Category Archives: ESSAY

In Memoriam 2017: Dianne Bowen, Anne Dufourmantelle and Kate Millett

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Three amazing women summing up the re-emergence of the feminine archetype passed away in 2017, leaving a crucial legacy of the 21st century journey — to internally embody the hieros gamos. Their collective contribution is lauded here as the essential crossing of boundaries between word/image for the collective goal of the physical embodiment of the Aquarian icon of gender equality.
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Dianne Bowen’s poem “REVOLUTION” with her spiral painting in a transitory New York studio space.  Photo by Dianne Bowen.

DIANNE BOWEN

Read Kofi Forson’s “Dianne Bowen: Remembering a New York Artist”

Dianne Bowen started a (R)evolution right in her tiny East Village apartment building, distinguished on Second Avenue with a plaque proclaiming a former poet resident: Alan Ginsburg.

The irrepressible spirit of Dianne Bowen was dedicated to the resurgence of the empowering feminine icon which she heralded in the creation of her spirals as a living art of embodiment of past/present/future in whatever venue was open to it…

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Dianne drawing her signature spiral, symbol of the continuity of the cycle of life/death/rebirth.  Photo by Nikki Johnson.

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Dianne Bowen concluding “(R)EVOLTUION: EROSion Flow at the Gershwin Hotel” on February 2, 2011 with the tearing of the spirals she made at the entrance ritual.  Photo by Nikki Johnson.

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Dianne Bowen “annoiting” Lisa Paul Streitfeld in the hieros gamos (heaven & earth) by drawing her footprint at the opening to “(R)EVOLUTION: EROSion Flow at the Gershwin Hotel” on February 2, 2011.  Photo by Nikki Johnson.

My dialogue with Dianne Bowen began the night we met at a Williamsburg performance party hosted by Heide Hatry and John Wronoski, who would introduce me to Kate Millett. Indeed, my conversation that began in Brooklyn with Dianne was about a new movement in feminism that I was to discover she was hard at work in the embodiment in her character, her art and her “sacred marriage” partner I captured in image.
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Dianne Bowen and her Sacred Marriage partner/husband Rein beside her “Cherry Blossom” at the opening of “Woman in the 21st Century: Margaret Fuller & the Sacred Marriage” at HP Garcia Gallery in Manhattan, 2010.  Photo by LPS.

KATE MILLETT

I was thrilled to discover Kate Millett’s erotic paintings and showed them in my “Woman of the 21st Century: Margaret Fuller and the Sacred Marriage”, developed at Wronoski’s Pierre Menard Gallery in connection with the Margaret Fuller Bicentennial in 20
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Presenting Kate Millett at Pierre Menard Gallery for a gallery talk about her word/image capturing the ancient Sky Goddess, the underlying theme of “Woman in the 21st Century: Margaret Fuller and the Sacred Marriage”.  Photo by LPS.

During our discussion, in which she aptly wore her “Flying” T-shirt, the title of her 1974 autobiography in which she attempted to throw off the projections resulting from her overnight fame, I asked her how she had conscious knowledge of Inanna, the Sky Goddess, which was barely known in the sixties, and a surprising discovery of an ancient bisexual icon for women today.
“We had libraries in Minnesota,” she replied her characteristic sardonic tone. And as I queried her about the influence of this archetype on “Flying” and in her life, she repeatedly said: “Read the texts.” So I did. I purchased every one of the texts she brought to sell in the gallery and read them in sequence. It was an astounding discovery: Kate Millett, in her early propulsion to global fame after being distinguished as the only woman to be awarded with a degree with first class honors at Oxford, was to live the descent by way of her commitment to putting out revolutionary images in her art that undermined her academic influence.
In all of her mediums of expression — writing, sculpture, painting — Kate Millett was committed to the life of the unconscious, and her devotion to the internal journey got her committed to a lunatic asylum in Ireland at one point and a descent during the academisation of feminism in the eighties.
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Kate Millett with the artist Aldo Tambellini at the “Woman in the 21st Century: Margaret Fuller and the Sacred Marriage” celebrating the passage of their “underground” art into the mainstream with the Cambridge celebration of the Margaret Full Bicentennial art. Margaret Fuller, the mother of American literature is Millett’s authentic predecessor as an American female intellectual grounded in the ever-present icon.  Photo by LPS.

