Woman in the 21st Century
Margaret Fuller and the Sacred Marriage
It is both ironic and fitting that the exhibition containing the iconography of a new art movement was launched by an ancient symbol. The confrontation took place exactly a year ago, just a few blocks from the Pierre Menard Gallery where this exhibition unfolds on Margaret Fuller’s bicentennial birthday.
How symbols can leap over time and space! On May 23, 2009 at the historic site of First Parish Church in Cambridge, a woman impersonating Margaret Fuller (1810-1850) was holding the frontispiece to Woman in the Nineteenth Century. Pierre Menard gallery owner John Wronoski was with me when I was struck by an electrical jolt in the form of an Ouroboros surrounding a Seal of Solomon. At the moment of my connecting with this ancient symbol marking cyclical time, this exhibition was conceived as a celebration of Margaret Fuller’s bicentennial birthday.
At the time I was collaborating with H.P. Garcia on Black Madonna, which investigated the “fallen woman” as the repressed face of the dark feminine in western culture. That exhibition was the second of my curatorial projects which revealed the process by which my work as a grassroots newspaper reporter revealed the sacred marriage as the source of a 21st century art movement. The first was Icons of the 21xt Century, launched at the Lab Gallery in 2006, which coincided with my becoming a 2006 recipient of the Unitarian Universalist Women’s Federation’s 2006 Margaret Fuller Award.
My book on the sacred marriage was initially written in 1997, at the time that a Seal of Solomon configuration was created between the eastern U.S. horizon and an unusual line-up of planets in the heavens. Although I received a Margaret Fuller Award for its publication as a handbook, I had no conscious knowledge that Fuller — in keeping with the Templar tradition that inspired and funded Black Madonna — had inserted all sorts of symbols and coding of the sacred marriage into her writings. Such is the habitual repression of Fuller, that I continued this history of keeping this original American thinker underground even while excavating her vision through my investigation of Sumerian coding and imagery from the dawn of civilization!
Fuller’s essay, The Great Lawsuit: Man vs. Men, Woman vs. Women, was published in the theosophist journal, The Dial, and later expanded into Woman in the Nineteenth Century. The original title reveals an author far ahead of her time. Long before Carl Jung’s discovery of the collective unconscious, Fuller was interpreting the archetypes of masculine and feminine through her knowledge of classical mythology disseminated through her inspired Boston Conversations.
Fuller’s innate understanding of universal law as a dynamic interaction of a “sacred marriage” between opposites would take another century to manifest as the binary code at the foundation of a digital society. Humanity must now confront the truth regarding the polarities Fuller spelled out in her original title: before we can embrace the holism of the “sacred marriage,” she is saying, we must define what is authentically masculine (Man) and what is authentically feminine (Woman).
Woman of the 21st Century seeks to close this gap as it explores the forms announcing the emergence of the divine feminine which holds the tension of the gender opposites. The exhibition form is the Ouroboros, the serpent devouring its own tail that is interpreted directly by Carl Apfelschnitt.
The life/death/rebirthcycle depicted by the serpent devouring its own tail begins with its signature work of art: Tanya Ragir’s dynamic “sacred geometry” created by exploding the body of a flesh and blood woman into the hexagonal form that Wolfgang Pauli envisioned as the 21st century icon of the hieros gamos (Greek for sacred marriage).
How do we enter this exciting new terrain? Harlan Emil Gruber provides the physical passage. Premiering in Black Madonna as a model outline for a full size interactive sculpture created for Burning Man, Amethyst Portal 2009 is a culmination of the artist’s TransPortal project which has been catalyzing individuals into the paradigm shift since 2004. Colored indigo to activate the Third Eye of universal consciousness, this Stellated Dodecahedron integrates the sacred geometry – the cube, pentagram and hexagram — of the earlier portals to accelerate the quantum leap into a new society structured in holism.
