Archive for March, 2013

Thinking Differently About Art: Anne Patterson’s Seeing the Voice at Grace Cathedral

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Female Artists, Fine & Decorative Arts, Installation, Liz Hager with tags , , , , , , on March 21, 2013 by Liz Hager

© Liz Hager, 2013. All Rights Reserved

Seeing the Voice (performance still) ©Sean O'Leary

Seeing the Voice (performance still) ©Sean O’Leary

At some point in the recent debut of Anne Patterson’s striking work Seeing the Voice: A Synthesis of Light, Color, and Music at Grace Cathedral, my mind drifted to Piero della Francesca’s fresco cycle in the Basilica of San Francisco.  On the face of it, The Legend of the True Cross would seem worlds away from Patterson’s collaboration with cellist Joshua Roman, which produced a synergistic evening of light, streamers, and music.

The pictorial art commissioned by Popes and princes from the 14-17th centuries served a fundamentally didactic purpose—to instruct a largely illiterate congregation on biblical narratives—while presumably invigorating the collective belief in mysteries and miracles (not to mention the Church’s temporal prestige).

Seeing the Voice (performance still) ©Esteban Allard-Valdivieso

Seeing the Voice (performance still) ©Esteban Allard-Valdivieso

In contrast, today’s literate first-world citizen is likely to be deeply skeptical of religion. If spiritually disposed at all, s/he has a seemingly infinite array of venerable and newly-minted traditions from which to create any number of hyphenated identities. As Dr. Jane Shaw, Dean of Grace Cathedral, has expressed: this à la carte mentality stems from the deep need we have to belong without wanting to believe.

Further, the decoupling of art from religion, largely accomplished by cultural shifts in the 19th & 20th centuries, means that for most of us, if we enter a contemporary sacred space at all, the last thing we might expect to see is a work of contemporary (non-figurative) art.

Understandable then that I, resolutely wary of organized religion, approached Seeing the Voice with minimal expectations. Unpredictably, the evening was a complete delight.

Seeing the Voice (performance still) ©Estaban Allard-Valdivieso

Seeing the Voice (performance still) ©Estaban Allard-Valdivieso

Patterson conceived Seeing the Voice as the debut of her year-long artist in residency at Grace Cathedral. The installation itself (which Patterson calls Graced With Light) was worth the price of admission. Some 200 miles of light-reflecting ribbon strands hung from the ceiling of the nave, catching the rays from various colored spotlights as they lazily twisted in the air currents.  The effect was mesmerizing, evoking at times primitive worms responding to stimuli, a mad highway of car headlights at night, and comets in the night sky. Underneath this stage set, Roman played two cello pieces composed especially for the evening. The cellist sat behind a long white banner, while fragments of his silhouette danced and flickered on the banner as a result of some clever back lighting.

The wow factor of the evening was pretty high, even before we were invited, no encouraged, to lie in the pews and look up at the ribbons, while Roman played Bach’s Suite #4. Outstanding! Shooting meteor effect!

More than the sophisticated elegance of the installation and the interesting, often lovely music, the piece caused me to think more explicitly about the nature of art and religion.  Specifically, does art have fundamentally different meaning in sacred vs. secular settings?  If not didacticism (story telling), what are the effective uses of art in contemporary faith? While art certainly has a spiritual component, does it move people to become spiritual?  Practically what does a spiritual life look like, if organized religion is not a component? Does art bring the non-believer closer to understanding the believing community and vice versa?

Seeing the Voice (performance still) ©Sean O'Leary

Seeing the Voice (performance still) ©Sean O’Leary

Seeing the Voice sparked me to experience art a bit differently. After a week or so of rumination, I still have no firm answers to the questions above.  (See below for links to what others have said on the topic.) However, as a result of my explorations, one thing does seem evident to me.   Although time and traditions separate Seeing the Voice and Legend of the True Cross, in their own ways each invites the viewer to imagine a world they don’t exactly live in. And that may be at the heart of a spiritual life.

