Mary Margaret’s installation down at Pomona College was amazing. I arrived a little late for the reception, and wandered around the rooms wondering which contained her work. When I entered the last room and encountered “fascia” as the exhibit title, I immediately thought of the beginner’s class offered at Full Contact Improv late last year. In it, we were taught how to project our intention without forcing its manifestation. The trick is to move the skin until the fascia – the connective fibers that tie our body parts together – reaches its elastic limit and begins to tug on the bone. If you get to that point, your partner isn’t willing to come with you, and alternatives need to be found.
My intuition was confirmed when I found a brief summary of the exhibits. What did surprise me was the complexity of the conception. Mary Margaret uses words like “ontological.” With a clearer understanding of the installation’s evocative goal, I returned to the room for deeper immersion.
As I didn’t take photos, I’ll start with an analogy. It was like walking into a 3-D Picasso executed with the energy of Jackson Pollack (if Pollack had been a woman). The materials appear to be sailcloth tinted and spattered with diluted acrylic. The panels – some forty or fifty of them, principally pale blue or hues of red and yellow – are cut into irregular shapes and sewn together with black thread. The central mass, roughly eight feet in diameter, depicts recognizable body parts in a jumble of cut-outs and overlays. From there the construction spreads pseudopods that fall flat on the floor and arc overhead to form ample tunnels. A large panel on the right, perhaps ten by ten, is evocative of pathology cultures, but cut through by a pale blue channel that descends on the right into a hand. Finally, two chest-sized pods hang in the air, with a third pod blocking the middle of the floor.
The black thread manifests a variety of methods for tying the panels together. Some pieces appear to have been sewn together with a machine, and indeed some panels are pleated subtly with this method. Others are held together with large, irregularly spaced hand stitching. Finally, in some places the panels do not join at all, but are pulled together across holes as large as eight inches across. Here the thread aligns to suggest a direction of tension – though spare strands, yet relaxed, may loop through the taut fibers.
The entire mass is suspended from anchors on the ceiling with transparent nylon thread. The nylon is extravagant in its allocation, the free ends hanging in long spirals that refract and reflect light. In the center of the display a nylon spool is captured in one of the larger weaves of black thread – a hint that we should consider this element as a part of the artist’s expression.
In her pamphlet, Mary Margaret offers this motivation:
Western culture often views connection as something that is made, but I think it is more appropriate to view connection as something that is manifest. I have often found that attempting to accomplish connection actually gets in the way of allowing the connection that already exists to flow through our bodies.
The artist has provided a rich set of interpretative elements to guide our consideration of this theme. The three-dimensional structure involves us physically in interaction with the work. While we were invited to step on it, most tip-toed cautiously through and over. When considered closely, the lyrical style of the rendering caresses the eyes, mostly with warm tones that are cut incongruously by the blue panels. The pods have deep folds, hinting at seeds within. And then we have the thread, its two types and different modes of employ.
I found myself fascinated by the interplay between exterior and interior imagery. If we pay attention to the sensation of our bodies – the sensation that Mary Margaret asks us to consider, when we move our muscles and bones we also move our organs. Sometimes that’s a shifting, but in other cases it can manifest as a delayed settling.
The most profound urge to connection is the procreative urge, represented in the pods but also matter-of-factly in the jumble of limbs, where a man’s pale-blue legs, spread and crossed at the ankles, are capped by a stylized and erect phallus. And the panel by the back wall descends into a rent that spills a brownish-red flow onto the floor.
The looping pseudopods reminded me that no matter how we connect, the connection lingers, stretching across space and time, influencing us in ways that are often difficult to analyze.
And then we have the glistening nylon thread descending from the ceiling. I interpreted this from a religious perspective, but that is merely a layering on the universal experience of spiritual connection.
As I finished my ruminations, Mary Margaret returned to the room, and interrupted her pamphlet folding to thank me for coming and offer a gentle embrace. I didn’t stay for the performance studies – I had already projected my admiration into the room, and didn’t want to interfere with her expression. As described, the performance includes recorded reflections on the struggles her peers have experienced in seeking fulfilling intimacy, as well as her own meditations. (When I asked about this, she said that it was a “little wonky”, but didn’t clarify.) It also includes movement, which she invites others to enter with her. I think that she would have enjoyed it if I had stayed, rolled up my sleeves, and helped her demonstrate how alive we become when we relate through dance. But it may also have blown everybody’s minds. Many of the students appeared overwhelmed to begin with.
I’ve always wondered why Mary Margaret uses so many syllables to announce herself to the world, and for some reason it makes me think of Mary and Martha, the two sisters in Luke. The first sits at Jesus’s feet as he preaches, while the second rushes about complaining that the house preparations have been left to her. Jesus admonishes Martha, pointing out that Mary has chosen the better part. But in considering this display I wonder whether the Lord wouldn’t have done better to suggest that if they integrated their two tendencies, they could do powerful good in helping people to organize and heal their souls.
Which is probably the best insight to offer in concluding my exploration of the work of a brilliant, generous, gentle and courageous spirit as she seeks to birth her purpose into the world.