human communities on ecological issues.”

In Feral Utopias, Corinne pairs photographs of LGBTQ subjects with audio recordings of these participants describing the animal species that provides them with a sense of home. “The interviews were completely unscripted,” says Corinne. “I thought the project participants would have something interesting to say, but I was incredibly surprised at how strongly people responded to the questions. It wasn’t difficult for them to answer and they had significant emotional and intellectual responses to it. So the process itself was really rewarding. I got a lot more out of it than I expected.”

Following is an excerpt from Vanessa’s Feral Utopias statement: “I chose the sea turtle mostly because their home is always with them. I am half Filipino and it wasn’t until I was 25 that I got to return to the Philippines as an adult. Flying all the way across the oceans to the Philippines was an incredible journey. Before I went, I thought maybe I would fit in. I thought, maybe this is the home I have been looking for, maybe this will really resonate. That was so far from the case. I only felt so much more othered. And then returned home to realize that I feel othered here as well.”

The figures appear and fade away within a fairy tale landscape composed of scans of 19th century etchings. Corinne is drawn to early images of the North American landscape. “I like taking historical sources and turning them on their head. I’m very curious about this particular time in both landscape photography and etchings because of how they reveal the construction of nature and the wild as patriarchal domains. This era of photography greatly influenced the belief of human dominion over nature. And so it feels important to use this source for the imagery.” Corinne created the animations of the subjects with photographic stills shot in the studio. She employed an entirely different technique to create the movement of the clouds that drift lazily across the sky. All these various components work together to produce a visually rich piece that manages to look both antique and contemporary. 

Because Corinne is after an immersive experience, she presents her animations within the larger framework of an installation. Feral Utopias featured an inset in the entrance doorway that forced the viewer to crouch down in order to enter. Wallpaper made from the same etchings used in the animation covered the inset and surround sound ensured the kind of deeper experience Corinne sought. Corinne also made a letterpress pamphlet that visitors could take home, which included summaries of participants’ stories with letterpressed images of the participants.

At VCCA, Corinne was working on a new animation, centering on wolves. She first became interested in wolves during a Signal Fire Residency in eastern Oregon. The wolf population in that state is fragile, numbering just under 70. As paltry as this sounds, this is an improvement from the 1970s, when northern Minnesota and Michigan were the only continental areas that had packs. Until recently, Oregon and Washington were the only states that had protected wolf populations. As of November 9th, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission voted to remove the gray wolf from the state’s endangered species list.

In a switch from her normal practice, Corinne was working on the images first; usually she starts with the sound. She had a few tracks recorded during a workshop for children in Iowa, “Lost Wolves: Remembering Our Past Neighbors”. Corinne explained, “In Iowa, wolves have been exterminated since 1925 and so we discussed the history of their extermination and our desires to cohabitate with them again. The kids made giant renderings of wolves and then I recorded them in conversation with the wolves. I asked them, ‘If you could speak to the wolves, what would you want to tell them?’”

Several prints she had made of wolves were hung on the walls of her studio. Each of them seemed curiously bisected by a white void. The prints were made using images of trophy hunters holding up their kill; yet Corinne only rendered the wolf, leaving an empty space where the hunter clutches the wolf. Corinne explains her research into human and wolf relationship, saying “There’s this incredibly loving side to the spectrum of human relationship with wolves and respect for wolves—they’re a lot like us and many people and cultures revere them,” she says. “But then there’s another side to the spectrum that’s a deep hatred. People kill them in ways akin to hate crimes. I respect the concerns many ranchers have about wolves killing their livestock. (The U.S. government now pays for any animal killed by wolves—a pretty common strategy in countries that are trying to re-populate wolves). However, I don’t understand the vitriol of some wolf hunters and I am trying to both expose it and interrupt it.”

Monday, September 21, 2015

Vive la VCCA-France!

In honor of the 10th year anniversary of the Moulin à Nef and VCCA-France an exhibition of the work of VCCA Fellows who have had residencies at Moulin à Nef will be on view at Chapelle Sainte Catherine, le Port, Auvillar through October 8.

