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Leslie Iwai: Sounding Stones

 ArtWay Visual Meditation 4 September 2022

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Leslie Iwai: Sounding Stones

Crying Out

by William Collen

In the US state of Nebraska, nestled amongst the trees at the north end of the city of Omaha’s Elmwood Park, lies an unexpected work of public sculpture. If you drive past you might miss it, but if you walk through the park the sculpture becomes the focal point of the surrounding area. It is Sounding Stones, by Nebraska native, Wisconsin state based Leslie Iwai.

The sculpture consists of five concrete blocks, each shaped like some sort of pillow with a hole through the middle. The apertures are big enough to sit inside, and if you do you will notice there is a single word engraved on each stone, in a no-nonsense sans serif font: Humility, Simplicity, Community, Submission, Brokenness.

“Sounding” is an ambiguous word here with two competing meanings: “making a sound” and “taking a sounding,” and Iwai acknowledges both meanings in her artist statement: “Soundings are taken in the middle of a body of water to measure its depth. Likewise, in taking the ‘soundings’ of our community, we measure its depth. The open core of each stone is to be a place for crying out. God purposes for all people to break complacency and praise Him. But even ‘if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.’”

I imagine these particular stones like the bells of trumpets – indeed the form of each stone bears a resemblance to the instrument. What kind of music would happen if you blew through the hole in each stone? Imagine them as magical trumpets, capable of amplifying your voice above the roar and whoosh of traffic.

As Sounding Stones is approached from the south, the words on the pieces are presented in a particularly compelling sequence. First comes “Humility” and “Simplicity”—virtues that our culture is very comfortable with. But “Community” can sometimes feel out of reach in our digital age, and “Submission” is certainly difficult for our contemporary culture to value. And in the days of the curated Instagram feed, “Brokenness” is something you will never see in public.

What are we supposed to do with these character traits? Think back to my metaphor of the magical trumpet. Imagine proclaiming a message to the world through one of these stones. Your message will be amplified if you practice the virtues inscribed on the stones.

Anything you wish to say will be given greater force and reach if done with humility and simplicity, in community, and with a degree of submission . . . but . . . brokenness?

One of the more puzzling and counter-intuitive passages of Scripture is found in 2 Corinthians 12, where Paul describes how he was beset by a physical ailment and asked for it to be removed. “No, I’m not going to do that for you,” God says, “My strength is made perfect in weakness.” What a strange passage. How does the strength of God become perfect when it is allied to our weakness?

The strength comes when we know that we are broken and we let the world see that. How much more powerful is a message when we know that the person who delivered it did so against imposing odds and adversities! Even more so: the Christian message of salvation and forgiveness is a message of admitting our own brokenness, and our need to be repaired by a savior.

And of course, the Christian life is one that ought to be lived in humility, simplicity, and community, with a proper submission as well.

If you are ever in Omaha I would encourage you to visit Sounding Stones. Maybe you should even shout a message to the world through one of them and imagine what your message might look like if it were given in the spirit of Iwai’s five virtues. Then, try to live your life’s message like that.

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Leslie Iwai: Sounding Stones, 2004, five cast concrete blocks, each piece approx. 8 ft. x 8 ft. x 7 ft. Elmwood Park, Omaha, Nebraska, USA.

Leslie Iwai is an installation artist and sculptor, fascinated with unlikely connections and hidden narratives. She lives and works in Middleton, Wisconsin, USA where she makes her art, teaches and untangles knots. She says, “Two important questions I ask when I am making something are "How is it?" and "What is it?", usually in that order. Through this I am inevitably led to new connections and uncovered narratives. One of my favorite seminars in graduate school was Craft and Scholarship (M. Arch, Virginia Tech) where I happened upon the threads between the woven, the engine and the feminine. Between the hardness and softness of these three, my work rests.” Iwai is an active member of CIVA (Christians in the Visual Arts), founded in 1979 with the vision to help artists, collectors, critics, professors, historians, pastors and arts professionals explore the profound relationship between art and faith (https://civa.org). https://www.leslieiwai.com; https://www.instagram.com/leslie.iwai/

William Collen is an art writer and researcher from Omaha, Nebraska, USA. His writings can be found at www.ruins.blog.

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ART NEWS INTERNATIONAL

* SUSANNE LANGER – Recent Image Journal article: A Philosopher for Artists: Adrienne Dengerink Chaplin and Theodore L. Prescott on Susanne Langer - Image Journal

* VIDEO LECTURE: “Symbolism and Sacramentality in Art: Medieval and Postmodern Representations of the Little Garden of Paradise” (Religion and Art Talks) by Tina Beattie: Dr. Tina Beattie is a professor emerita of Catholic Studies at the University of Roehampton whose research is at the intersections of art, gender, and theology. In this talk she explores the sacramental imagination of the medieval world through a Late Gothic painting from the Rhineland known as The Little Garden of Paradise. (You can zoom in in tremendous detail on the Städel Museum’s website.) It shows Mary reading in an enclosed garden in the company of saints, her little boy Jesus playing a psaltery at her feet. “Christ retunes the cosmos,” Beattie says. “The harmonies of creation were disrupted by sin. But all of creation is brought back into harmony through the Incarnation.”

* DIED: KEES DE KORT, BELOVED BIBLE ARTIST – The Dutch illustrator’s bold and simple work shaped “the biblical cosmos of images” for millions. Read more

* ART IN ORVIETO – From July 16 to August 6, 2023, The Institute for Christian Studies (ICS) will host an advanced summer studies program in art, religion, and theology located in Orvieto, Italy, a magnificent hill town 90 minutes north of Rome. The program offers an ecumenical exploration of Christian understandings of the arts. It provides a three-week residency designed for artists, art teachers, graduate students in relevant fields, and other adult learners interested in engaging the intersection of art, religion, and theology. The main components of the program are a seminar on the topic of art, religion, and theology with Rebekah Smick, and/or the option to join either an artists' workshop with David Holt or writers' workshop with John Terpstra. Early Bird applicants will be eligible to receive a $500 CAD Ruth and Inès Memorial Scholarship for Artistic Education. These scholarships will be available on a first come first serve basis to applicants who submit a complete ART in Orvieto application by the December 31 early bird deadline. Visit icscanada.edu/art-in-orvieto to find out more about the program – and please share this wonderful learning opportunity with anyone who may be interested!

* BOOK – Nicholas J. Bridger and John Picton eds, Christian Art and African Modernity, Galda Verlag, 2020. The growth of Christianity is one of the major themes of modern African history, yet the emergence of a Christian visual art across the sub-Saharan region has largely been overlooked, with the exception of Ethiopian Christianity. This book presents papers dealing with developments in many countries, particularly in the provision of an art that has its place within a liturgical context, and thus situated at the core of Christian ritual practice. Christian Art and African Modernity – Galda-Verlag

* SANCTUM BY JOY WOLFENDEN BROWN – 2 September - 17 October, Anima Mundi, Street-an-Pol, St Ives, Cornwall, England: Sanctum by Joy Wolfenden Brown. Anima Mundi is delighted to present ‘Sanctum’, a solo exhibition of new paintings by Joy Wolfenden Brown, made over the past two years following a period where the artist battled stage three cancer. Sanctum is an unguarded and fragile expression of the liminal state of existence, which is all the more relatable and universal during these uncertain times. This collection of exquisitely intuitive and intimate, small and larger scale oil paintings are imbued with the artists renowned sensitivity to absorb the physical and metaphysical world that surrounds and precedes the present moment. Evocations of fortitude combine with vulnerability resting beneath an ethereally layered and unmannered, yet luminous oily surface. www.animamundigallery.com

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