Critical Distance

DANCE OF GAIA: Angela Luvera
October 9 – November 7, 1998

a response to the exhibition by Tricia Wasney

“It is clear that polarities loom large in human thought. All cultures note and deal with such oppositions as night/day (or darkness/light), male/female, sky/earth, life/death, and a host of others… the attractiveness of dualistic thinking lies… in the solution it offers to the problem of ensuring an ordered relationship between antitheses that cannot be allowed to become antipathies. It is not so much that it offers order, for all systems of thought do that, but that it offers equilibrium. Dualistic theories create order by postulating a harmonious interaction of contradictory principles.”¹

The notion of opposites is pervasive in human culture and the ways in which these systems function is varied. Religious dualism, for example, emphasizes the struggle between the opposites of good and evil and hopes for a time when good will be victorious. Other dualistic theories emphasize the necessary complementarity of opposites that produce and maintain a cosmic harmony. This latter type of dualism is usually attributed to tribal societies and ancient civilizations. Anthropologists and sociologists, however, argue that contemporary culture still functions around a dualistic system, but that scientific thinking has eroded the spiritual basis for it and the desire for equilibrium is now centred on the social, not the cosmic, order. ²

In Dance of Gaia, Angela Luvera summons up a personal version of this dualism, a respect for polarities and for their equality. Nature/culture, empty/full, positive/negative, darkness/light, seen/unseen, and present/ absent are important components of the installation.

The installation is a labyrinth, a simple maze created from cotton panels hung floor to ceiling, anchored by the cardinal points

and their corresponding elements

Dualistic notions exist in many different ways throughout the installation. The printed images on the cotton, and the very nature of the serigraphic process, are one example of positive/negative. The cardinal points themselves exist as polarities, and only within the context of each other. A reverence for nature is expressed through cultural icons. The lighting on the cotton panels and the shadows created play with darkness/light. The labyrinth itself is a powerful environment summoning up presence/absence, what is seen/unseen, emptiness/fullness.

The maze exists as a series of negative spaces, the thin cotton walls separating one from another. For me, it was these spaces that were most tender; in their emptiness, they held an expectant promise. One is introduced to ancient symbols outside the maze, but travelling through the maze to the centre one finds little embellishment. Sometimes mazes are created to intentionally disorient the traveller, but in this case the route is simple, as if to say this is a passage, not a game.

My first impression of the space, and one that continues to return to me, was that of a prayer or a chant. This is partly due to the repetition of panels, images and text within the installation. It is like a soft echo, an urging-on. It is this that guides you through the space, between the walls of the labyrinth, to the centre, to your own conclusions – not right or wrong, good or bad, but a delicate equilibrium, an offer you respond to in your own way.

Luvera refers to ancient mysteries and myth through images and poetry – the Labyrinth, the Dance of the Bee, the Magical Square, the Goddess of Fertility – but at the core (at the literal core of her installation) is a very personal item. It is hung slightly off-centre; below it is a mound of grain. The item is an abstraction, in glass and copper, of a wooden template she has carried with her since childhood. She mentions this article in her written statement that accompanies the exhibition:

“Since I was a child, a little carved wooden template has always been with me. In my mind, the empty space created by the pattern on the block of wood became transformed into abstract figures.”

Only she knows the significance of this object for herself, like any of us can know why a certain keepsake becomes overwhelmingly important, but I suspect that this item and its childhood memories may have a lot to do with Luvera’s pursuance of art and architecture. What it tells me, as a viewer of the exhibition, is that, through ritual and story, what remains most important is what is at our personal centre – what it is that brought us to this point – what is at once both absent and wholly present.

“Proust remarked on a paradox of experience – that beauty, in reality, is often disappointing, since the imagination can only engage that which is absent. Sometimes the most poignant qualities of a site come not from what is actually there, but from what is connected to it, through time and space, by our recollections and hopes.”³

1. David Maybury-Lewis, “The Quest for Harmony” in The Attraction of Opposites: Thought and Society in the Dualistic Mode, eds. David Maybury-Lewis and Uri Almagor (Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 1989), pp.12-13.
2. Maybury-Lewis, pp. 4-15.
3. Charles W. Moore, William J. Mitchell and William Turnball, Jr., The Poetics of Gardens (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The M.I.T. Press, 1995), p. 10.