Self and Other: Sites of Encounter

Vanessa Paschakarnis, Foreshadowing, Brookhaven College School of the Arts, Forum Gallery, 3.6.-12.4.2006

und bräche nicht aus allen seinen Rändern

aus wie ein Stern: denn da ist keine Stelle,

die dich nicht sieht. Du mußt dein Leben ändern.

Rilke [1]

Entering the gallery is a transition between exterior and interior, between exposed and enclosed spaces. Entering, one crosses a threshold, an aperture through the liminal zone of the glass curtain wall. This entering is an adumbration, a foreshadowing, an analogue, of reflexively encountering the self as an embodied consciousness constituted of an exteriority visible to others and an interiority accessible, if only perhaps imperfectly and incompletely so, to oneself.[2] Entering is given emphasis by the site-referentiality of the installation of the two works Facing the Sky (Masks) and Foreshadowing.

Entering, one encounters Facing the Sky (Masks), above eyelevel on the north-facing white wall, opposite the glass curtain wall forming the liminal zone between exterior and interior of the gallery. The three bronze forms with intense blue patina are evenly illuminated with track lights and, by day, by diffuse north sky light. The form of the three components of Facing the Sky (Masks) are similar; one looks the more closely to discern differences.

Beyond the entry wall, the interior of the gallery is relatively dark. The five components of Foreshadowing are darker still, plaster covered with graphite and wax. The work is illuminated by track lights from the same direction as the vestigial diffused daylight reflected from the gallery ceiling. The light is unidirectional, contrasty, of low intensity, forming a dark gray in the highlights, and near black in the shadows. The five components are dissimilar; one looks for relations between them apart for their obvious common surface finish. The five forms reference rocks, but are not rocks; they are fabricated forms evoking but not imitating natural forms. Regarded as a unity comprising Foreshadowing the five forms are fragments, placed in the space of the gallery in balanced tension between the forms. The forms are anchored to the floor by their cast shadows, and yet seem to float on their cast shadows above the floor, their density and mass negated by the shadowy trace of their presence.

Both Facing the Sky (Masks) and Foreshadowing are quiet works, eliciting a contemplative response. That is true, but jejune and tautological: what artwork does not elicit a contemplative response? Facing the Sky (Masks) and Foreshadowing elicit a reflexive, introspective response. More precisely, Facing the Sky (Masks) and Foreshadowing elicit a reflexive moment and an introspective moment of response, the distinction being predicated on the differentiation of art object and artwork. As the art object is a physical thing and an object of perception, so the artwork is a conceptual entity and an object of cognition. [3] One's engagement of the works qua objects is equiprimordially a perception of their thingness as objects and a reflexive re-cognition of one's embodiedness. Looking up at Facing the Sky (Masks), looking down at Foreshadowing, waiting for one's eyes to adjust to the sky-like brightness of blue patina against white wall or the dim illumination of black forms on the grey concrete floor, one becomes reflexively aware of one's body's position, one's gestural disposition in space, the embodiedness mediating one's gaze, the duration of one's encounter with the object of perception. In one's engagement of the works qua artworks, one engages not a physical object, but a conceptual object, a quasi-subject.[4] As a quasi-subject, the artwork is "a thing that surpasses itself towards its meaning."[5] As such, the artwork elicits and requires an interpretive engagement.

The shift from art object to artwork, from exteriority qua physical object to interiority qua interpretive object is in itself an interpretation. Given this shift, Facing the Sky (Masks) and Foreshadowing evoke a turn from the sensible to the psychological. Thus regarded, two motifs are present: mask and shadow.

Mask, or persona in Jung's terminology, is distinct from the real character of the individual:

Because of his more or less complete identification with the attitude of the moment, he deceives others, and often himself, as to his real character. He puts on a mask, which he knows is in keeping with his conscious intentions, while it also meets the requirements and fits the opinions of society, first one motive and then the other gaining the upper hand. [6]

Shadow, for Jung denoting "the dark aspects of the personality as present and real",[7] is a projection of the unconscious, conducing to isolating the individual from his environment.[8]

Mask is seen in looking outward, upward, facing the sky. An aspect of the sublime obtains: one is small before the sky. Shadow is encountered through introspection. One is reminded of Kant's epitaph: "the starry sky above, the moral law within."[9]

Rather than isolating one from one's environment, Facing the Sky (Masks) and Foreshadowing thematize one's encounter with the works qua environment, rendering one's perception as embodied subjectivity perceptible.

David Newman
Gallery Director

Biographical Note

Vanessa Paschakarnis studied at the Freie Kunsthochschule, Berlin, Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, Akademie für bildende Kuenste Stuttgart, and Kunsthochschule Berlin-Weissensee, earning the Master of Fine Arts from the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design. She is Assistant Professor of Sculpture, Meadows School of the Arts, Southern Methodist University. Recent solo exhibitions include Vanessa Paschakarnis, Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, Grand Rapids, MI; Vanessa Paschakarnis, Studio 21, Halifax, NS; Ten Black Forms, Acadia University Art Gallery, Wolfville, NS; Sculpture, Anna Leonowens Gallery, Halifax, NS; Installation in a Water Basin, KHB Berlin-Weissensee, Berlin.


[1] Rainer Maria Rilke, Archaáscher Torso Apollos. The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke, trans. Stephen Mitchell (New York: Random House/Vintage, 1989), 60-61: "would not, from all the borders of itself, / burst like a star: for here there is no place / that does not see you. You must change your life."

[2] Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and the Invisible, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1968).

[3] The distinction follows from Kant's differentiation of sensibility and understanding: "Without sensibility no object would be given to us, without understanding no object would be thought. Thoughts without content are empty; intuitions without concepts are blind." Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Norman Kemp Smith ( New York: St. Martin's, 1929, 1965), § B75A51.

[4] For the notion of the artwork as quasi-self, see Mikel Dufrenne, The Phenomenology of Aesthetic Experience, trans. Edward S. Casey et al. (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973), 146, 190, 227.

[5] Dufrenne, op. cit., 190.

[6] C. G. Jung, Psychological Types, trans. H. G. Baynes (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971), 465.

[7] C. G. Jung, Aion: Researches Into the Phenomenology of the Self, trans. R. F. C. Hull (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1959), 8.

[8] Jung, ibid., 9.

[9] Kant's epitaph is abstracted from the concluding section of his Critique of Practical Reason: "Two things fill the heart with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the starry skies above, the moral law within."



Blue Moon, 2010 was exhibited at Sculpture Today: New Forces, New Forms; 2011/2012 at the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA
Vanessa with her "Bestia Romana", 2009
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