BODY & SOUL - Opening reception 12/12/12 at HILTON | ASMUS CONTEMPORARY (in collaboration with Jennifer Norback Fine Art)
By Arica Hilton
Webster's dictionary describes the soul as:
1: the immaterial essence, animating principle, or actuating cause of an individual life
2: the spiritual principle embodied in human beings, all rational and spiritual beings, or the universe
3: a person's total self
4 : a person's moral and emotional nature or sense of identity
5: Anima (a current of air, wind, breath, the vital principle, life), sometimes equivalent to animus ("mind"), from Proto-Indo-European *Ane ("to breathe, blow")
6: spiritual or moral force : fervor
7: In theology, the soul is further defined as that part of the individual which partakes of divinity and often is considered to survive the death of the body.
So how does an artist visually define SOUL? That was the challenge when I began the exploration and connections of SOUL, combined with and exclusive of, BODY, for my December exhibition at Hilton | Asmus Contemporary. I have always painted, whether on canvas or in my poetry, an interconnection between the human being and the universe, as in my series, WHERE STARS ARE BORN. That was the beginning of a lifelong search for the origins of life, my own, and in general. So where is the link between the elements that comprise a nebula, those clouds of dust and gases in the galaxies far, far away from our earth AND the human SOUL We know that without the creation and destruction of stars, we would not physically exist. What is the underlying relationship between that realm of spirit and the physical aspects of the world we live in? Can we quantify SOUL?
In many mythological, religious, philosophical, and psychological traditions, SOUL is considered incorporeal (meaning, without a body) and, in many conceptions, the immortal essence of a person, living thing, or object. In ancient Greece, AIR was considered to be incorporeal (movement) as opposed to EARTH (solid). The Catholic theologian, Thomas Aquinas, attributed "soul" (anima) to all organisms but taught that only humans are immortal, as in #6 of the Webster definition above. Other religions teach that all organisms, not only humans, such as animals, plants, rivers, mountains and natural phenomena possess souls. This latter belief is called animism, where there is no separation between the spiritual and physical world. And then there was Carl Jung, who described the anima and animus as elements of the collective unconscious, a psychic awareness that exists by an accumulation of experience by preceding generations.
I have always believed in the centers of the body that collect and distribute energy. I believe that we, as physical beings are more than a collection of atoms, molecules and cells. We have a brain that is stimulated by thought. But how is thought actually manifested in our brain? And what about the process of the heart? Many of us "think" with our hearts, or often with our "gut." We have the ability to distill feelings and thoughts through various organs of our bodies. Where and how does that apply to SOUL? Can we differentiate how the ultimate nature of our spirit interrelates with our bodies? These are questions that have perplexed me for years.
When I think of SOUL, I cannot help but think of the word, LOVE. To me, LOVE is the connector of everything, the link to life, so to speak. In my poetry and paintings, each is infused with that recognition, in connection with the earth, the air, the stars and beyond. Perhaps I subscribe to the philosphy of Animism. All aspects of the elements that comprise the universe permeate through my works. As far as I am concerned, searching for Soul is searching for Love. Contrary to popular belief, I believe LOVE is the "grounding" force in life. So many people think of love as a weakness, not a strength, as an ethereal, transient, figment of one's imagination. Very much like SOUL that people think of as an ethereal, elusive, mist of some sort that is separate from the body. I think the chemistry between LOVE and SOUL is unmistakable, interchangeable. If we believe in a faith-based definition of Soul, then Love is inexorably intertwined with that concept and thus, the Body becomes the vessel for the intermingling of these various dimensions of consciousness.
Later, I will delve into the arenas of Quantum Mechanics and String Theory, the belief in other dimensions and parallel universes, but that is Part II of the BODY & SOUL series. For now, I am trying to explore how SOUL manifests through our minds and bodies in relation to the elements, the universe, our emotions, our brains, and in our hearts. Color, form, words and symbols are the only way I can visually express this world of phenomena (from the Greek verb ‘phanein’, to show, shine, appear, to be manifest, or manifest itself.) A human being, seeking to manifest light in a tangible form that speaks to the mind of another human being.
I have always believed that our job in this lifetime is to find joy in every aspect of our lives. When we talk about SOUL, I believe all we need is this fundamental objective: BE LOVE. Once we can actually train ourselves to love everything and everyone, even our enemies :-) we learn that we can transcend our lives to a state of lightness, a feeling of the eternal. When we are in love, we are in life. I truly believe that those who are unable to love, are unable to live a life of satisfaction. So what really is SOUL?
One of my favorite mystic/philosophers of my land, the 13th century Sufi poet, Rumi, put it best:
"All day I think about it, then at night I say it.
Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing?
My soul is from elsewhere, I'm sure of that,
And I intend to end up there.
This drunkenness began in some other tavern.
When I get back around to that place I'll be completely sober.
Meanwhile, I'm like a bird from another continent, sitting in this aviary.
The day is coming when I fly off,
But who is it now in my ear, who hears my voice?
Who says words with my mouth?
Who looks out with my eyes?
What is soul?
I cannot stop asking.
If I could taste one sip of an answer,
I could break out of this prison for drunks.
I didn't come here of my own accord, and I can't leave that way.
Whoever brought me here will have to take me home!"
--Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi
translated by Coleman Barks
from "The Illuminated Rumi"