My experience of spending a few intense days with Kate Millett stream of non sequitur from made sense as her manifestoMy , like a jigsaw puzzle for the simultaneity of the left/right brain marriage. I found her to be the living prototype of the artist as a Third space between opposites. Her resentment at being cast by the media as the lesbian feminist icon resulted in her refusal to sit for a portrait for the cover of TIME magazine, which resulted in an Alice Neel painted portrait instead. She was married to the Japanese sculptor Fumio Yoshimura at the time of the 1970 publication of Sexual Politics, that made her an icon in the Woman’s Movement.

ANNE DUFOURMANTELLE

In order to change, recognize your desire, and then something will happen. If you consent to where you are, then you begin to change. 

— Anne Dufourmantelle, 2012 EGS Seminar lecture

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Anne Dufourmantelle (left) with Avital Ronell and Kleist in a single utterance.  Photo by LPS

A new breed of philosopher could only emerge in France, where even the male philosophers attuned to the feminine, even if they don’t consciously acknowledge the polarity in their theories except to denigrate the overflow as “excess” (Lacan) . Dr. Anne Dufourmantelle immediately struck me as a new reality — a French woman thinker not bound by “think feel” and therefore in complete command of both her mind and emotions.
This could only take place through the inner marriage, a (R)evolution that I was devoted to instigating in France through my work with a French shaman trained by the son of Black Elk in the “underground” conversion through the native American church, the inipi, or sweat lodge. Steeped in Latin American literature, Ann Dufourmantelle had her emotions, chiefly her compassion, right on the surface.
A practicing psychoanalyst, as well as professor, novelist and theorist, Professor Dufourmantelle conceived of the name of a new Saas Fee collaborative philosophy arising out of the Schirmacher media in philosophy laboratory: the Conversion. She placed this new philosophy within a new continental apparatus, the Mobius strip, by way of a historical analysis regarding the integration of the subjective experience into philosophy:
You have a position of subjectivity, beginning with Nietzsche; his Ecco Homo text goes directly back to the Augustine moment. So, this is what I want to point out: how come the thinkers on these subjects towards this debt are those who explore what it is to lose oneself ––what is it to lose the hospitality of experience that drives you to the edge of what is no longer related to the subject? Nietzsche’s Ecco Homo is sharp-edged and provocative in the way he returns the possibility of knowing himself and the delusions – to obtain a moment where the opening to the REAL is possible.  (Dufourmantelle, classroom lecture, August 2014.)
The word/image connotation of “conversion” suits a new continental philosophy grounded in a transformation process. The word suggests the religious or the mystical, and yet is rooted in science, chemistry originating in the ancient art of alchemy. Conversion is the process by which the nigredo, or shadow, transforms through the four elemental stages, (Calcinatio, Solutio, Coagulatio and Sublimatio), into the quintessential, the hieros gamos. This final stage had many names, including: the holy wedding, infans solaris and the philosopher’s stone.
Dufourmantelle explained her choice of the word “conversion” was about sameness going into difference, an interpretation which echoed Deleuze’s interpretation of the “eternal return with difference” as a 21st century evolution from Nietzsche’s pre-psychological eternal return of the same. Haven’t we come far enough in self-knowledge techniques to be able to reverse our fate? Indeed, the psychoanalyst instructs us to look closely at the process, emphasising the paradox: it is from the place of sameness that conversion becomes a radical difference. This philosophical language for what physics is calling entanglement so intrigued me that I starting digging into lesser-known Greek myths for a story of conversion. There was indeed to be found a tension of sameness versus radical difference in the centaur Pholus;
Pholus was gifted in a way that made him, like the healer Chiron, stand out from the tribe of wildly unstable bodies fusing hunter with the beast hunted. One day he had a visitor, the son of Zeus. Heracles had just finished his fourth labor, the capture of the Erymanthian Boar, and entered the centaur’s cave with a wicked thirst. His host was keeper of a cask of wine given to him by Dionysius. This was, in fact, the holiday spirit passed down through three generations. The popping of the cork created chaos. The other centaurs became intoxicated by the smell and rushed up to the cave where Heracles shot them with poisoned arrows. Chiron got wounded in the foot. Pholus died in his attempt to save him.  (Streitfeld, Hermeneutics of New Modernism, Atropos, 2014)
The asteroid Pholus was transiting the Galactic Center at 27 degrees Sagittarius, the sign of the philosopher, in a conjunction to Saturn at Anne Dufourmantelle’s tragic death by drowning;  she was tragically swept into a current while trying to rescue two boys on July 27, 2017.
The Mayans viewed the Black Hole at the Galactic Center as the World Tree symbolizing Life/Death/Rebirth.  These three women will live on, and on, through their feminine wisdom in a time of transition out of the patriarchy.
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REVIVING POP: Barbara Rachko’s “Black Paintings”