The exhibition represents a wide rande of media and styles. Included in the show is the work by the following artists: Anne Kamilla Alexander, France Alvin, Margery Amdur, Karen Bell, Karen Bondarchuk, Craig Cahoon, Agnes Carbrey, Odile Cariteau, Elke Daemmrich, Holly Downing, Cheryl Fortier, Marie-Atina Goldet, Ariel Gout, Janet Gorzegno, L.B. Green, Joan Grubin, Colleen Hayward, Cathy Herndon, Kristin Herzog, Bryant Holsenbeck, Gale Jamieson, Jeff Juhlin, Holen Sabrina Kahn, Karolinda (Linda Caro), Akiko Kotani, Ellen Kozak , Michael Kukla , Mary Mazziotti, Jeanette Macdougall, Mary Mcdonnell, Susan Newbold, Mary Newton, Amie Oliver, Craig Pleasants, Amy Ragus, Ann Ropp, Foon Sham, Isabelle Smeets, Rob Tarbell, Kim Uchiyama, Anita Wetzel and Yu,Wen. Wu

VCCA and VCCA-France thank the Mairie of Auvillar for its support of this momentous event.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Michael Harrison's "Just Ancient Loops" at BAM

While in residence, composer Michael Harrison presented his Just Ancient Loops collaboration of music and film. The piece, which includes the rich polyphonic sound of 20 tracks of pre-recorded cellos, is to be presented as part of the BAM’s 2015 Next Wave Festival featuring cellist Maya Beiser, October 14 -17.

Described as an “American Maverick” by Philip Glass, Michael has forged an impressive career in the contemporary classical music scene with works that pair the ancient with the modern, the East with the West.

The co-founder and president of the American Academy of Indian Classical Music, Michael has been deeply involved in the musical form since 1979. He has performed solo at numerous concerts in India, and with Terry Riley, as a vocalist, pianist, and on tamboura. A disciple of the late Pandit Pran Nath, Michael has studied with master Indian vocalist Ustad Mashkoor Ali Khan since 1999.
Along with his many accomplishments as composer and performer, Michael also designed and created the "harmonic piano" in 1986. A grand piano that has been extensively alters so that it can play 24 notes per octave, the harmonic piano is included in the second edition of the Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments. 

Michael has taught graduate seminars at the Manhattan School of Music, and was on the faculty of the Bang on a Can Summer Institute at MASS MoCA. He has performed his music and received premieres at the Spoleto Festival, Klavier Festival Ruhr in Germany, Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome, American Academy in Rome, Newman Center for the Performing Arts in Denver (solo and with composer/clarinetist Evan Ziporyn), Music in the Morning in Vancouver (with author Stuart Isacoff), Other Minds Festival in San Francisco, and in New York City at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, United Nations, Symphony Space, Merkin Concert Hall, Kaufmann Concert Hall at the 92nd St. Y, Wordless Music Series, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, numerous Bang On A Can Marathons at the World Financial Center, and with Kronos Quartet at Carnegie Hall performing with his mentor Terry Riley. 
Recordings of Harrison's works have been released on Bang on a Can's Cantaloupe Music, New Albion Records, Important Records, and Fortuna Records, and chapters are devoted to his work in the books Grand Obsession (Scribner, by Perry Knize), and Temperament (A. Knopf, by Stuart Isacoff).

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Karl Nussbaum's "Days on End"

Karl Nussbaum recently presented his new video installation, Days on End in the VCCA Studio Barn. A visual accounting of a five-year period, the installation is a dreamlike and lyrical montage of images drawn from nature and Karl’s personal family history.

As the sun goes down, the audience waits outside the barn and then the big wooden doors roll open to reveal a huge, translucent screen slowly billowing in the wind as video footage is projected on it. Below the title, Days on End, fades into a subtitle: Europe 1938 - 1944 and then dissolves to read: New York 2010 - 2015A glowing orb is vaguely visible behind the translucent plastic screen. Moving through the huge doors and past the screen into the dark barn, the audience enters a strange, glowing dream scape and realizes that the 10’ orb that seems to magically float in mid-air is actually a giant, white weather balloon slowly turning as multiple videos are projected onto it. The installation piece is composed of two separate videos: one for the huge rectangular plastic screen (“I think of it as a window” says Karl) and three versions of the same film projected onto the globe, staggered so different images overlap in random ways. 

