Something brave is happening in Chelsea.
Directing Light onto Fist of Father began on an evening in mid-September when a fiery sunset ushered in the first chill of fall’s promise. This solo exhibition by the artist known as MPA will manifest three different stages during its run through mid-November at Leo Koenig Inc.
On ViewLeo Koenig Inc.
September 15 – November 12, 2011
The word initiation means to begin, to give rise to, to commence. It also means to perform the first rite: to admit a person or people into an area of knowledge or participation in a practice, by way of ritual or ceremony. The first action of Directing Light onto Fist of Father, performed in the gallery throughout the course of the exhibition’s opening hours, was given this name, “initiation.” If you were in the space that evening, you would have seen the artist standing between two walls toward the front of the gallery. For the entire duration of the opening, MPA stood in a silent stillness that charged the space with her presence. Although she did not move, her body was supple—no trace of holding or tension in it. Her face was quiet; her eyes were closed; her feet were bare; and in her hands she held the plaster cast of a large, white fist. Grooves of the hand’s wrinkles had written themselves into the plaster, rendering it lifelike—save for its impossible whiteness.
I have been thinking about just what kind of initiation took place that night. Something began, was given rise to: a work, an exhibition, a community of viewers—as well as a conversation, an invitation to explore what we think of as power and what we do with it. That evening, the plaster fist seemed too big to be from the mold of a human hand, too big to be the literal fist of the artist’s own father—the symbol of a power structure she was born inside and has been learning to challenge and resist ever since. By rendering it familial, its capacity for violence is brought into an intimacy that is both uncomfortable and potentially transformative. That night, MPA did not destroy the white cast of the fist, although she could have. Instead, she held it and was still in her holding. Power was shown to reside not only in the infrastructure of force, but also and perhaps more deeply, in the act of looking inward, of quieting and staying with the awareness quiet brings—staying still in it—and so opening the pathways to change.
Through the beginning of November, MPA will be in the gallery every day that the sun shines to interact with the installation for the second phase of the exhibition, titled “The Act.” She will stand outside the gallery and hold mirrors that will catch rays of the sun to direct light onto the fist inside the space. She will return to this action, sometimes alone, sometimes with others, until the work transitions into its final stage, a series of actions titled “invitation,” including a collaboration with Amapola Prada. Each of these movements has transformational practice at its core—a staying with, a being in, that changes you. While it is tempting to see MPA’s work as endurance work or durational performance—the shared etymology of these words, the Latin durus meaning hard or harden, turns me off. Although the work is undeniably challenging, it does not steel itself against what it critiques. It remembers that opposition threatens to reify the very thing it opposes. And so this work offers nearness as a methodology, privileging the insight that can only come from committing to a process, and committing to it over and over again: from being willing to look at the ways power writes itself in us and being willing to take responsibility for our own transformations, for our own writing it out.
On the night of “initiation,” as 8 p.m. approached, the two curators of the show, Alhena Katsof and Dean Daderko, stood before MPA like loving guardians, keeping their eyes trained on her as many of us did, as if our gaze might help to hold her up. When the time came, each leaned in to let her know. Slowly, spontaneously, a hush blew its way through the crowd until total silence reigned. No one moved, no one spoke, as if we were all finally ready to take in what was being offered us. Faces close to her filled with tears as the impact of the subtle gift she had been giving all night long finally hit. Eventually, the artist opened her eyes and she looked more like a priestess as she surveyed the room, slowly turning her head to take in those around her. She stayed watching us a long time and finally said, “Thank you for standing with me,” very quietly, and exited the room.
The Oxford English Dictionary describes a visionary as someone able to see those things that appear otherwise than by ordinary sight: prophetic, revelatory. I have been thinking of this term and wondering what it was that MPA saw when she went inside for those hours—what was that light that seemed to beam out of her when she came back to us and opened her eyes?
What she seemed to be able to see was nothing less than holy, in the original meaning of the word: a vision of herself and of each of us from a time when we were not—when we will not be—wounded. Free from injury, healthy, whole: an artist whose practice has the capacity to see, and so to change.