CURATOR'S CHOICE SM
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by Melinda Given Guttmann
An evocative fine art installation, dedicated to the healing professions, a minyan of ten chairs within a scrim-paneled chamber provides sanctuary and reflection. An evocative fine art installation, dedicated to the healing professions, a minyan of ten chairs within a scrim-paneled chamber provides sanctuary and reflection.
Multi-Media Installation by Carol Hamoy
at the Jewish Museum of Florida
February 28-April 6
One enters the 2007 restoration of the oldest synagogue in Miami Beach, originally built in 1929, and becomes surrounded by an airy inner-sanctuary of art! PsalmSong reveals itself as a multi-media, multi-cultural, Jewish feminist, post-modern sanctuary of fragile translucent fabric. One immediately becomes enchanted by a creation of visual poetry by artist Carol Hamoy. Its creation took three years from the first stitch to complete the work. Hamoy's work is hand-made; which she feel is enormously important in the computer era, in order for the viewer to feel the hand of the artist.
PsalmSong's sanctuary, constructed of ten woven panels and five unwoven ethereal panels of white, theatrical scrim in the shape of a pentagon, symbolizes in shape the power of the number five in numerology to ward off evil. The sanctuary overwhelms the spectator-participant with its ethereal, pure, and beautiful metaphysical visual artistry. Inside the sanctuary, ten white-wrapped fragile, ballroom chairs facing outward in a circle symbolize the minyan, or ten people, that Judaism prescribes for holding a prayer service. Hamoy's chamber, however, not only uses Judaism as its seed; but flowers into a universal, multi-cultural message of healing meditation through the delicacy of feminine artistry and provides a concrete place for literally spiritually and physically "healing" through meditation and contemplation.
Hamoy constructed the ten woven panels from tatters of material from family and friends. The materials are pieces of wedding dresses, baby garments, family heirlooms, doilies and pieces of lace. They are loosely basted together and raggedly hand-sewn. Hamoy writes that her mother was a perfect seamstress and that she was the rebellious first generation immigrant daughter who did not want to reproduce her mother's life in the inferior position of traditional of Jewish women as wives and mothers whose lives remained essentially powerless, inferior and invisible under patriarchy. Influenced by older feminists work like Judy Chicago's Dinner Party, Hamoy elevates what had been dismissed as feminine crafts to the level of fine art. She also elevates feminist art from the earthy and sexual to the mystical power of sublime connection to an invisible, non-gendered, internal divinity.
All women's' lives and histories fascinate her: the ordinary; famous; and mythic. She has constructed over 100 life-sized children's dresses made of paper with photographs of five-year-old girls appearing on the front of each garment. She delights that all those little girls are now woman who are artists. She also loves the lives of great women; and an installation of Seven Women Prophets is housed in the permanent collection of Florida International University in Boca Raton.
Hamoy's creative impulses arise from her constant thinking about art and carrying books with her. She never hesitates to find a new inspiration. If a vision doesn't appear, she reads. Suddenly an unusual construction of women's lives will rise up in her imagination. The title PsalmSong is illuminated by the gold-brushed embroidery of ten Psalms which Hamoy translated herself, based on the ten Psalms whose recitation which 18th century Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav believed would provide "Tikkun," physical and spiritual healing, for a "broken world" and for all human suffering.
Unlike Rabbi Nachman's psalms--which were used as they were traditionally written, as prayers or praises to an external, masculine, objective Jewish God--Hamoy's psalms lead one to inner reflection, to an non-engendered, invisible divinity with whom all cultures can identify. The ten panels also allude to the "tree of life," with its ten spheres of energy, whose contemplation leads to liberation and enlightenment. Two examples are:
As a heart thirsts for water
so my soul cries out for You God.
I walk with the crowd the festive throng,
with joyous shouts of praise.
When I walk in gloom,
I speak to my soul and say,
have hope in God,
praise the Blessed One.
I cry aloud to the Blessed Being
and hope You hear me in my time of distress.
I call You to mind, I moan, I complain, my spirit has failed.
I speak of what you have done,
Your ways of holiness,
You are the one who works wonders.
No one knows of Your footsteps.
ou are the leader of our people.
The chairs also are embroidered with the names of multi-cultural healers: midwife, along with shaman, and Curanderas. The most innovative aspect of this installation is that it is understood not through visual illumination of its symbols alone but through direct experience of sitting in one of the chairs and meditating. The sanctuary is not only an astonishing work of art, but a place where actual healing can take place.
I sat in the chair named "shaman" and meditated on one of the psalms. As you sit in silence, you can begin to hear sephardic Hebrew singing softly surrounding you. The power mystical vibrations of the space enter your spirit with amazing vibrations. I began to feel a mild bliss state with buzzing sounds in my ears, my heart opening up and streaming out with love. When I stood up, my vision had changed. I felt surrounded by golden light and the objects in the room seemed soft, on the verge of dissolving from the visible into a sense of eternal light. I felt this lightness of being for hours afterward.
On the wall outside the sanctuary, or healer's circle, one finds a hedge given them by their mothers. Some of the herbal medicines are Dong Quai, a female tonic; jasmine, which lowers blood pressure; kava kava, which reduces stress and Valerian, which brings sweet dreams. These herbs reinforce the fascinating differences among diverse cultures both of the Jews in diaspora and of alternative healers all over the planet.
Hamoy's personal history, the history of her Jewish ancestors and all of our ancestors merged in the present moment in this historic building. It became an historic moment in my life.
As the catalogue notes, this sanctuary symbolizes all the temporary holy places, constructed from branches, leaves, and the natural environment which all nomadic people as well as the Jews have constructed historically.
In one of Hamoy's past exhibits, at the Hall of Emigration in New York, were suspended, empty, wedding dresses, light, airy and elegant, welcoming the immigrants. Her work has been described as "ghostly" but I disagree. Ghosts signify the "undead" haunting houses and people and inflicting pain. Hamoy's airborne garments and airy panels expand one's consciousness to the transcendent holiness, perfection and oneness of the divine world. It is a universe animated by spirit and soul, floating with messages of bodymind healing songs of the self.
PsalmSong unconsciously lifts the spectator-participant's suffering, through its multi-layered symbols, art forms, and through the primacy of the imagination or the apparent "real." PsalmSong unconsciously plants a seed of healing for those who open up to the mysteries of its mystical power.