Interviewsand Articles


Introduction to Issue # 18: Body & Spirit

by Richard Whittaker, Jun 10, 2009



 Where to begin? Let's start with our interview with Stephen De Staebler. The inspiration for our theme stems, first of all, from a feeling about his work, so evocative of both substance and spirit. An encounter with his work might also produce a tremor in one's sense of time. Standing among De Staebler's scattered torsos, fragments and columns is like having wandered to a shoreline at the edge of an ancient past. His work bypasses the mechanisms of our mental doings. It slips through and reaches us along other avenues. De Staebler jokes that he learned the most about art from playing basketball in college. But it's not really a joke; it's just hard to explain. De Staebler's work with clay is rooted in the life of the body, in its sensation and haptic intelligence. But the body ages and we're brought to the reality of impermanence. And equally, one feels that De Staebler's broken figures stand at the edge of eternity. 
    Next comes our interview with Sam Bower, founding director of, a worldwide online site for environmental artists. Meeting Bower has been a stroke of luck. We've found a guide in this area of work. Bower tells us several threads came together for him while working on a project in the Farallone Islands, and his life changed. Environmental artists, he realized, need a way of connecting with the world. Their projects, usually site specific and often process-oriented are rarely suited to gallery or museum exhibition. How to help provide visibility and support for such work? Bower's Internet project,, is his answer. It's now nine years old. Body and spirit? Mother Earth. Gaia. Support!
     Whether or not our interview with Susan Schaller fits our theme exactly, it's the story of a real miracle. I met Schaller by happenstance and we got to talking. Before long we were talking about language. That's when she told me an astonishing story. Few people know of it, maybe because its miraculous character is not easy to grasp. It's a story that stretches the imagination. Oliver Sacks was excited enough to insist that Schaller tell it IN DETAIL. And she did, in the book, A Man without Words. Even so, her story is still not widely known. It should be heard. 
    We continue with Susannah Hays. Her photos, made without a camera, communicate something fundamental. Looking at them, one may be gently moved toward cosmology, metaphysics. After working with her images for a while (which to choose? in what combinations to place them? etc.) I found myself suddenly wondering, could everything actually have come from light?
    Moving on, we come to John Toki, who has appeared several times in the pages of this magazine, and always wearing a different hat. This time, I wanted readers to see some of Toki's monumental clay sculpture. This is timely because of Toki's close friendship with De Staebler. Scott McCue's photo, by itself, of Toki climbing the scaffolding around one of his towering pieces, could stand as a visual metaphor for our theme. 
     It's also a perfect occasion to include some of Ann Weber's playful organic sculptures, so evocative of the body. Being made of recycled cardboard, cut and stapled together, they demonstrate green values with a light touch. And we have two paintings by Penelope Dinsmore-three, actually, counting our great cover image. They echo her experience at Lascaux. She was among the last allowed to visit the drawings of paleolithic man before the caverns were closed to the public. "After I left I could not speak for some time," she writes and adds, "Clearly, the numinous manifested in their feeling for those animals."
    The elusive qualities of Reiko Fujii's short films are not easy to describe. The Glass Kimono and The Farm are born from Fujii's deep feeling for her ancestors, something unfamiliar to most Americans. We pay something for our national obsession with individuality, not the least of which is the loss of feeling for how our being is embedded in a web of ancestry. These two films demonstrate something else, too, that deep feeling can be conveyed without recourse to the slightest emotionality.  And there is something mysterious and poetic about Fujii's glass kimono in itself.     
    We continue our serialization of Enrique Martinez Celaya's remarkable book. For those of you following the book, nothing more needs to be said. For the rest, what to say? Sorry you've missed the first two installments. You could contact me for back issues. I'm guessing it will take about ten issues to complete what is one of the most compelling meditations on contemporary art and value I know of.  
    And we have poems! In fact, we've fallen in love with poetry again. Red Hawk has a lot to do with that. After you've read his four poems here, I think you'll understand. There are three more by Franck Andre Jamme just because we couldn't resist. And Bob Scher contributes another beautiful poem to round things out. We wrap things up with some good advice for painters sent to us by artist Leigh Hyams. These words of wisdom are from her grandaugher, Annalena. And of course, Indigo Animal's ordeal continues to unfold at the Lawn Statuary Research Institute. -rw

About the Author

Richard Whittaker is the founding editor of works & conversations and West Coast editor of Parabola magazine 


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