May 2012: In Conversation with Carole Driver
Holy ground, sacred space, fixed point, threshold, limit
Carole Driver may not be the first artist who comes to mind in association with Ad Reinhardt, but three things link the sculptor to the painter beyond the external variances of the minimality of maximalism and the maximality of minimalism: her intellect, spiritual philosophy, and work ethic.
Taking 11 lines from Reinhardt’s undated notes as a starting point, I interviewed Driver by email and asked her 11 questions that coincide with them.
Amarie Bergman: Your body in space has been the fixed point for most of your work. How does your physicality – and your reflections and perceptions about it – affect the direction and clarity of your approach?
Entrance, “gate,” sign, ritual, “pure region”
Bergman: How important is ritual to you when it comes to entrancing the “pure region” as a preparation before you commence work?
Bergman: In the processional of creating, do you feel you access different planes of existence or even a parallel universe?
Driver: There are several processes of creating, and working with the energy of inspiration. First, inspiration comes from a quiet mind The most delicate subtleties happen during meditation – indoors or out in the bush – when images of forms emerge, and are ‘downloaded’ by drawing in a sketchbook. They are lived with for a while and developed dependent on whether they hold up with repeated viewing. Second, drawing from observation opens inspiration when the image in front of the eyes elicits marks placed on the paper, plus a dialogue with materials. Third, inspiration comes from deep knowledge and memories of content. For example, in Dance of the Earth – a clay ceramic series – the figures materialised after hundreds of drawings done in the Australian bush. They were also informed by years of doing Middle Eastern and Tribal Fusion dance. The conversations with the clay that resulted came both from the physical movement itself, and from the fact that clay is composed of the same chemical elements found in the body. Hands move the clay, the movement is felt kinaesthetically. If the physical energy is present, and aligned with mental receptivity to the inspiration, good work results. These planes of existence are normal for me, and for most artists. Are they survival planes? No. They’re creative planes. And, naturally, they’re in this universe.
Mount Meru, Kiaba, ziggurat, 7 heavens, temple, cathedral
Bergman: Art may be likened to both translating ‘encoded data’ from a kind of centre, a mythical Mount Meru, and attaining moments of calm exhilaration in a cathedral. What has been your experience with these notions, especially related to your multi-media installations where the work and the museum space – inside a building or out in nature – are integrated?
Driver: This is a complex question. Each architectural or natural space where I have installed work demands an individual response. It relates to sacred space, a concept that has a lot of attraction for me. I do try and make a sacred space whenever I can. What I mean by this is to create a space conducive to shifting everyday perception, opening deeper states of consciousness and encouraging receptivity to the unknown.
Celebration, spectacle, time of origins, new, pure
Bergman: Reinhardt infused his black paintings with a kind of ineffableness that is akin to rapture, where subtly differing shades of black pigment and mandala compositions elicit light by the very contrast of its absence. How do you compose multiple components in installations to negotiate rapture and celebrate light in your work?
No change, no exhaustion
Bergman: In your video, Necklace of Infinite Possibility, you stream consciousness with reductive, visually evocative phrases. As an example, your last verse, “...I am a grey sky, inky black...I am the seashore ochre reflecting...I am the golden light of Sunday...I am the bright star next to the moon...I am a wind gust catching the branches...I am the lichen stone in the forest...I am the last violet in the fading rainbow... I am a tree of quiet waiting.” Seemingly, there is ‘no change’ since an evanescent continuity is pervasive, without end. How have your studies of Celtic mythology and Australian indigenous views on The Dreaming influenced not only your awareness of sight but the continuum of the art process itself?
Recoverable, repeatable, circular time, transhuman
Bergman: How does working with clay remind you of circular time?
Driver: Working with clay puts you into the moment: there is you and the piece of Earth. It’s very primal, fundamental to humanity. My hands are making the same movements that millions of other people have made since the beginning of time. The earliest sculptures were little clay figures, and I’m still doing that. Yet, each touch of the hand, the mark of the finger on the clay is individual, always different, each time, always new. The Earth is made anew, transformed through touch, and transformed again by fire. How amazing!
