A NONSENSE SONG BUT A SONG OF LOVE

Hannah Kirby with open hand holding fire

Participants and materials

A Cat from Paris on Bianca Sforni’s computer, photo by Bianca

The Moon, scientific image from Michal C. McMillen’s archive

The Owl and the Pussy-Cat, poem by Edward Lear 1812-1888

from Michael C. McMillen remembrance of his grandmother reading it to him.

The White Owl from my search of a title for a book about LA artists;

Hannah Kirby with open hand holding the fire.

    

Introduction by Rosanna Albertini

Three friends are surfing the waves of distance. “There is a great deal of nonsense talked about the subject of anything,” said Gertrude Stein. In their hearts there is no distance at all nor an ocean or a hill: they see the same things since the beginning of time and after all they are pleased to be on the same wave without having to measure the distance, no need to count the money to cover the distance, either.

Black circles the cat’s eyes and turns around the moon. 

One two three the white light removes them from the chair of identity. Pages flew away like magic carpets. The black and white remains clear in the written words but fades into the infinite grays of the images. A perfectly white camelia blooms the day of my birthday, pure whiteness still uncontaminated like the days in their undisclosed bud. 

This is a black and white song repeating with Jon Batiste: “What a wonderful world” please don’t forget it. This is a song of silence for the contagious nonsense that is killing hope and joy and beauty all around the world. Like Torch Song, Alison’s Saar sculpture that wears a black and white keyboard like a vest of bullets and holds a burning torch in her right hand, I wear my pearls asking them to bloom flowers of light, and give them to the white owl to fight the darkness and announce a new year: a new, joyful, wonderful year. 

THE OWL AND THE PUSSI-CAT

BY EDWARD LEAR

The Owl and the Pussy-Cat went to sea

In a beautiful pea-green boat:

They took some honey, and plenty of money

Wrapped up in a five-pound note.

The Owl looked up to the starts above,

And sang to a small guitar,

O lovely Pussy, O Pussy, my love,

What a beautiful Pussy you are,

You are,

You are!

Pussy said to the Owl, “You elegant fowl,

How charmingly sweet you sing!

Oh! let us be married; too long we have tarried.

But what shall we do for a ring?”

They sailed away, for a year and a day,

To the land where the bong-tree grows;

And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood,

With a ring at he end of his nose,

His nose,

His nose,

With a ring at the end of his nose.

Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling

Your ring?” Said the Piggy, “I will,”

So they took it away, and were married next day

By the turkey who lives on the hill.

They dined on mince and slices of quince,

Which they ate with a runcible spoon;

And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,

They danced by the light of the moon,

The moon, The moon,

They danced by the light of the moon.

In life and death the noble rider: JOHN OUTTERBRIDGE

March 12, 1933 – December 23, 2020

Photo: © Peter Kirby

John Outterbridge. The sower moved away from earth while the seeds he has planted keep cycling through the seasons well beyond racial and cultural differences. Mostly among artists who probably don’t even know his name or tentatively grasp the secret of the ancient art John Outterbridge shared with all his friends as a normal way of living: the art of storytelling. His sculptures are his hands recombining simple remains of used materials, or traditional rituals mysteriously repeated and contained in pieces of fabric, glass, leather, metal, and his hands were remaking a new life for them not because they were coming from dumpsters, or they were found at the corner of a sidewalk — damn the mythology of artists as scavengers of garbage —  but because they were consumed and altered by unknown lives, broken stories without a leash. 

Photo: © Peter Kirby

I remember him shaking in a big smile without stopping to inquire about the person in front of him with no words, looking into her eyes. It was like being shot by his dark interrogative pupils: who are you? From which stories are you coming from? See? I wear African hats and colored shirts, what are you bringing to me which is not only words? Can I trust you? John had the same fierce, commanding request of authenticity I found meeting Maori tribal members. You can’t lie — the direct physical communication speaks before words. Once the threshold is passed, and earned, a river of stories can flow for hours. 

John and Peter

Lunch with John. A pervasive smell of sweet potatoes soup had filled every corner of his studio-house. It had already boiled four hours — John told my husband Peter — he loved to cook and feel the vegetable and the human bodies merge into unique organic transformations. Interior sculptures, for sure. Never would he have competed with the succulent plants’ creativity: he proudly took care of his grandfather’s cacti, trying to maintain the family husbandry. 

Never was his art separate from the feeling that things and people could be lost and broken down forever if someone wasn’t caring for them, giving them a personal, surprising place in their lives.

Photo: © Ulysses Jenkins

Skeletons of broken cars were a passion for him. He could spend years rebuilding and restoring them. On the evening of an opening downtown he picked me up in West LA with another friend who was already in the car. The blue little Volkswagen was not complete. I sat behind John on a piece of cardboard, there were no back seats, and I had the most exciting drive to Downtown: there was not car on the freeway whose driver wasn’t bugging their eyes at the arrival of the little shiny monster that was us. 