At first, we first see images of ordinary family life: newborn babies, toddlers learning to walk, an older family member in a wheelchair, and family portraits used to “mark specific days important to all families: birthdays, graduations, weddings, illness, deaths” explains Karl. Intertwined with the modern family timeline, New York  2010 - 2015, are ethereal, disparate and cosmic images: NASA photographs of world wind patterns, blood pumping in veins, two languorous swimmers who seem to circle the earth, a boy’s hand with electricity surging around it.

Interwoven with the modern day is another timeline: ‘Europe 1938 - 1943’, which marks days in the life of Karl’s German/Jewish family: Kristallnacht, November 9, 1938, when his uncle Erwin, age 17, was arrested and deported to the Bergen-Belson concentration camp; the day his father and sister (age 14 and 16) escaped Nazi Germany on a Kindertransport train to Belgium; the date his grandparents were deported including the specific train transport number. 

His father and aunt would eventually escape into Switzerland towards the end of the war, but his uncle and grandparents were not so lucky. All three were murdered at Auschwitz in 1944. Studio portraits of this winsome and tragic trio, full of hope and vitality float across the surface of the globe and the translucent screen. Forever young, their unrealized potential pulsates out towards the viewer. As the family events of the present drift by, they are “interrupted by black spaces and the specific dates concerning my other family. We see their portraits and then they slowly fade away into blackand we’re back to today’s mundane events. It’s a hole, which signifies a break in time and a break in the family,” says Karl.

The piece is loosely organized so that in one timeline, babies, toddlers and children are projected on the orb, while the elderly, adults and young adults are projected on the plastic screen. One timeline goes forward as the other timeline goes backward, drawing a connection between Karl’s family life and his father’s family life.

The soundtrack features a haunting, almost ominous swelling sound that seems to suggest something both otherworldly and natural. This short musical phrase repeats over and over as it slowly, imperceptibly breaks down over time, like days on end. This is occasionally punctuated by the opening bars of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, a reference to his mother’s favorite film and the escape to another world. 

“I’ve been drawing pictures and dreaming about this project for over a year," says Karl. "This is the first time I’ve been able to set it all up in such a huge space. It really worked the way I had hoped and the things that didn’t work were even better than I could ever have imagined.“ Karl loves all the serendipitous interferences: the wind rippling the plastic sheeting, distorting the image and even causing it to cover the projector momentarily, people walking in front of the projected image so their shadows are cast onto the globe and appear amid the images, etc. These subtly alter the piece while inserting a bit of real life into it. “The audience becomes part of the piece”.

“After a friend recently died, there was a short obit. Their entire life was condensed into four or five sentences. You think about their life and the memories and how much life actually went on between that period and the beginning of the next sentence—it’s a tiny little space on the page, but in reality, its years. It made me think of the highlights of one’s life, the events, the things, the people, the arc of their life. What stands out; your first step, first word, little things that you remember.”

Karl says, “There is no one to remember my uncle Erwin. His entire Holocaust history was unknown to us until recently….While I was in my father’s hometown in Germany to do a performance, I went to the local archive…and I found new information about Erwin that helped me to finally put the entire story of my German family together. The first time I saw my uncle Erwin projected on the globe,” he continues. “I started to cry… I felt like “you’re back on the planet. Someone is remembering you.“

I don’t know whether it was the glowing orb in the black void and the “music of the spheres” soundtrack, but I had the sensation of being in outer space. This was reinforced by what looked like a sprinkling of stars on the orb, which turned out to be a by-product of Karl’s aging projector. "Its an old projector
the pixels are dying out," he explains. But I wonder if there is something to this. They say that if you could travel faster than the speed of light you could go into deep space and see images of the past as they were happeningin a sense, catch up with time. This seems to perfectly embody the yearning to reach out and connect with the past—with one’s lost family—that radiates forth from Days on End.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Helène Aylon Returns to VCCA

Acclaimed multimedia artist Helène Aylon’s recent residency at VCCA marked a homecoming of sorts; Helène was at VCCA 22 years ago working on a series of paintings. “When I got home after the residency in 1993,” Helène says. “I never looked at them again. They were in cartons hidden away, and now I’ve come back with them. I am seeing how I was in those days, these panels, these garlands, are remembered from a long time ago, but they’re also elegiac: things gone by. I’m making an arc of my life at the end of my life. I’ve come full circle with the process art, and it’s happening at VCCA.” 

