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Art lifts our eyes to eternity and shows us the importance of the here and now. Ally Gordon

Lynn Aldrich: Discovery in a Tar Pit

ArtWay Visual Meditation 6 June 2021

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Lynn Aldrich: Discovery in a Tar Pit

Treasures in Darkness, Old and New

by Alexandra Jean Davison

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. 

Psalm 19:1 ESV

Throughout history mankind has looked to the stars in awe for guidance, meaning and transcendence. When medieval scholars studied the stars, they believed that the nature of the cosmos and all of life’s forms and essences held intrinsic meaning. The pursuit of astronomy was to better apprehend one’s purpose. The unity of experience and reason served the soul to better worship Creator God. Today the modern era’s philosophical revolution has largely replaced “the heavens” with “space” and scientists now prioritize utility rather than meaning. Yet artist Lynn Aldrich is exploring ancient ideas within new discoveries in the stars.

Lynn Aldrich is a contemporary American artist who chooses common, everyday objects and transforms their purpose to explore questions about life, humanity, and God. Her sculptures, installations, and wall art range between playful and serious conversations through the lens of her Christian faith. Rather than working with one material or art form in a classic series, Aldrich has spent the last 30 years grounding her artistic approach by returning to universal questions and themes.

All images in this meditation are part of one object of 22 x 58 x 58 inches, showing different holes with views of a medieval rose window. These views also play a striking reminder of the stars and galaxies in the heavens. In her description for Discovery in a Tar Pit, Aldrich states,

This sculpture is from a series of works inspired by Rose Windows, the round stone openings filled with stained glass in medieval cathedrals. They might be compared to our contemporary telescopic lenses focused on the cosmos, a quest for knowledge and understanding of creation and human relationship as to its meaning. In the heart of Los Angeles primeval tar bubbles to the surface – sites where archeologists dig deep to learn of our ancient past. It is made from tar felt layers, and deep inside, the viewer “discovers” the glowing remains of a Rose Window, painted on plastic sheets. Could it be that millennia from now the preserved ruins of a Rose Window might be unearthed in such a dark pit, telling us of an age when humans celebrated God as creator and sustainer of the universe?  

Aldrich developed the idea for Discovery in a Tar Pit in part from her work in 2008 when she collaborated with California Institute of Technology (Pasadena, CA, USA) astrophysicists, who obtained infrared images from the Spitzer Orbiting Telescope. The infrared telescope could see past the dust clouds to the stars beyond and obtained new information that did not exist previously. Because the images were infrared, scientists chose colors by reading the chemical elements, which resulted in the vibrant colors in Aldrich’s images. Aldrich’s work with Cal Tech resulted in a room-sized installation and exhibition in 2008 called ‘Pilgrimage through the Wormhole’.

Although Aldrich creates site-specific installations, she will re-use materials within a new framework, especially if she had other ideas and questions that her work prompted her to explore. She describes her approach as “a low-tech inventor to make discoveries,” as she explores, edits, and explains concepts and ideas that inspire her. Aldrich has often meditated on Matthew 13:52 that says, “And Jesus said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a head of a household, who brings out of his treasure new things and old.”’ Aldrich delights in the word given to Jesus’ disciples that we bring forth the kingdom of God in layers of old and new that reveal a deep accumulation of truth that is memorable, strong, and beautiful.

Aldrich discovered more layers for her work in the medieval stained glass Rose Windows in the monumental stone darkness of Chartres Cathedral. She states,

A circular Rose Window seemed like an oculus opening to rotating galaxies of color and reminded me of the splendor of contemporary galactic images from deep space…. I was contemplating some of the losses and harmful actions of both the ancient and contemporary Church. It is a kind of lamentation but still hints at sublime transcendence. As in other works from this series, the shapes of the Rose Window insets are conflated with the shapes of spinning suns and rotating galaxies.

Discovery in a Tar Pit was part of the Rose Window series in 2015, but she has since changed and added to the sculpture. One scripture that came to her when she worked on the piece was Psalm 103:4, “Who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy.”

It is rare to view images of the heavens by looking down, but this physical posture requires us to slowly move around the work in a contemplative position. In today’s hurried culture when the night sky is largely eclipsed by artificial lights and dark sky sanctuaries are rare, perhaps we too need to bow our heads to glimpse treasures in darkness, old and new.

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Lynn Aldrich: Discovery in a Tar Pit, 2021, tar felt sheets, acrylic sheets, oil point, enamel, lights, 22 x 58 x 58 inches. Courtesy of the artist, © Lynn Aldrich.

Lynn Aldrich is a Los Angeles, CA, USA, based artist who makes sculpture, wall constructions and installations, often using purchased consumer products. Her work is inspired by nature, art history, literature, theology, and the observation of contemporary culture. She has exhibited widely, with recent shows at Art Affairs gallery, Amsterdam, and DENK gallery, Los Angeles. Her works are in numerous notable collections such as MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art), Los Angeles, the Los Angeles County Museum, the Portland Art Museum, Portland, OR, and the Calder Foundation, NYC. In 2014 she received a Guggenheim Fellowship. https://lynnaldrich.com/home.html

Alexandra Jean Davison is the director for Culture Care, a ministry department of Artists in Christian Testimony International (A.C.T. Intl.,). Her Culture Care blog and work equips churches to show Christ in hospitable explorations in faith, imagination, and artistry. She received a M.Div in Apologetics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina. She then went on to receive a M.Litt in Theology, Imagination and the Arts at the University of Saint Andrews in Scotland. She lives in Houston, Texas, USA. For more information, see www.culturecarerdu.com.