Art was for John an offering to life asking for clemency, hoping for inclusiveness. Universe isn’t an audience, doesn’t listen, cares even less. If it wasn’t for humans, lady earth wouldn’t have a face, the many faces she shows to the sky who still cries tears and storms over their eternal separation.

Photo: © Peter Kirby
Photo: © Peter Kirby

In this blog there is another post about John Outterbridge, from 2016: https://albertini2014.wordpress.com/2016/01/17/john-outterbridge-the-sower/

UMAN, SUBLIME HOMELESS

The progression of a painter’s work, as it travels in time from point to point, will be toward clarity: toward the elimination of all obstacles between the painter and the idea, and between the idea and the observer. As examples of such obstacles, I give (among others) memory, history, and geometry.

Mark Rothko, 1949

THE LENGTH AND BREADTH OF NOSTALGIA

by Rosanna Albertini

I wonder, what happens with the progression of a writer’s work? Just the same I think, as objects and humans share the same destiny: “an equal indifferent value in the algebra of the mystery.” (Pessoa’s voice) I don’t know why I kept for 6 years UMAN paintings’ files – regularly sent by the artist, and I didn’t write. Perhaps they were a treasure I didn’t want to share. I’m not John Ruskin, criticism was refused by my heart since day one of my journalistic journey. But all this is memory, history, therefore to be discarded. Geometry applied to human reality reached sublime peaks only with Spinoza and Wittgenstein, the art of their minds. It floats like a flock of thin and parallel clouds for a moment, then vanishes. Obstacles removed.

UMAN paintings,  I observed them year after year trying not to dissect them with thoughts, for fear they could bleed. Now, in the middle of isolation and pandemic threat, I chose my favorites, grouped by year. I made a new year small exhibition showing the artist’s progression toward clarity, which is the opposite of simplicity. My Christmas present to unknown readers. UMAN painter is a homeless spirit as I am, transplanted in a new landscape far way from the native place. Over time, the two homelands merge in each of our bodies but nostalgia remains.

2015

2016

2017

UMAN doesn’t paint what she sees, the work unfolds and makes visible the living world of many organs that have ingested myriad sensations in Africa, European countries, and North America, upstate New York. Paintings are life filtered through colors. The artist’s body, as anybody else’s, is porous like a colander. At each instant absorbing the mood of the day, temperature, palm leaves or pine branches swaying in the breeze, a blow of dust, the concert of traffic, preschool children laughing next door, the smell of food on the stove, constantly we are transformed, all life long. And things that happen underneath the skin, things we don’t see nor control, have a story on their own, only some of it becomes words, or paintings. There is no day that UMAN doesn’t think of Africa, when nostalgia shrinks her stomach it is not pain, it’s a sensation of missing something that is strangely already within the person and is eager for more, more of the old home. To be an immigrant is to be forever homeless. Memory is not enough, she also changes when triggered. Spoken stories never the same. Although, watching  birds in migration UMAN “wants to be in that moment with them,” this a permanent thorn, and a rose at the same time.

Every day is surprising with the passage of light, sound, as we go through a carousel of scenes melted into one another, our legs are the stitches, the eyes the most selective and capricious camera, while the brain doesn’t always do the work. So much of the process is unconscious. No theories are needed to understand that the major incongruous ingredient in the salad of life is the human being, each single person different from the other like the leaves of the same tree.

2018

2019

Every person sends out her own, digested, or badly filtered, unique world. In home-made short films from all over the world during this pandemic a popular message is repeated: art opens a different way to look at reality.  But, what’s reality? if not the singular, peculiar perception of everyone. Artists do not envision a better reality. They are a musical instrument introducing resonance and vibrations into parts of our reality at times ignored, other times dismissed. Most of all, they don’t ask permission to express basic human emotions as they want and can. That’s what UMAN does every day, along with the many usual chores. 

2020

Progression toward clarity is undeniable. UMAN paints how Mombasa and her Somalian origins made her, as well as Vienna and New York City. Never followed rules here or there. Indian Ocean, stars in the Northwest desert of Kenya, stars over child UMAN on a mat, outdoors. A pickup truck full of empty water jugs goes to the village twice a day to refill them. Turkana the beloved place for vacation with an aunt. No electricity, except for a generator one hour a day, in the evening, to listen to the news on the radio. Now lifted in her mind, Africa is not distant.  Nothing but movement drives the artist’s fingers. Obstacles disappear for mind and hands digging into life and resurfacing full of presents: whatever you see in the paintings is a messenger of the living, in its fullness of pleasures pains and nostalgia almost choking my throat how beautiful and more and more clear they are.

 Did I reach my clarity? I don’t know.  Merry Christmas to you all.

PHOTOGRAPHS by and from UMAN