And so, the cyclical journey unfolds clockwise around the gallery! Michael Manning’s Go Round Thing reveals the base of the spine in the female body as the seat of the Kundalini awakening which begins the journey of transformations that Fuller — whose face is revealed in Suzanne Benton’s portrait — experienced in her lifetime. Benton’s mask, Persephone, initiates the journey into the underworld. The archetypal Persphone/Demeter dynamic of mother/daughter, performed by Benton on Fuller’s bicentennial, serves the double purpose of revealing the archetypes which propelled her life choices and initiating the viewer into an underground vision sourced in the far more ancient mythology of Inanna’s descent into the underworld.
The seven stages of The Journey are revealed by Yuliya Lanina. In one of the many sychronicities surrounding this exhibition, the series was completed as I embarked on my collaboration with Fuller. The seven stages aligned with the chakras as a transformation is at the portal of the small gallery where we step back in time to honor pioneers of feminist performance and the newest generation they inspired who are fortunate to be manifesting the icon at the very timing of its emergence. Here we pass counter-clockwise to the veteran feminist Benton’s 2009 triptych Mask Dance Spirits reveals the shamanism at work in her Mask Tales integration of body and spirit with the archetypes. Martha Wilson’s vintage 1974 A Portfolio of Models outward performance of the inner integration of gender opposites depicted in outward performances of male and female archetypes was so ahead of its time that it sat under the artist’s bed (as she told me) until her celebrated 2008 exhibition in Chelsea. Walter M. Crump’s Manieh & Chains was a 2007 reaction to a Persian filmmaker’s repression of expression resolved when her patriarchal imprisonment became an international cause.
Nancy Spero’s La Puton reveals the barely perceptible dark face of the feminine seeking to be seen in the visual world. Beside her, Kate Millett’s artistic conflict between pleasure and oppression is resolved by her calligraphic interpretations of the feminine form arising from the grounded Kundalini, represented by a stool formed by the very shoes of her Uncle Louie planted on the feminine earth. Meanwhile, Dove Bradshaw’s I Am Myself, Heaven and Hell reveals the patriarchal fear of the transformation process by way of a branch as the spinal column with thorns at the placement of the chakras depicted in the seven stages of Lanina’s Journey.
Carolee Schneemann’s Ask the Goddess contains a complex narrative of the gender opposites through genitalia and icons, the male and female crucifixion flanking the Cretian snake goddess who had the power to wield the serpent power as instruments of authority and knowledge. Beside this montage connecting human history, archetype and the body begging for a new mythology that is empowering to woman, we have the descending triangle making up the Seal of Solomon as the passage into a new archetype through 21st century performance.
At the bottom is an image from Laurel Jay Carpenter’s 2004 Red Woman performance at the University of Connecticut. Wearing a dress with a train created by a donation of 100 women’s material experience colored by Eros, she creates the spiral of life invigorated by the return of the outcast Magdalene as the bride of Christ connected to the universal feminine through the spiral, ancient symbol of the Goddess. Above her is Daniel Rothbart’s Meditation Mediation: Heide Hatry where Eros is restored to the art world via the collaborative birth arising from under the scarlet material that was Magdalene’s symbol in western art.
Where does this new birth take us? Right back to the pre-patriarchal Sumerian myth, the Descent of Inanna ritualized in Marni Kotak’s Pleasure War! Part Three: My Seven Me where she ceremoniously performs the rites of the passage through the robing/disrobing associated with the mythical journey through the seven gates represented cosmically by the Venus-Moon conjunctions as Morning and Evening Star.
And what does this new archetype look like? Richard Move gave us this face when he performed underground as Martha Graham during the years that her choreography was banned, yet another bid of the patriarchy to keep the face of the feminine that Fuller sought at her own peril underground. Move defied this patriarchal repression and went on present her full embodiment in Bardo, his chorography of the Kundalini spiral performed by Katherine Crockett of the Martha Graham Company.
And this brings us to our circular journey inside the Ouroboric life/death/rebirth cycle back to the main gallery. At this passage into the underworld, two renowned artists combine geometry and text as portals revealing the dangers of the descent. Kate Millett’s Crazy which exists as a cautionary tale above May Wilson’s caged dolls are reminders of births gone awry. Aldo Tambellini’s Arriving sources his lifelong investigation into the circle through the keystone of a mill where his family took refuge after his neighborhood was bombed in WWII. What is the force propelling the artist to create again and again? Tambellini spells it out for us: the birth of the unknown.