The VCCA paintings feature fragile leaves, pods and blades of grass strewn across a field of what looks like eddying rust colored vapor or liquid. Helène used brewed coffee as her medium; its faint aroma still hovers over the canvases. 

Born into an ultra orthodox Jewish family in Borough Park, Brooklyn, New York, Helène married a Talmudic scholar/rabbi at the age of 18. Widowed at 30 with two young children and armed with an arts degree from Brooklyn College, Helène underwent a remarkable transformation that would find her living in Berkeley in the 1970s, teaching at San Francisco State and forging a prominent art career. 

Helène, who is 84, is one of the foremost artists of the eco-feminist art movement, which links feminism and nature. She is to receive a Lifetime Achievement and President’s Art & Activism Award from the Women’s Caucus for Art at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. on February 4, 2016 (her 85th birthday). Two days later, she will be screening her Bridge of Knots video (with sound by Meredith Monk) and will also be participating in a panel at American University in Washington during the College Art Association conference.

Her series Paintings That Change, produced between 1974 and 1977, featured linseed oil “formations” on paper. The natural quality of the oil and the organic shapes it formed appealed to Helène as did the chance and change involved. It was the perfect match for an artist whose own life had been marked by seismic shifts. 

In 1978, Helène began work on a series called The Breakings, pouring linseed oil in a puddle on a surface, allowing a skin to form on top of the oil and then tilting the works up from the floor. The wet oil would press against the outer skin, causing it to break. “I would wait months for a skin to form—very much like a gestation. The formations looked like tree trunks and torsos—it was all mixed together: a women’s body and the body of the land. Eventually, I would announce that I was going to make a Breaking and invite people to witness it. It was like a birthing: the sac that held the oil would inevitably break and the oil would gush out like an amniotic sac bursting. It was orgasmic too. It was about a release. It is indicative of the visceral, birthing body, as opposed to the Playboy body that dominates our culture. 

“I would say to the “midwives": ‘whatever is contained must be released. You are going to initiate a Breaking, and I am going to receive it.’ So, I was going to accept it no matter what. I was not in charge in a sense. It was a different kind of an attitude; I never wanted to make my mark particularly in the art. I wanted it to tell me something, rather than me telling it something. I wanted to learn something deeper from the art. Because I felt abstract art after Rothko did his great work, I felt it was arbitrary. It didn’t matter if you put yellow in the corner, or purple in the corner. So I wanted something natural to happen to inform it.” The Breakings were shown and performed at 112 Workshop (now White Columns), and documented for the Whitney’s American Century exhibition in 2000. 

In 1980, Helène heard Australian physician, author, and anti-nuclear advocate Helen Caldicott speak: “She said wherever you are in your life, try to imagine doing something for disarmament. Suddenly, I just felt: Goodbye studio, I’m going to do something.” 

Helène closed her studio and converted a used U-Haul truck into an Earth Ambulance. She drove the ambulance to 12 Military S.A.C. (Strategic Air Command) sites across the country and eventually the United Nations in New York during the Second Special Session on Nuclear Disarmament on June 12, 1982, to “rescue” the earth. She collected pillowcases from women who had written their dreams and nightmares about nuclear war on them, filling them with earth. She selected pillowcases because they’re sacks and so reference the S.A.C. sites. Pillowcases are also very intimate items that we use at our most vulnerable, and Helène wanted to play upon the image of fleeing refugees, their possessions carried in a pillowcase. Later on Helène took the pillowcases and knotting them together into long ropes of linen, she hung them across various  museum façades. The Bridge of Knots, as the piece was called, was installed at the Knoxville Museum of Art (1993) Berkeley Art Museum (1995) and American University Museum (2006). Earth Ambulance was shown at Creative Time at the Brooklyn Bridge Anchorage in 1992. 

In 1985, to mark the 40th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Helène went to Japan. She made two large “sacs”, representing the two cities. She asked students to put some kind of substance from the earth inside them, and they filled them with seeds, grain, pods and bamboo. The sacs were launched onto rivers where they floated towards Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In 1995, on the 50th anniversary of the bombing, Helène’s video two sacs en route (i.e. to Hiroshima and Nagasaki) was projected on the Sony Jumbotron in Times Square Helène was particularly pleased that the screen looked directly down on the U.S. Armed Forces recruitment kiosk. 

