Through the Veil, Carol Bruns
There are two distinct realms inherent within the human personality. One is ordinary, consensus reality---concrete, practical, logical, and egoistic enabling our survival in the material world. This level of the mind can be altered legally by consuming alcohol, tobacco, and prescribed pharmaceuticals, but these substances do not remove the basic frame.
The second human inner level can alter the rational frame and usher in a very different reality. It may be encountered in dreams, by means of trance, hypnosis, meditation, extreme fatigue, and pre-historic techniques for its induction such as chanting, singing, rattling, drumming, and trance dancing. There are also powerful psychotropic drugs, some of great antiquity, to induce it such as LSD, DMT, ayahuasca, and psilocybin. When the mind deepens, the poetic faculty arises, spirits might appear, transformations happen, the mythic sense develops, and everything appears interrelated. However achieved, all pre-industrial cultures have valued this second realm, currently termed psychotropic states of cognition, for its powerful connection to sacred realities, healing, nature, and one another. Freud and Jung termed this level of the human personality the unconscious and instigated the modern age to recognize its significance. The process of passing through the veil between the two worlds requires one to set aside our own interference, including the dominating ego, will, and control so that we can see the face of the Other and respond to what it wants and says. Western culture's denial and extirpation of this level of the personality and its history began five hundred years ago.
Classical physics began in the seventeenth century with Galileo, Descartes, Kepler, and Newton who learned about nature through experiments described by mathematics. The conception emerged that reality is a machine. Threatened and not shying away from brutality, the Church demanded the scientific realm to restrict its activities to the world of matter while the Church would control the spiritual realm. Previously in 1484 Pope Innocent VIII published a bull against witches, followed by the savage and depraved Witch Hammer. Consequently, in the era 1450 -1750 millions of mostly women shamans, then called witches, were tortured, raped, and burned alive at the stake, their knowledge of the mythic mind and its healing lost.
The beginning of art history, the time in which people began to make art, is called the Upper Paleolithic, lasting from 45,000 to 10,000 years ago, made by humans no different from ourselves in mind and body. Their cave and rock art is widely admired for its artless, free, spontaneous, and expressive quality and mysterious meanings. Southern African shamanic rock art from that time up to the 19th c. is best understood by ethnography. Studied intensively from the 19th c. when it was still being made up through 20th c. the paintings were located in shallow rock shelters, believed to be entrances to the spirit world, where the shadowy denizens could be coaxed through the rock face. The substance of potent paint created a bond between the person, the rock-veil, and the spirit world beyond.
Anthropologists have identified three stages of trance or altered consciousness in rock and cave art that parallel experiences in psychotropic drug experiences: the first is when people see and draw geometric forms such as dots, zigzags, grids, parallel lines, meandering lines where many meanings are possible. In the second stage subjects construe the objects into spiritual and emotional significance. The third stage is a world of mythic monsters, people, and intensely real, animated settings including humans who merge into animal form. Some anthropologists have suggested that certain cave paintings represent shamans and their spirit helpers. Altered states of consciousness, the ubiquitous shamans, and the awesome, liminal cave places are interpenetrating factors in the form, feeling, and meaning of the art made there. So, in the beginning of art the rock face veil between worlds was never a neutral ground but the place of passage between the ordinary world and the second world of mystery and spirits.
For myself as an artist, I look back to the roots of art in prehistory and historical indigenous art for its visual power, vitality, purpose, and integrity. It was a time before the spiritual, art, death, birth, and the erotic became unbreachably separated. My own art making is influenced by practicing yoga for thirty-five years, largely meditation, pranayama, and asana. In these transformational practices, one leaves aside ego, thoughts, and feelings to become like a hollow reed, present and open to what is. In the wordless place of deep meditation I experience deities as plausible, the sacred as normal, and everything as connected by a divine creative force. I have also been influenced as an artist by self-hypnosis, a practice of going into the deepest layers of the mind in trance, in wordless dialogue with this layer of consciousness for creative impetus and problem solving. A third great influence is dream work in which images are delivered to the sleeping mind with intimate knowledge of oneself, but not by oneself. This has lead to an active relationship and dialogue with the dream-maker, a force of great mystery, stunning creativity, visual acuity, healing intention, and inspiration.
From these inner experiences, the surface of my sculpture is not neutral, but likewise a veil between the worlds. The paper surface naturally crinkles and wrinkles in contact with wet paste, creating a landscape of tiny ravines and mountains, symbolically drawing one into realms of emotional, physical, and intellectual integration. By contrast, smooth, shiny, hard, mechanical surfaces bounce one's gaze back onto the outer world.
The visual language I've developed for sculpture usually uses the colors and shades of twilight and dawn, fog and mist, where imagination flourishes. My process includes a sketch and idea of character and shapes but plunges into the unknown in the practice of construction. The materials are paper, recycled styrofoam shipping forms, gesso, paste, cardboard sheets and tubes, and sometimes a steel support stand. These materials share with clay and wax the quality of great flexibility unlike wood, steel, and stone which have great strength but allow for few changes. It is paramount for me that the process and materials permit maximum improvisation and spontaneity, a quality traditionally in contradiction to building a large sculpture. The process of making the work matters because the process is visible in its final appearance, a part of its meaning. It asserts surprise, vitality, humor and a rustic, neo-primitive beauty lifting the veil into the second world, the mythic, which gives meaning to human experience.
The two worlds are everyone's birthright.