Saturday, August 1, 2009

Creating Life

As one of the most fundamental of all human processes birth itself has no need of any particular religious frame work to give it an aura of the sacred. This expresses itself in many forms- very seriously in the Neolithic seated goddess in the process of giving birth found at Catal Huyuk, near the modern Konya in Turkey, during a series of excavations in the early 1960's; ironically in the modern environmental sculpture Hon, created in 1965 by Niki de Saint-Phalle (b.1930) for an exhibition at Moderna Museet in Stockholm. The Catal Huyuk figure has been described by some authorities as being one of the earliest pieces of firm evidence for an organized system of religious belief. Radiocarbon testing places it between 6500 and 5800 BC.
 Hon was a 26m- (85ft-) long reclining female figure which contained various compartments or rooms. The artist's conceit was that the public entered the sculpture via her vagina - thus re-entering the womb - and exited by the same route - thus symbolically acknowledging her as their mother. Inside the sculpture were various rooms - one, directly within her breasts, contained a milk-bar. Hon was both a nice joke and, simply because of her scale and assertiveness, a clear declaration of new female power in the arts. It is not surprising that the figure has been co-opted as a feminist emblem, though it was not originally intended that it should perform this function. 
     The most extensive artistic exploration of the artistic and spiritual significance of birth is Judy Chicago's The Birth Project, which dates from 1980 to 1985. Birth Tear/Tear, illustrated, is a statement not about the mystery of birth but about its violence - what it does to the female body. It can be compared to the more literal representation of the same trauma by Jonathan Waller. Chicago chose a generically ' gentle', feminine way of representing this violent act- silk embroidery on top of her own line drawing made on silk. Yet the nature of the materials is contradicted by the swirling lines of force; reminiscent of the work of Edvard Munch (1863 - 1944).  

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