Friday, November 20, 2009

Creating a Relational Work - Part II

Life and Work through Image: Bill Reid and The Spirit of Haida Gwaii.

To access: Creating a Relational Work - Part I, click here.

We are all too often led to believe that in order to give understanding and direction to life and work we are in need of the appropriate words. We are taught that it is in language that we are supposed to discover truth, meaning, instruction, enlightenment – it is hard to envisage any other way. However, I am here inviting an exploration of life and work through an encounter with an image.

In the international departures area of the Vancouver International Airport there is a large bronze statue created by the late Haida sculptor, Bill Reid. It is called The Spirit of Haida Gwaii -- it is sometimes also called the Jade Canoe. This image is also found on the Canadian twenty-dollar bill.

I will let Lynn Hoffman introduce you to this work of art (she first encountered The Spirit of Haida Gwaii in another location, not the airport):

Another feature of this work was a strong communal presence. During a break in my workshop, which was being held in Vancouver, a person in the audience took me into a room filled with green light. There, in the midst of ficus trees and bamboo, was an astonishing object. It was a greenish bronze canoe, half the size of the room, and in it a variety of totemic animals were struggling with each other: the raven with the bear, the wolf with the eagle, the crow with the dog, while half-human creatures like the Dogfish Woman, or the Bear Mother, paddled, watched over by the sombre Village Chief with his temple-shaped hat. I learned that this was the achievement of a sculptor called Bill Reid, who was himself descended from First Nations people. In this work, titled “The Spirit of the Haida Gwai,” Reid represented himself as the Ancient Conscript, paddling along with the rest.

Click here to access Hoffman's entire document.

No words are necessary as we encounter this image. However, for many of us who see The Spirit of Haida Gwaii, who walk around it, who examine each detail and crevice, who touch the cool smoothness of those bronze creatures, we find that words cannot be escaped. For words are inevitably evoked, created in response to experiencing this creation. I will briefly share a few words that emerge through my own encounter with the The Spirit of Haida Gwaii:
  • Life is almost always full, abundant, even crowded.
  • The living of life can never escape a diversity of characters and relationships.
  • Some of that diversity which elbows through our worlds includes relationships with animals -- animals are people too (and, of course, people are animals too)!
  • We never move anywhere on our own through life, it is forever a communal event. The idea of individualism is simply a deceit – that emperor wears no clothes.
  • Our movements through life are never direct and pure. There are always bumps and obstacles to be encountered.
  • Our relationships in life are also never pure and free from conflict. There will always be a sense of clumsiness associated with our relationships, and, if we linger long enough in our looking, we will always find that somebody is biting somebody else.
  • Yet, through it all, we somehow together manage to paddle that canoe, and (again -- if we linger long enough) we will repeatedly be confronted with a sense of fullness and even joy in our movements through life.

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