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IN VIEW

1. CALL FOR ARTISTS – Deadline July 31, 2021. We invite you to take part in the competition ending with the 2nd International Exhibition of Contemporary Art: Quadriennale Betesda, Poland. Subject: Let the Spirit descend & renew the face of the earth, the face of this land. Submit artworks for the exhibition: paintings, graphics, photography, posters, sculptures, installation, music, movies, etc. More information, see www.betesdaart.com.

2. BRITISH WOMEN ARTISTS IN THE 20th CENTURY – Revd Jonathan Evens wrote for ArtLyst about how 20th-Century Women Artists Challenged Conventions in Britain. “This exhibition spotlights four British artists working in the early 1900s – Vanessa Bell, Gwen John, Laura Knight and Dod Procter – to explore their lives and work in a climate of modernism, transformation and increasing emancipation. They were all born towards the end of the 19th century and were each determined to pursue their art, seizing the opportunity to enter art school and to exhibit their work within a changing society as the 20th century dawned. Each established a successful career at a time when there had been few celebrated women artists.” Read More

3. DANIEL DOMIG EXHIBITION IN SYDNEY – 10 June – 10 July, Chalk Horse, 167 William Street, Darlinghurst, Sydney: Daniel Domig Teach Us To Sit Still. Daniel Domig studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna, Austria, where he currently lives with his family. He has exhibited widely in both Europe and North America over the past two decades. You can see the complete show and installation views on the gallery’s website.

4. LATE GOTHIC ART IN BERLIN - 21 May – 5 September, Gemäldegalerie, Matthäikirchplatz, Berlin: Late Gothic, The Birth of Modernity. Berlin’s Gemäldegalerie is holding the first ever comprehensive exhibition in the German-speaking world on late Gothic art. Featuring some 130 objects – including impressive loans and key works from the collections of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – the show will juxtapose various artistic genres and media, revealing the full breadth of the media innovations of the 15th century and the art of the late Gothic era. The exhibition will revolve around the progressive tendencies of the long transition period between the Middle Ages and the early modern age. Like perhaps no other epoch, in German-speaking regions, the period between 1430 and 1500 was marked by profound changes that continue to influence our understanding of art and images to this day. The exhibition includes a broad selection of works by well-known proponents of late Gothic art, such as Stefan Lochner, Konrad Witz, Niclaus Gerhaert von Leyden, and Tilman Riemenschneider. Tu – Fr, 10 – 18 h, Sa, Su, 11 – 18 h. Read more

5. JOSEPH BEUYS AND THE CHRIST IMPULSE - 2 April – 12 September, Stiftung St. Matthäus Kirche Matthäikirchplatz, Berlin: Der Erfinder der Elektrizität. Joseph Beuys und der Christusimpuls. Mit einer Dokumentation von Lothar Wolleh. Die Stiftung St. Matthäus untersucht in einer gemeinsam mit dem ehemaligen Leiter des Hamburger Bahnhofs und Beuys-Experten Eugen Blume konzipierten Ausstellung die wenig beachteten religiösen Wurzeln im Schaffen Beuys‘. Für Beuys steht Christus am Beginn einer noch immer nicht eingelösten Emanzipationsgeschichte des Menschen gemäß der Gleichung: „Kunst = Mensch = Kreativität = Freiheit = Denken = Plastik“ – Joseph Beuys ging es mit seinem „erweiterten Kunstbegriff“ um eine Freisetzung des Menschen in seinem Denken und Handeln: „Jeder Mensch ist ein Künstler“, sofern es ihm gelingt, seine ureigene Fähigkeit zur kreativen Freiheit zu verwirklichen – so wie es Christus in seiner Freiheit gegenüber den Weltverhältnissen vorgelebt hat. Auf die Frage des Jesuitenpaters Friedhelm Mennekes was sein wichtigster Beitrag zum Christusbild gewesen sei, antwortete Joseph Beuys: „Der erweiterte Kunstbegriff. Ganz einfach.“ Dass sich die Suche nach dem Christusbild vor diesem Hintergrund nicht in der nahtlosen Anknüpfung an christliche Ikonographie erschöpfen kann, sondern als ‚Arbeit am Christusbild‘ und als Arbeit an einer neuen Gestalt von Gemeinschaft („Soziale Plastik“) verstanden werden muss, ist Ausgangspunkt dieser Ausstellung. Di – So, 11 – 18 U. Read more

For more exhibitions, lectures, conferences etc. inside and outside your country, click here

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Other recent meditations:
- June 2021: Max Beckmann: The Prodigal Son
- June 2021: Thomas Kinkade: The Prince of Peace
- May 2021: Tong Ziyun: News
- May 2021: Sieger Köder: Pentecost

For more Visual Meditations, see under Artists