Aaron Olshan’s Emergence takes the observer/participant into the heart of the formation of a new archetype in the collective unconscious. As a keystone of his Ancient Dreams series, the work reveals the DNA coding preceding the actual form. Then comes the Ecstasy (Birth), revealed by the Russian mystic artist Tatyana Stepanova as a transparent image of the Sky Goddess, whose astrological sign of Aquarius ruled the configuration of the 21st century archetype between heaven and earth on January 23, 1997. The purple sea with the sun marked by a black spot in this 2008 painting was a prophetic celebration of the arrival of the hieros gamos archetype into the collective consciousness with the eclipse following the inauguration of Barack Obama who delivered the “sacred marriage” into its original place at the center of power.
On another level, this diptych and Wilson’s mummy child that divides the ethereal face of the feminine from the collective that she serves, reveals Fuller’s journey across the ocean. There she fulfilled a lifelong dream, to experience a full bodied sacred marriage revealed in Oshan’s Garden of Eden. She fell in love with Angelo Ossoli, the Italian nobleman revolutionary and gave birth to the child of a revolution uniting old and new worlds.
Dianne Bowen‘s Cherry Blossoms was a self-portrait completed in 2008 originating in an underwater photograph of her close call with drowning. Bowen sent me the image when I told her about my vision for this exhibition without knowing that Fuller died in a shipwreck off Fire Island in 1850! Yet, the message she sent me with the portrait was all too apt of Fuller’s tragic fate: “This is the female fighting to get out from under the patriarchal projections.” She had sent me two self-portraits of her close call with drowning without knowing that Margaret Fuller died when a wave swept her into the water! The ship was literally sinking under the weight of a well-known patriarch, John Calhoun, a pro-slavery republican vice president, whose statue was in the hold. Vince Baldassano’s The Great Illusion Trilogy was another uncanny synchronicity: the work reveals the mythology that drowned Fuller in the sea of the collective unconscious long before the archetype was to ready to emerge. The freedom of Dance of Isis resulting in the integration of inner and outer summed up in the sacred geometry of Kell’s Number 8 giving rise to Child’s Caravan, the actual manifestation of the sacred marriage in the birth of the child of the revolution which was both the son, Angelito of the “sacred marriage” and manuscript lost in the shipwreck.
Tambellini’s Pregnant Woman holds court at the passage between the awakening and Grace Roselli’s The Last Judgment, created out of the Black Madonna relocating of the long repressed feminine power in the human body. This dramatic deconstruction of patriarchal religion evidenced in western art reveals the unaddressed tension between slick medium and the messy process of authentic birth. In essence, Roselli’s personal breakthrough from a history as figurative mythological painter reveals the transparency of the struggle that the still patriarchal art tradition refuses the address: how does an artist give birth in public without undermining the Tambellini dialectic of the “never-arriving” process of creation?
Simply by creating! As Nancy Spero does in her scroll integrating masculine/feminine, image/text, male/female into a redressing of the serpent as the phallus on the World Tree uniting male and female in the Garden of Eden. This investigation of original sin through an earlier Sumerian myth reveals the Kundalini energy as the serpent force propelling insanity or genius, regardless of gender.
And so, we enter the underworld, the gallery basement where the complex systems of coding and iconography of a new movement are sourced in Michael Manning and Mark Wiener’s Underground Performance Painting: Venus Resurrected as Morning and Evening Star. This September 25, 2009 performance at the closing exhibition of Black Madonna opened a new 21st dialectic as the integration of the duality of bad/good girl into the pre-patriarchal holistic Venus whose mythology was sourced in the perfect pentagram that the planet makes in her perfectly symmetrical cycle as viewed from Earth.
