Body, Mind, Heart, and Spirit as Imagined by Three Artists

With all the stress and upheaval of our overseas move, I have been challenged to keep up my yoga and meditation practice. As a result, I certainly feel more disconnected and scattered. So, it was apt that the first art opening I attended in Germany was for a show in Frankfurt entitled “A House with Four Rooms,” featuring three artists exploring the various aspects of human life from the physical to the spiritual.

The title of the show refers to an Indian proverb as quoted by writer Rumer Godden in her autobiography: “There is an Indian proverb that says that everyone is a house with four rooms—physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Most of us tend to live in one room most of the time but, unless we go into every room every day, even if only to keep it aired, we are not a complete person.”

All of the works in the show are very beautiful and intriguing, starting with the paintings of Astrid Blasberg. The intent of Blasberg’s paintings is to explore the human figure in an abstract way, from the inside to the outside. And indeed, looking at Blasberg’s abstract paintings, I felt as though I was watching one of those films of blood cells racing along transparent tracks, of cells ballooning and multiplying, and of various colors pooling and oozing. Every image tells a story of good health and downright exuberant living. However, these works also leap beyond the physical into the mental and spiritual realm. Like visions, unreal colors rise and diffuse in a saturated, otherworldly space. Blasberg’s ink drawings of what look like networks of blood vessels are similarly fascinating and straddle the divide between medical fact and artistic fancy.

Astrid Blasberg, Inside Out, 2012, Washes and Wax Crayon on Polypropylene
Astrid Blasberg, Inside Out, 2012, Washes and Wax Crayon on Polypropylene

The work of American artist Kelly O’Brien brings us back to the external body. A former classical dancer, O’Brien says she is “drawn to the idea of using the human body to tell stories.” She is interested not just in the kinds of stories people tell with the clothes they wear on the outside, but also in what lies beneath the surface. O’Brien’s paper sculptures mimic different dress and tunic designs but are constructed out of delicate paper flowers. Each article has a representation of interior organs stitched onto it – a heart, a spine, and lungs. The titles of her work, such as “Follow the Breath” point to the artist’s unique perspective on the body. In contrast to other visual artists, she is less a witness and more an experienced practitioner of physical movement, and this shows in her work.

Kelly O'Brien, No Harm, 2012, Paper Sculpture
Kelly O’Brien, No Harm, 2012, Paper Sculpture

The third artist in the show, Astrid Haas, constructs collages and assemblages from old books. For Haas, the book is an important cultural artifact, embodying human complexity. In transforming books into something new, these objects can speak a new language. Haas’s work in the show includes references to old medical textbooks, particularly in the piece entitled Inner Continent. In one way, they are the most technical and medically related pieces in the show, but they also comment on the way the body is transformed through the medium of books, which are the province of the intellect. The title of Inner Continent actually brings to mind the inner emotional and spiritual self. Similarly, by dissecting and sculpting illustrated texts according to their contents, Haas unleashes a re-imagined physical world.

Astrid Haas, Inner Continent, 2012, Paper and Wax
Astrid Haas, Inner Continent, 2012, Paper and Wax
Astrid Haas, Das Meer, Bookobject, 2011
Astrid Haas, Das Meer, Bookobject, 2011

“Four Rooms” is now on view at the Fachhochschule Frankfurt am Main – University of Applied Sciences and was made possible with the collaboration of the Masters Healthcare Administration and Contracting Department. In fact, the exhibit was curated to reflect the degree program.

This is the first time I have ever seen art brought into the sphere of a public discussion on health, especially in a way that focuses beyond the physical aspects of medicine. As far as I am concerned, it is a very welcome sign, knowing as we do now that the physical state is inextricably connected to one’s attitude, outlook, and holistic well-being.

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