Does anyone not know the story of Icarus? To escape from the labyrinth he flies up on a pair of waxen wings but, in spite of the warnings he receives, comes too close to the sun. The wax melts, throwing him into the sea, where he drowns. Now let us imagine that young Icarus manages to actually live through this ordeal: he falls back into the labyrinth, where he finds himself horribly bruised but still alive. And let us try to imagine what goes on in his head after this adventure. He has to go back to a normal life after having thought himself capable of attaining the sun, the supreme good. How will he get over his disappointment?
–Icarus Fallen: The Search for Meaning in an Uncertain World, Chantel Delsol
I have tried to capture Icarus at just this moment Chantel Delsol describes. The simple fabric sheathing that once held his waxen wings together is all that is left of his adventure. It now blinds him, and he gropes toward what he does not yet understand.
Meat/Spirit reflects my attempt to understand our dual nature: are we human beings struggling to become spiritual beings—or spiritual beings trapped in human flesh? We have the capacity for so much goodness, but so often we revert to the worst of evils. The title of the piece references the Kate and Anna McGarrigle song Why Must We Die: “We are meat, we are spirit/We have blood and we have grace/We have a will and we have muscle/A soul and a face/Why must we die?”
The fabric is an image transfer from a German illustration that accompanied a 1927 book entitled The Science of Eugenics. Eugenics, the study of selective breeding for the betterment of the human race, formed one of the scientific bases of the Nazi’s horrendous atrocities upon humankind. I have sewn wings to this figure which obviously considers a human being as merely “meat.” The doll is encased in a store-bought blue bottle, trapped, as we are, between these two natures.
I See Men Like Trees, Walking
Mark 8:24 contains one of the most mysterious and enigmatic statements in the Gospel. Jesus takes a blind man out of the village, spits on his eyes, and asks him what he sees. The blind man replies, “I see men like trees, walking.” Nobody really knows what this means. Is it a premonition of the Cross, or does it reference the original Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? Or is it the Tree of Life itself? It is the kind of statement that seems like the truest thing I’ve ever heard, if only I knew what it meant.
This doll is both blind man and tree. His blindfold is a fabric transfer from a seventeenth century alchemical text that featured an assembly of birds. Birds have always symbolized the sacred to earthbound humans, and of course they nest in trees–so it seemed fitting for his mask. I didn’t know any of this when I started creating him. It was only after I made him that I discovered what I was trying to say.