Francine Hunter McGivern’s CIPHER 0-1 is the foundation of a longtime exploration of the I-Ching connection to Leibniz. Marina Tsesarskaya ‘s Almost close to heaven # 1 carries out the connection to the human body and the animal spirits ruling our sexual instincts, while her Celebration reveals the Kundalini awakening in the highest (crown) and lowest (base of the spine) chakras.
This revelation of sacred geometries pouring out of the energy centers dialogues with Bowen’s Speak with me in your language integrating sound visually through a coding of symbols representing the opposites that make up our digital language. Wiener’s Codex integrates the opposites through the elements in a period of Abstinence from the brush resulting in works revealing the integration with male gesture with female surrender into the void. This astrological performance on the eve of the Spring Equinox 2008 was intended to reveal the form of the archetype through a cosmological passage.
Across the way is mirroring Psyche, who was present during the final hieros gamos phase of my five-chapter The Alchemy of Love performance at the Lab Gallery from Venus –Moon conjunction in Aquarius on January 20, 2007 to January 23, 2008. For Woman in the 21st Century, she wears Selma Karaca’s Embodied Woman: Kundalini Couture celebrating the fully embodied emergence of the divine face of the feminine with a transparent spiral colored orange, in reverence to the Second Chakra, or the female womb. The Out of the Box egg dropped by Heide Hatry in Daniel Rothbart’s Meditation Mediation: Hudson River conception for the 2006 Peekskill project was delivered into the collective consciousness through the mainstream resenting life itself.
The post diving Psyche visualized in Codex and clothed by fashion has a trilogy of alter pieces summing up the journey the observer/participant has passed through: Awakening, Ouroboros, Resurrection. Now we are standing right inside the astrological mandala ruling our personal awakening to this process of enlightenment initiated as a opening performance that will purify the ground before the massive Dove Bradshaw alchemical exploration of salt (identified as the feminine) purifying sulfur (the male). The June 20 underground performance closing the exhibition will arise from this interaction between Fuller’s Solar Return in salt, the alchemized sulfur, a reading of her alchemical poetry and the gestures of Manning and Wiener. At that time, Fuller will enter the 21st century, as an icon of heaven and earth, during a live U-Stream global broadcast of a literal “underground” performance over her energy mandala integrating the dynamics of her 2010 Solar Return.
Since my own Kundalini awakening in 1983, I have been seeking to bring the source of my personal quest for balance into the culture through my profession. From my work as a script analyst 1980s, novelist and Internet reporter/analyst in the 1990s and critic/curator in the past decade, I have been dedicated to filtering the birth of an authentic female archetype foreseen by Fuller’s genius.
If the exhibition is replete with fertility symbols, it is because they kept entering my path. When I was writing creative fiction based on alchemy, I had no idea of this woman Margaret Fuller. In 2006, I received the Unitarian Universalist Woman’s Federation Margaret Fuller Award to write a handbook on a 21st century theology. At the time, I had no idea of my benefactor’s reverence for the “sacred marriage.” Yet, when I opned her book, the evidence was all too clear in her book: “The Sacred Marriage” was the title of the concluding poem!
Woman in the 21st Century: Margaret Fuller and the Sacred Marriage is an attempt to excavate both this extraordinary woman and the icon she championed out of the “underground,” and put them in public view. The archetype enters the gallery — and therefore the dialectic of 21st century art — in the form of an Ouroboros formed from altarpieces, sacred paintings, alchemical rites, performance rituals and fertility icons.
In this holy environment, we revive the Fuller “Conversations” in order to grasp new meaning for our own ever-present origin encapsulating past and future. While all the works in the exhibition carry the trademark style of their creators, they are united as relics in the 21st century version of the myth of eternal return, reflecting a theology present at the dawn of civilization. The very transparency of the process by which this art penetrates a quantum narrative reveals a vital engagement with this new archetype. In exhibiting such dynamism between the polar opposites, these innovative forms reinforce a paradigm leap into a cyclical world-view of global interconnectedness that Margaret Fuller championed with her every breath.
Lisa Paul Streitfeld
May 23, 2010