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The Beautiful Beast Awakens: the Art of Piper Leigh

September 16, 2009, 12:00 am
By SFR Staff

by Tiana Finney, SFR Intern


Invisible Threads



Poetry readings:
7 pm
Fridays and Tuesday, Sept. 18, 22 and 24

Free



Studio 6
83 Placita de Oro, Suite 6
820-7651

Installation can be viewed by appointment at other times


Piper Leigh has created a monster of an art form. Consider the possibilities: fabric, paper, photographs, movement, books, poetry and more, all rolled into one (nearly) uncontainable 3-D entity. In other words, this isn't your grandma's art; no subtly-colored plaque matted in tasteful cream for the parlor. This is an installation experience to be reckoned with. Going there seems like descending into the great unknown—unlike your excursion into the typical downtown gallery, you are unlikely to be diverted by flat pictures adorning the walls, but instead are invited to "live" the installation.


Fear not: though Leigh's installation moves and speaks, it does not bite. This is a monster of a different breed. Leigh emphasizes that the driving purpose of her exhibit is to further communication and dialogue about the human condition. The monster does not demand any particular reaction; you may interpret its intentions as you like. But certainly, we can all agree: It is one beauty of a monster. When SFR spoke with Leigh about her creation, she seemed proud of the chaos her creation has brought into our world.


More images, a poem (courtesy Leigh) and a Q&A with Leigh below the jump.



SFR: What does the installation actually look like?


It's one big space that has nine transparent kimonos hanging at different levels in different configurations within it. There are also rolls that are made out of cloth that are hanging. And then there are some books of origami or folding books that are more sculptural than traditional kind of book forms. There are photographs and images as well as poems that are an extension of a book form in my mind.


What inspired you to take on multiple forms of media?


I've always been interested in combining words and image. Making different kinds of books gave me a chance to put those together in different ways and different textures. I'm actually more of a synthesizer. I like building connections. I think it's that I didn't want to choose this poem to go with [a particular] image; I was more interested in the constellations of images and photographs and the kind of connections we have individually. You can look at the same set of images and you would have a different set of connections. So I'm not wanting to prescribe a certain pathway. I'm offering an entrance for people to move within and make their own connections.


Many people think of artists as reclusive, but it sounds like this is almost a communal type of art form.


It is for me. Part of what I'm interested in is art as a kind of conversation. Poems are in some ways a conversation, and art is a conversation-- the inner voice meeting the external world. Also, what happens in our connection with each other that is really powerful. What I kept imagining the whole time was not these pieces as individual work but as a whole bundle people could experience, and I wanted to offer it without knowing what meaning people will bring to it or assign to it.


Was the installation at all inspired by your surroundings or where you were throughout the time you were creating it?


I've moved most of my life. I'd never lived any place longer than five years, but I've lived in New Mexico since 1982. I discovered home in New Mexico in the landscape and in the wilderness. It's a landscape that's really impossible to ignore and one that inspired me with its beauty. But it's also a place of mystery. For me, somehow, I found my home in New Mexico, not just in a landscape that is inspiring but also a whole way of being connected to earth and sky in a way that New Mexico offers us. It was not something I'd ever experienced before or had known before.


You say that the installation is organized into three 'bundles' - what do you mean by that?


There are three collections of worked images. it's kind of an arc of a journey. The first collection, called 'Residue of Wings,' is a series of poems and images that, for me, connect to having a sense of not belonging, as a kind of exile. Reflecting back on that in the context of the sudden death of my mother [when I was a child], and in that loss was a kind of discovery and looking back on all sorts of things. That's the first bundle. That first bundle was about a sense of lineage with my mother and grandparents and my father and how I came to be here.


The middle bundle is about what's really dream and what's awake, where boundaries are blurred. Poetry is really about that. It's about how you're crossing those boundaries and you're allowing intuition, discovery and curiosity, instead of fear, to compose and put together things in new ways. Dreams do that if we listen to them. In the second collection, called 'Into Blue,' is about places where those boundaries don't exist in the same way, where there's permeability, which is what the translucence and being able to see through these kimonos is about for me.



The third collection is about the sense of refuge in this landscape and new definitions of home and new definitions of belonging and standing my ground. Often, the death of a parent triggers this: it's coming to a sense of, ‘What is my voice, who am I in the world?' The refuge is about the sense of ‘What is it like to belong without certainty and yet have a strong sense of community that I live in, the voice that I have to contribute and the ground I stand on?' Even with a very uncertain world.

What is your artistic background?


I'm self-taught. I've worked with different poets and worked with groups of poets and I collaborate. I love working collaboratively with people. I like the process of working on my own and also discovering where there's threads and webs that can be woven with other people. Part of my life is also to do work at organizations helping people to learn how to collaborate, building community and how to have that conversation. I design and facilitate conversations and meetings where people can create new thinking together and new ideas and new ways of working together. But this is the first time I get to show this body of work.


How long have you been working on the piece?


The book, the forms and the images, span probably over the last four years. The collections although the three pieces are not chronological, some are a little bit older and some are quite recent.


Is there anything you'd like to add?


It's enough to come and experience yourself. I'm offering an experience, an experience that includes voice and there is movement and a sense of being true and layered in different combinations and configurations of what's distant and what's physical. I like playing with all those things that aren't perceived as either/or. Allowing things to come to the foreground and go to the background and playing with movement of that— what's fluid and isn't fixed and permanent.


So by movement you mean, because they're suspended, they have a moving aspect?


There's that, and also if you are standing in the room and they're all moving and I have these mobiles that turn and change, the combination of image and poems doesn't stay static. For me, that's more what our life is like in the joy of seeing those momentary connections and momentary compositions . That's the way with life, which is sort of what my goal was, too: impressions of that moment with the vividness of it, the particular combination of senses, sight and sound.




Geneva Decides to Keep Bees
Piper Leigh




She believes the hum will heal, holds dry branches
flaming above the hive. Smoke dulls her urge to fly
away from the stove, the bed. His mind suspended
in a chamber, sealed and silent, her longing stored
in orderly cells. She will set these persimmons
along the window sill until bitterness recedes
beneath thick skin. Her twenty-fifth birthday,

he planted a tender sapling in her view above the sink,
held his hands over her eyes and sang his wishes into
her ear.  He knew its gnarled branches would extend
arms into all her days, orange lanterns would dance
in night's exhale and inhale. He still hears autumn's call
to prune, slices the first fruit with his pocket knife,
he says the shape of its seed predicts another harsh
Kansas winter – why does this useless superstition remain

when so much is lost?  No matter, she will dry thin disks
of burnt red on the screen inside his mitered corners,
she will wash his blue cotton work shirt, try to locate
the first time she saw confusion in his beautiful eyes,
mark the first acrid taste of the forgotten, sketch
his search for the sweet names of things apple  truck
porch Transparent wings land lightly, trace circles
into her bodice and sleeves. Bees cannot survive alone,
they map their journey in arcs and turns in the dark,
each day discovered and danced for each other.
Now six sides to her dreams, she tends the frames.

 

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