WHERE THE LIGHT GETS IN

Where the light gets in (by Stella Pierides)

Barbara Hepworth, sculptor, created her first pierced form in 1931, the year she gave birth to her child.

Barbara Hepworth – Oval Sculpture

Jeanette Winterson, appraising Hepworth’s creation in her essay “The Hole of Life,” sees this as a breakthrough not only in art, but also in the understanding of human existence. Pointing to the advances in science – in which, far from a universe of oppositions (like mind and matter, space and form), Einstein, Planck, and others conceived of a universe in constant play, forever involved in creative tension – Winterson shows Hepworth’s sculpture to be a timely response to them.

“The atom itself, the supposed building-block of matter, was no longer an object, but an energy – points of light surrounded by empty space.”

and:

“If the scientists were right, and space is as much a part of form as mass, then it is the space we need to see – but how? Hepworth made an astonishing discovery the day she pierced one of her sculptures. She allowed us to see nothing – a privilege previously enjoyed only by God.”

Nothing and everything! Winterson understands Hepworth to have mirrored the new developments in theorizing about the cosmos in her hole forms as the (w)hole of life, expanding space to include the invisible, and connecting to both time (in terms of the past) and timelessness in her sculptures

Henry Moore, who had studied art at the same time as Hepworth, grappled with spatial form and in his attempts to give it an extra perspective, cut holes through his sculptures soon after her. Of the various interpretations this act has received, I prefer the one which conceives of it as offering a 3-D perspective (literally and metaphorically) to the viewer.

What if we were to play with Winterson’s take on the holes in Hepworth’s sculptures, along with Moore’s contribution, and relate them to ‘the cut’ in haiku? What if we ‘saw’ the space between the two juxtaposed ideas, between the two parts (not only the pause created by the punctuation) as being more than an empty hole to be filled-in, or a gap to be crossed, but as an energy field being fueled by and fueling meaning? We wouldn’t be the first of course*, but the thought experiment is exciting… Do you resonate with this idea?

And, even though I am oversimplifying, isn’t there a paradox here: cutting away in order to create extra depth (which is where Hepworth and Moore come in)?

Photo of a poster displayed in the Roman Baths, Archaeological Park, Kempten

Photo of a poster displayed in the Roman Baths, Archaeological Park, Kempten

One might see a similar paradox in the writings of Winnicott, the English pediatrician and psychoanalyst. For instance, in “The Capacity to be Alone,” he argues that one achieves creative aloneness if, as a child, one had the experience of being in the presence of a watchful, but non-intrusive parent. The capacity for attachment is required before one can deal with loss; the capacity to foresee and accept loss, before love can be truly there, and so on. – I see the opening or cutting away in order to increase the perceived depth and space to be similar to this approach.

Interestingly, there is another paradox giving rise to a ‘hole,’ if we look at the opposite case scenario – where it seems that everything is being said, without any ‘holes.’ Lucian Freud, the painter, painted men and women in their naked, real, and true form. He studied his sitters over months or years, revealing in the portrait the person they happened to be (as he saw them) through paying particular attention to their skin.

In a perceptive essay, Dodds,**  points out:

“there is an evocation of abjection, of the corporeal mother who must be symbolically expelled in order for the subject to come into being. And yet rather than staging a ‘rite of defilement’, there is a fascination, we are drawn in. The ‘glare’ of the portraits refers both to the external sources of light reflected on bodily surfaces, and also glare as in look, the stare… We are caught in the gaze of bodies. After first looking away… there is a return, to the folds, the textures, the touch and smell, the loving portrait of every bump of skin, to a fascination with Freud’s cartography of flesh.”

Even when everything is said and done, the people portrayed by Lucian Freud are there and not there. The person is present and absent at the same time: present in their corporeality, yet – like a psychoanalysis which is never finished – their portrait does not say it all. What it says is what has been rejected by social and cultural values, yet by saying so, by bringing in the abject, it rejects socio-cultural values, thus creating a ‘hole.’ The viewer has work to do.

The haiku reader too. From the monumental portrait to the miniscule text: it is not the physical size or amount of detail that matter when it comes to the energy available and the meaning(s) generated – especially through the cut – in haiku. In the haiku moment that the opening of the ‘hole’ creates, a space is entered that is a whole world.

An essay by Jeanette Winterson on Barbara Hepworth and her response to the concept of ‘hole’, originally published in Tate Magazine, can be found here

*For the cut: “like a spark plug that enables a spark to leap the gap” by Michael Dylan Welch in his essay “Haiku . . . Under the Bedsheets: Juxtaposition and Seasonal Reference” in Graceguts

For “The Capacity to be Alone,” an entry point might be here. The paper itself, can be found here

If you are interested in the angle of Lucian Freud and the ‘abject’ you can find a short essay here, together with paintings!

** Based on a paper read to the Czech Psychoanalysis Society on 28 May 2011, “Confronting the Abject: Reflections on Rotraut De Clerck’s (2011) ‘How deep is the skin? Surface and Depth in Lucian Freud´s Female Nudes’” (Dodds 2011b).

On the wider issues relating to space in haiku: “Haiku and its Relationship to Space” by Tracy Koretsky, in the homepage of the New Zealand Poetry Society

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3 thoughts on “WHERE THE LIGHT GETS IN

  1. Interesting, Stella. Not only does Hepworth’s sculpture of nothing and everything point to quantum physics but also the basis of Buddhism – form and emptinesss. The space in a haiku could certainly be seen in that light, as a hole through which the universe enters. Similarly musicians have noted that the space between notes are as important as the notes themselves and meditators are often trained to look for the space between thoughts. Without the space and silence, the rest would have no meaning. Understanding and using the cutting point is an ongoing quest for me.
    Thank you for your thought-provoking words

    • Thank you, Andy, for pointing out the ubiquity of this principle. It is good to consider how its various realizations in the haiku moment, in music, in art, in life, relate to each other. Food for thought…

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