Starting over at beginning non-historical
Bergman: I remember you mentioning in a conversation that, “Art is part of the language used to express the experience. Savant skills, heredity and previous experience go into the mix.” And “Mathematics and geometry behind all these things are true, essential and have been around forever.” Do you originate your work in the moment, as if you were beginning over, again and again?
Driver: There always needs to be a freshness, an innocence at the beginning of any artwork or art making, so in a sense there is always a beginning. Alongside this is the knowledge and experience which enables the work to be made cohesively, and to hold together. Sacred geometry is part of the craft of art making. Artists have always gravitated, understood and observed the Golden Mean, Fibonacci Series, Vesica Piscis and the Starcut Diagram, as well as other ratios and measurements as they occur in nature and in their own bodies. I utilize them. It’s how I get harmony and make things stand up.
Eternal return, repetition transmundane
Bergman: You have said that both Dance of the Earth and Phytomorphs are “materiality > transforming; immateriality > transmitting.” A fascinating phrase! It does epitomize both series, and although they are similar in scale, they are opposite in appearance, technique of modelling and material. Can you elaborate more on this?
Driver: Both series have small components as the elements of the work. In Phytomorphs the organic forms have been enlarged. In Dance of the Earth the human figures are made very small. The content is analogous, as well, in that they both deal with the connection and similarity between human and plant forms. Phytomorphs also explore an intuitive geometry – all the forms develop from a sphere – so the sphere is the point of origin and everything else is pulled out from it. Dance of the Earth explores the feeling of moving and dancing in the bush, and the resemblance of the tree/fungus/lichen forms to the proportionately accurate human forms in dance. Both groups of work have formal rhythmic, balance and movement aspects to them.
Made, unmade, remade
Bergman: In the statement to your most recent exhibition, A Love Affair with Harold, you wrote: “Associations with a personal mythic language develop – these associations spring from the land itself but are not observed externally – human /bird/human/plant hybrids come into being. These hybrids are an expression of unifying of human consciousness with the rest of creation, they are archetypal....” Can you expand on why you are drawn to making hybrids?
Driver: For me, hybrids are a wonderfully intuitive part of the visual language that has huge historical roots. Dryads, Tolkien’s Ents [a race of beings who resemble trees], World of Warcraft archetypes [role-playing video game], are all examples of hybrid archetype that are very compelling. I use the hybrid bird/ human and plant /human form to represent human consciousness that connects into, or expresses elements of the natural world. Throughout history, hybrids have performed that function; for example, the Green Man is the Northern European archetype for the unity of man and nature. On a visceral level, certain plants and animals are very much part of my world and I like to bring them into my visual repertoire. For example, because I live high up on a crag, in the tree-tops, and am close to a nature reserve where I go for walks, I’m surrounded by ravens (Australian variety). They sometimes nest in the roof of my studio. I watch them and observe their similarities in behaviour to humans. I’m fascinated by them. So it’s natural for me to develop Raven Man as one of my hybrids to express certain multi-faceted ideas. There are always psychological states when the human is present in the genius loci. In some cultures the hybrid performs a shamanic purpose and the shaman takes on the qualities of the creature personified.
Open self to the general & universal
Bergman: Reinhardt was emphatic about studio practice, stating, “The one freedom is realized only through the most conscious art-discipline and through the most regular studio-ritual.” This is not unlike attempting to experience the “one freedom” through meditative practices. Since I know you are highly disciplined in both art and meditation, is time in the studio akin to being in a temple (or a room dedicated to spirituality), where there is a sense of openness, even compliance, as an individual within universality?
Driver: Yes, I think the analogy is a correct one. A strong discipline in art over many years will lead to a freedom of creativity and expression that is also a freedom of the self. Generally, time in the studio is like being with an extension of your body – a second skin. A place of playtime with materials and tools, and an allowance of coincidence, serendipity, synchronicity. A big playpen really.
As a sculptor and installation artist, Carole Driver has shown her work in numerous solo, collaborative and site specific projects and exhibitions, mainly in Australia and Canada. She earned her MFA from Queensland University of Technology and currently teaches Sculpture & Installation in Sydney. Driver was recently featured in Ceramics Today, a major survey publication edited by Jeffrey B. Snyder.
Noah Becker: Editor-in-Chief