Monday, February 15, 2010

Bees of the Invisible

The catalogue I produced to go with my exhibition Distant Elegies had an essay written by Kevin Murray.
I was incredibly touched and thankful for this essay, for when I read it I felt that he had understood what I was attempting with this body of work, and that meant a great deal to me.
Below is the essay.

Bees of the invisible

Katherine Bowman was alerted to the writings of Rilke after a friend recommended Gaston Bachelard’s Poetics of Space. Bachelard quotes liberally from Rilke’s poetry in attempting to describe the hidden meanings we project onto the world. Rilke’s Duino Elegies is a series of ten poems written in two separate periods of his life, first in 1912 and then just before his death in 1922. His intense poetry taps the deep vein of emotions and memory that underlie our ordinary life.
At the time of reading Rilke, Bowman happened to be browsing some black and white snaps collected by her grandmother. The many anonymous figures in black and white evoked the tender sense of loss that imbues Duino Elegies with its sensitive appreciation of life’s finitude—what Rilke calls ‘the absolutely miraculous line of this so strangely lived life’.
This exhibition is quite special. We have nine elegant linen canvases, each housing a constellation of images from a local past—the windy day, the horse, the tree, the bicycle, etc. The presence of things is framed by a ghostly world of images that evoke the passing of time—the ship, the birds. Bowmans paintings give some measure of the depth to the many lives once lived, lived here in Western Victoria.
But Bowman is more than a painter. She is by trade and passion a jeweller. She is conversant with the precious detail as well as the big picture. So her canvases are embroidered with subtle details that hint at the material life that once existed.
Almost like a key to the series of paintings, Bowman lays out a table of items for us to consider. From a wedding ring emerges a world of things. This evokes the mystery of a jeweller’s vocation, as couples entrust her with the embodiment of their joint lives in a thin sliver of metal. For Rilke,
And we: spectators, always, everywhere, turned toward the world of objects, never outward. It fills us. We arrange it. It breaks down. We rearrange it, then break down ourselves.[1]
Bowman’s exhibition continues her long-standing interest in the material life of memory, particularly the power of textures to evoke the depth of the past. While we don’t all share her experience in Western Victoria, we can jointly imagine the world that is evoked. Perhaps there’s even something about the rolling landscape of this region that is especially conducive to memory.
In a famous letter, Rilke described artists as the ‘bees of the invisible’. For Rilke,
It is our task to imprint this temporary, perishable earth into ourselves so deeply, so painfully and passionately, that its essence can rise again, ‘invisibly,’ inside us.[2]
This mission was an urgent imperative for Rilke. The Duino Elegies were written in the shadow of the machine age, which threatened to replace all expression with function. Today we live in the thrall of the screen age, which attempts to flush out all shadows in the stroboscopic excess of images. As fellow Western Victorian writer Gerald Murnane once wrote, ‘the invisible is only what is too brightly lit.’[3] We should embrace Bowman’s work like a root that connects us to the dark rich soil below.     

[1] Rainer Marie Rilke ‘Duino Elegies’ from Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke (ed and trans Stephen Mitchell) London: Picador, 1982, p. 195
[2] Letter to translator, Witold Hulewicz, 13 November 1925
[3] Gerald Murnane The Plains Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982, p. 104


Fifth Elegy
acrylic paint, sterling silver charms, thread, enamel paint,
1000 x 1570mm


Sixth Elegy
   acrylic paint, beads, thread
   1120 x 1220mm




 first 3 photographs by Terence Bogue, last 3 by me