"Black Paintings" by Barbara Rachko, 2009-2016 (Pastel on Sandpaper) screenshot from the artist's website: www.barbararachko.com

“Black Paintings” by Barbara Rachko, 2007-2016, Pastel on Sandpaper (screenshot from the artist’s website: http://www.barbararachko.com).

Barbara Rachko is an American artist with a personal and professional trajectory unique in contemporary art. As a Naval officer stationed on active duty at the Pentagon (Rachko is a retired Navy Commander), she made a slow transition to artist through studying drawing. In 1989, she became a full time professional artist doing realistic portraits while beginning to create works inspired by the primordial energies given form and imagery in folk culture. Her breakthrough occurred after suffering an inconceivable tragedy: the loss of her beloved husband in the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon.

Whereas “Domestic Threats” (1991-2007) carried the ominous specter of American insecurity in the fallout of September 11, the breakthrough of a subsequent series of photographs, “Gods and Monsters” (2007), established a blackground as characteristic of the unknown lying ahead. The full circle return of “Black Paintings” (2007-2016) to her earlier medium (pastel on sandpaper uniting the opposites of rough and soft) brings this blackground disclosed by means of photographs into the foreground. The surprise that results goes Pop.

Palaver, 2016, Soft pastel on sandpaper

“Palaver”, 2016, Soft Pastel on Sandpaper, 26″ x 20″

The eerie feminine figures of these works are reminiscent of the twisted dolls of Hans Bellmer. With the single exception of Stasis (2009), they are headless, or otherwise have covered (The Absence, 2012), shadowed (Figment, 2010), or cut-off faces (Incognito, 2014 and Alone Together, 2016), blurred mouths and bodies suspended half in shadow. This visual blockage of verbal expression reflects the artist’s successful passage into the right brain of wordless imagination. Also contributing to the shattering of linear perspective are the aerial (The Ancestors, 2013) and spiraling views (Some Things We Regret, 2009). The cycle is reinforced by the narrative: the dominant grimacing male figure of Alpha (2009) is reborn by way of the red egg of alchemical rebirth offered in Effigy (2009) to the left/right brain balance of Blind Faith (2014) transmitted via a half-covered face suspended above a scepter, symbol of male domination.

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“Stigmata”, 2008, Soft Pastel on Sandpaper, 28″x48″

These dissolving feminine archetypal energies seem to float in space amid an array of parts, giving way to the sexless golem figures with their hulking torsos (Spectral, 2014), appendages (Intruder, 2011), coiled Kundalini power (Paranoia, 2009) and anthropomorphism (False Friends, 2011) suggestive of Quetzalcoatl, the winged serpent characterized here as White Star (2016). These unclassifiable figures positively lurch into the foreground and seem to be exploding autonomous symbols in their wake. These take geometric forms: the animated disk (So What, 2011), signaling wholeness; an egg-shaped oval (Between, 2009; Couple, 2011; and Poker Face, 2012), representative of birth. Significantly, Offering (2012) extends the fish icon of the receded Pisces Age.

