If you are willing, and able, it is possible to go deep into the interior of the Grotte de Niaux and behold the sophisticated, confident drawings of our Magdalenian ancestors. 14,000 years ago, they gathered in the Salon Noir (Black Gallery) to draw their story. You will walk as they did and bend low, and step carefully. Whipped cream stone drips up and down. You will be mindful of the undulating floor, and your head. If you carry on, carefully, eventually at the end of the 800-meter incline you will be rewarded. Your guide will explain these manganese paintings are no longer considered a desperate homage to the gods for a lucky lunch. Humans are the only animals that die with their eyes closed and the arrows are pointed in the wrong direction. These animals are not dying. They might be dreaming.
The images are not about power and food. Shaman painters are negotiating the harmonious passage between nature and human experience. On the way out you will notice the alien terrain could be the bottom of the ocean floor. You are walking where once it was possible to only swim, and you are breathing without gills. If you are not able to get to the Pyrenees, or the climb seems too arduous, the alternative would be to consider the ceramic work of Cary Esser. Here you will find an artist, like the shaman, negotiating the distance between phenomena and existence, or nature and life. Esser infuses space into liquid matter. Her formless voids are dwelling places for the imagination. They are wrought not by force, or treason, but by befriending the elements of earth, air, fire and water. Inspired by the white caves of Cappadocia and the native American bison-hide carrying cases called parfleche, Esser presents a Noir Salon she has realized.
Science does not comfort. It only explains. Esser’s Parfleche Series satisfies because ambiguity is no longer rejected; it is favored. However, Esser’s works are not abstract, they are highly representative articulations of the way life is. Mysterious. It might seem impossible that one single artwork can accomplish this, but her work does. Esser listens to nature for the answer to our metaphysical questions about the nature of being. Paulus Berensohn, (1933–2017) dancer, ceramic artist, and author of the classic text, Finding One’s Way with Clay, speaking at the Seventh Annual Symposium on Ethics at the Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina, USA suggested that culture has lost its imagination for nature. Berensohn reminded his audience that the world can live without technology but it cannot live without the senses. Berensohn, who did visit Australia more than once, proposed that consciousness has been colonized. The challenge for our time is to relearn and remember that nature is a subject and not an object. Berensohn appealed to the audience and stated that the environmental crisis is also a personal crisis. With definitive passion, he declared that, “Carnal sensorial empathy with the land that surrounds us is the pathway for the metanoia necessary to restore global balance.” Berensohn, quoting from a statement he wrote for the American Craft Council, said he believed the artists working with primary materials, such as clay and wood, are not just making objects, but they are engaged with powerful ways of knowing, belonging to, and participating in the living world. He understood the craft arts to be the fine arts of our time because they alone can palpate and become the free service of nature calling to our nature, which will slow down, and soul up our technological age (Berensohn, 1998).
Esser is the authentic expression of Berensohn’s exhortation. She accomplishes this by setting up conditions where natural laws are coaxed into view. Nature is remarried from where it was divorced. Esser’s divinations complete. The Parfleche Series depends on the conflagration of every natural condition, and self-selects metaphysical results over contrived and constructed ones. Esser has been trusted with nature’s most private parts. She has learned the language of her materials. There are no misunderstandings.
Berensohn reminds his audience that the world can live without technology but it cannot live without the senses.