The Scent of Incense
Last fall I was asked by the UK publication Glass Review Magazine to submit an article that was loosely themed around the notion of meditative art – durational or minimal – art that gives the viewer space to move and ‘be’. The topic gave me the opportunity to reflect on making kinetic sculpture and glass that sometimes evokes solace and other times danger.. I’m glad you can join this 20 year investigation of glass as a reflective and transmissive canvas.

Meditative Art 
I grew up in Boston, Massachusetts, studying fine art and biology there at Emmanuel College. I often retreated to the college chapel to quiet the anxiety of fears about flunking Comparative Vertebrae and Microbiology. The chapel’s beautiful stained glass windows told the stories of the lives of women saints (it was then a women’s college).  As the movement of light through the glass changed continuously, so did the subtle relationships of the window’s colors, and I relaxed.

The solace and delight of transmitted light through glass prompted me to spend my junior year abroad in London. There, I studied painting, art history, and stained glass history, doing research at the Victoria & Albert Museum library and hitchhiking to medieval cathedrals throughout the UK. Once back in Boston, I studied glass sculpture at Massachusetts College of Art, curious to find my own way of infusing the solace of light into my own work.

After college, I landed in an artist community on the West Coast, not far from San Francisco Bay. The question on my mind was, how do we find our way through the confusion in our lives?  In high school, I was a Sea Scout and learned to sail in Boston Harbor. I came to know the symbolic language of the nautical charts. I began to use it to explore the question of how we navigate the confusion in our lives.

Breathing Lesson: Ellipse
When a dance company invited me to collaborate with them in 1996, I built rocking buoy sculptures up to twelve feet tall that were moved by the dancers. As I was learning in my meditation practice, we need the gravity of our bodies to relate to our minds. So I was amazed to observe that the audience was rocking with the sculptures as well. That was the moment that I realized that I could connect to viewers powerfully with the kinetic properties of my sculptures.

I was not trying to do meditative artwork, per se. Instead, I wanted to replicate waves' slowly rising and falling as a kinetic extension of nautical themes. However, the habit of daily meditation permeated my art practice, like how the scent of incense seeps into one's clothes.

I began my first kinetic series, collectively titled Breathing Lessons, collaborating with an engineer. I used plate glass for its transparency, contrasting it to the textured nautical imagery such as ellipses and nautical charts that I fired into the glass.  Behind the glass, a motorized cam pushes a fabric scrim. The shadows cast by the textured glass on the scrim undulate similarly to the rise and fall of our chest as we breathe. The continual rotation of the motor references the cyclical nature of absence and presence.

Layered acetate, vellum, mylar, paper on board

Cam Shaft Gingko
Four of the Breathing Lessons sculptures were included in a show at the MIT Museum in Boston, MA, in 1997 called “Glass: Linking Art and Science.” Their unusual combination of glass, steel, motors, and fabric gave me the language to connect science, the natural world, and contemplative practice.

Later, in the Cam Shaft series, I began using paintbrushes as the cams or arms; the brush itself pushes and releases directly against the backside of the glass. This was a reference to painting since from the viewer’s perspective, it appeared as though the ‘canvas’ was receiving the ‘paint’ as the brush splayed out against the etched interior surface of the glass and then released. The brush bristles are only visible as they press against the glass.

Similarly, when we are aware of the breath or a sound or sensation in meditation practice, we are truly present to our direct experience, like that of the brush against the glass. As soon as thoughts come into our minds, we’re distracted. Immediate sensation disappears, like the brush pulling away from the glass.

Thin Green Line
The light shines through, slowly spinning, clear textured glass casting a topographical/landscape-like shadow. In addition, mirrored areas reflect light, casting atmospheric patterns that cycle across the exhibition space and return to their source, disappearing into a thin green line.

Vajra Nocturne
James McNeill Whistler’s Nocturne Blue and Silver at Battersea Reach (1875) is one of my favorite paintings. Whistler described his pictures of the fog-bound Thames River as being “like breath on the surface of a pane of glass.” In my own Nocturnes series of sculptures, light is projected through the glass onto slowly moving scrims, casting shadows that expand and contract. The slow, repetitive movements of planes of muted color, shifting shadows, and reflections restate the poetic atmosphere of Whistler’s paintings of the elusive moment of dusk.

Reflective and Transmissive Canvas
In Lawrence Wechsler’s biography of Robert Irwin, Wechsler quotes the artist’s assertion that to fully experience something, you need to forget its conceptualization.

“This is why I want to minimize the narrative. A picture is finished when all traces of the means used to bring about the end have disappeared.”

If the first response to my work is to ask how it was made, I know that I have not achieved my intention. I think of my work with glass as an alternately reflective and transmissive canvas. I hope that the exquisitely slow movement cycle of glass, light, and shadow can connect the viewer to their bodily sensations.