 Epiphany, 2012 Soft Pastel on Sandpaper 38" x 58"

“Epiphany”, 2012, Soft Pastel on Sandpaper, 38″ x 58″

The holistic narrative of heavenly birth crystalizes in Epiphany (2012) where prominent circles are corporatized on the Indians’ cheeks and the oval is indeed an oversized egg, while amorphous floating shapes may be scattering feathers.

"Couple", 2011, Soft Pastel on Sandpaper, 20"×26"

“Couple”, 2011, Soft Pastel on Sandpaper, 20″×26″

Finally, there is the masculine/feminine balance arising from the division of Couple (2011), in which the spotted egg-shaped scepter held by the androgynous skirted female figure morphs into the alchemical red egg symbol incarnated by the matching cheeks of Dichotomy (2015).

"Dichotomy", 2015, Soft Pastel on Sandpaper, 38"×58"

“Dichotomy”, 2015, Soft Pastel on Sandpaper, 38″×58″

The “separate but togetherness” inherent boundaries of this couple are drawn by flesh separated by individual cross patterns as an apotheosis of the Matisse motifs in “Domestic Threats”. Here the design of the three black shapes on the male shirt points to the quantum leap into the realm of the Third realm of the hieros gamos.

Rachko’s artist‘s statement reveals the series was influenced by Jazz. This is the conscious understanding of the filtering of imagery through the ego surrendering to liquid emotion. Yet, what makes “Black Paintings” truly exciting is the subconscious influence arising from Rachko’s early love of silent film, specifically The Golem.

Spectral

“Spectral”, 2014, Soft Pastel on Sandpaper,  20″×26″

GOLEM enters the art world dialectic via a 2016 exhibition at the Jewish Museum Berlin just as the “Black Paintings” series was concluded with Alone Together as the Third space birthing the fully formed Heideggerian human Being of White Star matched with the Quetzalcoatl Palaver.

"White Star" 2016, Soft Pastel on Paper, 38"×58"

“White Star”, 2016, Soft Pastel on Sandpaper, 38″×58″

Significantly, the circular seven chapter thematic exhibition in Berlin closes with Doppelgänger, bringing the visitor back to the golem guarding the entrance, thereby signifying a leap through the binary (Trio, 2010) into the Third (The Space Between, 2009), via a new paradigm of cyclical time. In Rachko, this multidimensional perspective is reinforced by the changes in scale within a single picture (Big Wow, 2011, and Some Things We Regret, 2009).

Trio

“Trio”, 2010 , Soft Pastel on Sandpaper, 20″×26

The golem arises in an artist’s ouevre as the figure magically animated from inanimate matter rejected by the suspicious ego (Intruder, 2011) preoccupied with identification, classification and control. By means of videos on her website, Rachko reveals her process of disclosing through the imposition of the Real; as her customary Mexican and Guatemalan folk figures take center stage with the release of the former background detail, the tension between opposites (Troublemaker, 2015) is heightened by juxtaposed electrical wave patterns (Spectral, 2014) clashing with energy draining vampires (Big Wow, 2011) determining a mirror projection (Who Can be Sure of Anything, 2008) regarding a hopeful rise (Motley, 2014), dreaded collapse (Fallen, 2011), or worse: Stasis (2009).

Big-Wow, 2010

“Big Wow“, 2011, Soft Pastel on Sandpaper, 38″×58″

Ultimately, the archetypal Shadow (Broken, 2013) emerges from the blackground to take over the foreground; this is brilliantly anthropomorphized as the leering Judasing (2013) heralding the artist’s original creations molded from dark energy/dark matter. The process by which the “known” gives way to the “unknown” reveals how the rational mind surrenders to instinct. It stands to reason that the Judasing embrace of the traditionally cast-off golem requires consciousness of the repressed personal shadow. This process of recognition charges the work of art with the transpersonal power of the collective archetype of the Shadow.