In the 1990s, Helène turned her attention to God with The G-d Project, which spanned two decades and is comprised of nine parts. “I decided I was going to liberate God from the patriarchal misogyny and brutality imposed by man projected onto G-d. With The Liberation of G-d, I planned to go through every single page of the Old Testament, cover it respectfully with transparent parchment and then highlight in pink marker all the parts that revealed this. It was a very big thing; it took six years. Called The Book that Will not Close on account of all the inserted protective parchment, it was shown at The Jewish Museum in New York where it received both hate mail and love letters.”  Helène wrote G-d using a dash, in a nod to her orthodox background where she was taught never to use the name of God in vain. Helène’s dashes are always written in a subversive, pro-female hot pink inserting a female presence in the name of God.  

Helène’s photographic series, Wrestlers documents her going out into the landscape to search for the echoes of foremothers that have disappeared: “I never heard about them. When I imagine Eden, I imagine a female space where foremothers are named and regarded with the awe of the sacred land they resembled. I knew these foremothers had wrestled to be heard.” In the photographs, mirror image figures of Helène are dwarfed by the imposing and sensual landscape that evokes the female form. “This sounds very grandiose, but after looking for the foremothers, I decided, hey, you know what, I’m going to be a future foremother." I thought of this when I was very sick—in a coma for 20 days—when I woke I was so very grateful that I had survived I decided to go to the land in gratitude and perhaps to get some answers—so once a year I do what I call a Turning. I turn to the right, I turn to the left, I don’t come to any conclusion. I don’t have any answers.”

Subsequent work became much more personal. Two years ago in Israel, Helène showed pieces that used her own history to highlight the many restrictions placed on women by the Jewish orthodox faith. Included in the show was Helène’s marriage contract and a 24’ long menstrual cycle chart to be used to determine “clean days”. “It’s unreal,” she says. “But I lived it.”

Helène exhibited her early process paintings: Paintings that Change at the legendary Betty Parsons gallery in the 1970s. Helène shared a close bond with the dealer and on October 25,, Helène will be on the panel: Betty Parsons and her Artists at the Samuel Dorskey Museum at SUNY New Paltz.  

Helène’s piece, Written Behind my Back, will be included in the 2015 Jerusalem Biennale opening onSeptember 25. She is hoping All Rise will be in the 2017 Biennale. As Helène describes it, The G-d Project consists of nine “houses” without women. The last house is the courthouse, the subject of All Rise. The ultra orthodox do not permit women to be judges in the religious court in Israel. “I wanted to really do something tangible. We have women cantors and we have women rabbis, but we do not have women judges in the religious courts in Israel. Women who want to get divorced are kept under the thumb of their husbands who are often in cahoots with the judges. The women are agunot—in Hebrew that means the ”chained ones.”

The All Rise piece consists of three judge’s chairs, courtroom flags that are pink pillowcases. Under the chairs are the fringes from the prayer shawls worn by men. “That’s a little bit naughty,” she says with a chuckle. “But I had to do it.” 

Helène’s memoir takes its title from The Breakings series: Whatever Is Contained Must Be Released: My Jewish Orthodox Girlhood, My Life as a Feminist Artist. Published by The Feminist Press in 2012, the memoir recounts her breaking away from her past and the nostalgia she still has for it. 

Balancing aesthetics with ethics, Helène embraces both the sensuousness of the natural world and the cerebral world of ideas in her work. Her rigorous religious upbringing armed her with the language and knowledge to take on something as formidable as the Five Books of Moses, and her evolution from complacent rabbi’s wife into a woman attuned to her primal place in the grand scheme of things, adds an aura of profound legitimacy to her perspective.  

“The ‘70s was about the body, the ‘80s the earth and the ‘90s, God,” says Helène even as she allows as how she continues to work on everything all at once: “I couldn’t just do one thing. It was annoying to people in the art world because they wanted a signature piece. My work focuses on the issues of the day. And the thing is, the issues never go away. I can’t just leave them alone; I have to keep dealing with them.”

Helène′s work is in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, MoMA, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Jewish Museum. Helène Has received grants from the NEA, the Pollock–Krasner Foundation, New York State Council for the Arts (NYSCA) and the New York Foundation for the Arts. She is the subject of a new documentary film by Kelly Spivey funded by the NYSCA and the NEA.