Sterling Benjamin and Luanne Rimel, Door to the Sea.
Wax resist, photo
image, stitched text, acid dyes on silk, 78" x 29".
by Jorie Johnson
sea seeps in through the door, the door opened,
Letting in the wave in all its thunder,
But only a rumor remained, further away each time
Until everything that is able to, changes itself into silence.”
Nestled in the northeastern foothills overlooking the ancient capital
city of Kyoto is a temple complex known as Honen-in. A building on the
grounds, engulfed in bamboo, cedars, camellias and pines, was the chosen
venue for Visual Meditations: A Collaboration, presented by Betsy
Sterling Benjamin and Luanne Rimel. Upon entering the well known temple’s
thatched gate, with announcement card in hand, I descended broad stone
steps and passed between two massive, raised beds of sand where water
images were raked into the surfaces by the monks. Today, it is as if they
are part of the exhibition at hand. As the stage for such a contemplative
textile art exhibition could one find a more complacent setting than within
this compound with buildings dating from the 15th and 16th centuries?
artists] knew that there was a connectivity of thoughts coming from different
places for each of them, but culminating in similar visual responses.
Luanne is interested in the persistence and transience of things in the
world. Ocean, stone, sky and earth become symbols for endurance and timelessness.
Shadows, waves and poetic words become symbols for the ephemeral. By combining
her interest with Betsy’s commitment to Buddhist concepts, they
found an intriguing balance in collaborative work.” Although a rather
new artistic relationship, one of merely eighteen months, this second
and enhanced presentation of works shown in Japan by Benjamin and Rimel,
took them much further on their collaborative journey.
The twenty-eight joint and individual works presented were basically divided
into three formats. Doorway size “soft scrolls” of layered
images on silk, a fabric which offers a soft hazing like no other textile
can, hung gently breathing on the walls, and these were set off by larger
square hangings. The third form was of shikishi, which are cards (10 in.
x 12 in.) used for Japanese painting and calligraphy (usually exhibited
slipped into mounts on traditional vertical scrolls.) In the case of these
shikishi works, images applied to silk fabric were subsequently adhered
to the surface of the cards.
sky, waterscape, and shadow images were executed with acid and Procion
dyes by hand application and brush work, dyes were also resisted by wax,
soy, and dextrin, as well as clamps, gold powder stencil, photographic
heat transfer, and ink jet print techniques were employed and manipulated
for interesting effects.
the threshold into modern expression where ancient Silk Road wax resist
dyeing techniques are overlapping that of the technological advantages
of the 21st century, many of the works presented examples of the capabilities
of computer data gathering with jet ink print out on silk. Variations
of text applications such as etched wax, silk screening, and hand-fashioned
machine stitching techniques also appeared. In particular, it was the
first time I had ever been introduced to the capability of etched wax
work proving its application as an impressive form of intricate text execution.
borrowed text excerpts ranging from poems by the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda,
Wu-Yu-hsiang (Essence of Tai Chi) and The Heart Sutra (Gate
gate paragate parasmgate bodhi svaha), for example, there was much
to contemplate as well as much to be absorbed from their offering and
this was quite appropriate with the locale as Honen-in Temple is located
along the famous strolling canal of Kyoto referred to as the Philosopher’s
to the Sea,” although originally painted by Benjamin while vacationing
on the coast of Bali, Indonesia, became transported and transformed into
the very recognizable main gate of Honen-in. One could get swept away
by wave, water, shadow and words while viewing the many works. Something
that the artist themselves experienced during the execution of the work
because they each had invited the other to join them on what turned out
to be a very intimate inner journey as well as physical trip to Japan
Rimel wrote to me “As artists, we often work isolated and perhaps
a bit insular—experimenting and imposing our content ideas and attempting
to express ourselves through our work. When given the chance to collaborate,
I viewed it much like traveling to another, more foreign country. It was
an opportunity to touch another artist’s thoughts, ideas and processes
and bring part of myself to the experience, creating a different whole.
Betsy and I respected each other and each other’s artwork and we
were able to create a dialog between our individual pieces that evolved
into the finished textiles. It was a challenging and rewarding experience
for me and will only enhance my own work going forward.”
modern convenient life styling, now decisively lacking in meditative depth
and zones of tranquility, became even more evident the longer one spent
on site. One Japanese visitor, aged 90 years, asked the artists if they
didn’t think that most of the esoteric text and images floating
around the venue weren’t miles over the heads of most of the visitors.
But to the artists it was not a concern if one completely understood their
intent but rather the wish for each visitor to make a connection or to
take away a little something found that fit into their personal pocket.
opening party was attended by many of the Japanese artists who participated
in the Massachusetts College of Art 2005 wax resist conference and exhibition,
Rozome Masters of Japan, curated by Benjamin, as well as the foreign members
of the tour group coordinated and led by Benjamin and running tandem to
two artist’s first collaborative effort was presented during the
2005 Boston Wax Conference. Adding artistic vision to object, meaning
and depth to image, adventure to friendship the works resulting in this
second, traveling exhibition were thoughtful and calming and on view between
April 22 through 27, 2006.
article first appeared in the Surface Design Journal, Winter 2007.
Text copyrighted by Jorie Johnson and may not be used without permission
from the author.