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“Broken“, 2013, Soft Pastel on Sandpaper, 38″×58″

Rachko has achieved this power through her long process of maturation as an artist. Her creations are inspired by the vast collection of Mexican and Guatemalan folk art that populate her studio and she even invites access to strangers through a “virtual” tour complete with videos. Earlier paintings were entirely filled with these figures as conscious transmissions of the archaic entering into contemporary art. The breakthrough of “Black Paintings”, which she calls her most personal work, is the sacred marriage of opposites. The blackground is a formed/formlessness of the unified “dark energy/dark matter” both framing and rivaling individual figures; now center stage, these anthropomorphic beings give way to golems lurching towards the observer/participant.

The Space Between

“The Space Between“,  2009, Soft Pastel on Sandpaper, 58″×38″

What a prospect! Thrust into foreground, the blackness absorbs the projection of the viewers’ unknown inner life and makes them direct participants to the Shadow confrontation. The discovery of one’s unknown inner world carries a powerful energy charge repressed by ego, and yet, once aroused, is capable of bringing a full force of an awakening. The art that makes transparent the passage to this realm is truly a (r)evolution that makes art as populist as it was in the sixties.

In fact, Rachko’s brightly hued golems popping out of the blackground provide a new meaning to Pop Art. The sixties movement into optics of geometry and color was not intended as multi-dimensional penetrations into archetypal reality; in fact, Pop was derived from popular commercial imagery arising as material for artistic expression in rebellion against the shamanic struggles of the American avant-garde. Yet, the bright primary colors were intended to make the eye POP, and we can view this optical awakening as the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.

Rachko was born under the sign of Aquarius. Her self-trajectory is revelatory of the human passage through the Shadow lurking behind the sixties dawning of a new age of gender equality. The passage towards the 21st century icon of the hieros gamos (sacred marriage) is reflected in her personal and professional trajectory towards the integration of left/right brain. The artist’s initial attraction to the “dark matter” of Mexican and Guatemalan folk art indicated an opening towards the occult by way of a link to an ancient culture that sacrificed humans so the collective might be blessed with the transcendental energy of the gods.

Judasing

“Judasing“,  2013, Soft Pastel on Sandpaper, 58″×38″

A new mythical narrative arises through the autonomy of the symbol. Rachko’s symbols begin in relation to anatomy, such as the circle for the eye or mouth (see “Evolution of a Painting: Poker Face” on www.barbararachko.com; surrounded by blackground, they gain their autonomy. Her early realistic replication of images from three-dimensional objects to two-dimensional pastel figurations filling up the entire picture provided the foundation for this breakthrough; her future shift to pioneering a blackground (which propels the pastel drawing into the medium of painting) established a space for interpretation and projection. The transition from positive to negative space of dark energy/dark matter charged the artist and her observer/participants with an energy emanated by dream figures such as the devil (Provocateur, 2015), feathered serpent eying an ant with a human female head (Palaver, 2016) and miniature ballerinas (The Space Between, 2009). Paradoxically, these transmission drives are made real by the primitive sense perception typically dulled in modern life. The juxtaposing of the dual serpentine figures of Stalemate (2013) depicts a yellow ball (miniature sun as icon of the Self) solution to the warring opposites represented by the replicated doubling of foot. Subsequently, Charade (2015) is a stunning interpretation of the transgender Aquarian Sky Goddess (Rachko is a licensed pilot) shocked by the outer projection of her inner phallus.

Charade

“Charade”, 2015, Soft Pastel on Sandpaper, 38″×58″

“Black Paintings” point into a new direction of art mirroring the human passage towards the disclosing of the wholeness contained within dark matter/dark energy. The paradox emanating from the work itself is this: if the instinctual hand gesture had forehand knowledge of the direction of the artist’s surrender, the journey would never have taken place.

If Andres Serrano were a painter, he would do a Barbara Rachko. Indeed, the ascent of an erotic consciousness that Serrano initiated in the hyperrealist medium of photography now extends to canvas; Barbara Rachko newly interprets painting as the subject/object “capturing site” of the 360-degree perspective of the hieros gamos. Along the way, she pilots the golem crest of the quantum wave as it breaks open the Shadow into the collective consciousness at the very moment it is most needed.

Dr. Streitfeld is a freelance critic, regular Huffington Post reviewer and Kulturindustrie theorist. This is an essay for an upcoming exhibition.