Wider Connections

Anne Patterson—Seeing the Voice (video); Seeing the Voice is a yearlong exploration of the synthesis for the spirit with our traditional five senses. Although it is unclear whether the performance will be repeated, the installation Graced With Light will remain, growing and changing over time. Patterson is scheduled to present a new piece at  Grace Cathedral this fall.

Aspen Ideas Festival: Jane Shaw—”Our Moral Imagination”, What Sustains Us

SFMOMA (in conjunction with The Contemporary Jewish Museum)—“100 Years of the Spiritual in Modern Art”


The growing intersection of contemporary art and faith: ArtNews—“The Church Gives Contemporary Art Its Blessing;” Contemporary Art Flourishes at New York City Churches

Michael Sandell—What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets

Mark Rothko, Houston Chapel

Matisse’s Chapelle du Rosaire

Bright Lights, Big(ger) City: Bay Lights Goes Live

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Public Art, Site Work with tags , , , , , , , on March 6, 2013 by Liz Hager

© Liz Hager, 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Last night I gathered with a few friends at the Ferry Building on the patio outside Boulette’s Larder, to witness the official lighting of the Leo Villareal project on the Bay Bridge. Mille grazie to Lori, who set us at a table in the heart of primo viewing real estate. We shared a picnic and some wine, as the crowd and storm clouds slowly enveloped us.

Bay Lights—The Bay Bridge unadorned  ©Liz Hager 2013

Bay Lights—The Bay Bridge unadorned ©Liz Hager 2013

Long before the official “lights on,” the atmosphere was charged with anticipation. Thousands of people gathering, conversing (Christo came up a lot), waiting patiently, as the drizzle turned into a downpour. The concentration of ions! The absolute wonder of of it all was that we had amassed not for an Obama speech, a Lady Gaga concert, a SF Giants parade, but for a WORK OF ART. As an artist, I experienced a truly a thrilling moment when the bridge went live and the crowd cheered heartily.

What a star Bay Lights is! 25,000 twinkly lights programmed in dynamic water-related themes—fish, reflective patterns, and wave forms undulated along the bridge’s spans. The ebb and flow of the rain added the perfect theme-based notes to the evening.

Bay Lights—The Ferry Bldg nods to the bridge ©Liz Hager 2013

Bay Lights—The Ferry Bldg nods to the bridge ©Liz Hager 2013

I will always refer to this work affectionately as “tiny bubbles,” for the first blast of lights, which floated up the bridge cables like bubbles in a champagne glass. Kudos to the private consortium who raised major funding for the piece—it is a fitting congratulatory toast to our city by the bay.

Bay Lights—A crowd gathers at Ferry Bldg ©Liz Hager 2013

Bay Lights—A crowd gathers at Ferry Bldg ©Liz Hager 2013

The bridge will be lit for 2 years. As we left the site last night, still basking in the glow of those light-emitting diodes, all we could think about was how sad a day it will be for us when the bridge returns to unadorned darkness.

Though the Villareal Bridge (maybe our bridge will acquire a proper noun through all of this?) does not rank as the largest public art project in the US (that honor may belong to Christo’s Gates), for us this is a big deal, a bona fide celebrity art piece. Along with SFMOMA expansion for the Fisher collection of contemporary art and the Andy Goldsworthy Presidio and de Young projects, Bay Lights demonstrates how San Francisco is inching ever closer to recognition as a destination spot for art.

I hope the success of this project encourages the SF art community to step up the level of its commitment with respect to nurturing and promoting locally-grown artists. One day we may not have to import a New Yorker to make our celebrity art piece.

Bay Lights, Bikers waiting in the rain

Bay Lights—Bikers waiting in the rain ©Liz Hager 2013

Wider Connections

Venetian Red—“Programming the Cosmos”
Bay Lights project website
Leo Villareal

%d bloggers like this: