An essay by Peter Breen
Jugglers Art Space Inc, Level 1 Gallery,
April 13, 2017.
The drawing of silence.
I am now in the third triennium of my life if I live until I’m 90 and I am, inexorably, drawn to questions of my non-eternal physicality. Having come out of a fundamentalist Christian paradigm, the deeply entrenched fear of a literal hell and the wonder of a literal heaven paved with gold streets are, along with other constructs, relegated to a past long gone. But the unknowing of what is after death is drawing me to new spiritual inquiries as poetry, allegory, metaphor, art, music and silence overtake literalism as preferred pathways that comfort and enlighten. Of course, there is the possibility that I might have missed the fork in the road, but as I read in a gift shop in Ireland last year, “If you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
Along that road, I have seen the silence and the stillness of the trees and the grass, the concrete and the bitumen, the clouds and the sky. Rushing through everything as often as possible are people, cars and planes subtracting from the silence. Even the wind and the rain have a silent wonder about them. The only silent human in the cacophony is a newborn child, resigned and accepting of pending life and death in complete contentment.
Adding to the noise on this road and far beyond the levels of acceptable decibel well-being levels are the over-stimulating demands of materialistic-good-times-consumption. They are at every possible fork. Playlists, never ending events, shows and extravaganzas, trips to the wildest places never experienced and cheap, quick fix junk food, and stuff. They pile up along the silence in the trees, the grass, the roads, the babies, the meditating, the dying, the poets and the skies until the noise becomes me and I become the noise with the in and out of credit card payments of a virus of madness.
Silence as salvation.
The personal experience of silence is solitary, but not exclusively. The viral madness has left the hunger for silence unrequited by millions in our post-industrialized post digital urbanized world. My posit is that the evolutionary cultural landscape is not a positive development because silence is necessary for human health and well-being. Albeit, people with some temperament types and in specific age brackets are more drawn to silence and solitude, and yet it is clear that the hunger for it is as necessary as food and water, regardless of age, temperament and one’s Myers-Briggs profile. Research indicates that psychological, spiritual and physical health are in danger under this unchallenged and overpowering exponential growth in noise.
The body of work for “Drawn to Silence, 2” seemed to demand development on the back of my first “Drawn to Silence” series at Jugglers [September 2016]. In this new work, I have found a clearer focus and energy. It is an attempt to represent my narrative around the search for silence and the challenge I have constantly set myself, to be present to the other.
The video work in this show is an edited version of “White Silence – Vortex Lights” by Blueroom Productions [ John Skillington], filmed as part of “White Silence” at The Shed in 2014. The performance piece on April 13 in the back space at Jugglers for “Drawn to Silence 2” uses a triangular printed text covered ply sculpture, drawing its inspiration from the central sculptural structure at The Shed. Composer and musician, Joel Glazebrook and a small group of artists from White Silence have co-produced the performance with me while Jugglers artist in residence, Aaron Veryard, will document the performance.
In the past few months, and particularly in the early mornings, I have been aware that the hissing in my ears is not the sounds of silence but a physiological hearing condition, most likely tinnitus. When I listen to music or walk and talk with friends and family, it isn’t there. But when I am awake at 2 am, the most silent time in my house and suburb, the hissing is with me. It reminds me that silence is more than the absence of noise – though it is. Silence is also the slow laying aside of the noises no-one else sees or hears inside my mind and soul.
And then there is the beginning of the abandonment of telling. I own that for me it is hard to listen to the other. It is hard to stop being a controller of outcomes, a fixer, a teller and to let go into the unknown.
Freed from tethering, I will slowly see, as children do, as the dying can do, as the still ones do, as the poets do. The unknown holds the secrets on the edge of mystery, accessed by silence and solitude that will never be found through knowledge or control mechanisms. Seeing is not the primary forte of the teller. Seeing is not about productivity but about fruitfulness and is inversely proportional to time, focus and determination. It is slow time and is not another self-improvement class for me to attend, another experience to have, another thing to add to the collection of disposable things. It is a meandering walk without a compass. It is a way of being.
Huston Smith [1919 – 2017] guru of comparative religions in academia in the USA and the son of former Methodist missionaries in China in the early 20th century, began his immersion into understanding the experience of silence in Japan, India and elsewhere. Early in his career and inquiry at a Zen retreat in Japan, he found that as an academic and teacher of philosophy, being still and finding new pathways outside or alongside rational thought was deeply demanding. But his enlightenment experience at the close of one 3 months’ retreat, stayed with him for the rest of his life. Silence is not necessarily a pathway into asceticism, but it is bound, always, to be fruitful physically, spiritually and psychologically.
In this body of work I have also referenced my short time in County Kerry, Eire in August 2016. There is a stillness that cannot be represented about this place, a deepness that can only be experienced. In “Connemara, The Last Pool of Darkness” Tim Robinson writes of a place full of silence, mythology and deep spiritual mystery.
He writes at the end of the chapter “The Sublime and the Religious”:
“Edmund Burke, in A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful…associates the Sublime in nature with the terrible, with vastness, especially of precipices seen from above, with rugged and broken surfaces, obscurity and gloom, with ‘Vacuity, Darkness, Solitude and Silence’. Here [at Kylemore Abbey] were all the components; this must be the Sublime, no doubt about it, I felt. The Sublime was invented to fill the glorious but terrible spaces left us by the evaporation…no, the sublimation, of God.”
My morning walks, drawing in the studio, listening to music alone, sitting still, staring into space, and finding an embrace of trees all are part of my own regular response to being drawn to silence. In Drawn to Silence 2, I do hope that you find some impetus to take more time for silence, intentionally, regularly, joyfully. Shalom.
Peter Breen ©
Jugglers, April 13, 2017.
1. White Silence has been an experiment I have curated several times at Jugglers since 2012, planned to inquire into the potential for epiphany and inexplicable spiritual experiences within a contrived art event for invited artists. Some of those events can be viewed on the Jugglers YouTube Channel.
2. “Huston Smith: Wisdom Keeper” Dana Sawyer, p 110. Pub: Fons Vitae, 2014.
3. “Connemara, The Last Pool of Darkness” Tim Robinson, p88. Pub: Penguin, 2008.
1. “The Garden of the Beloved”. Robert Way. Doubleday, 1974 [Out of print, available pdf]
2. “When I Talk to You.” Michael Leunig. Harper Collins.
3. “The Sound of Silence”. Katrina Goldsaito/ Julia Kuo. Little Brown and Company
4. “Connemara, The Last Pool of Darkness” Tim Robinson, Penguin, 2008
1. “Fur Alina” Arvo Paart
2. “Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet” Gavin Bryars
3. “Sleep” Max Richter
4. “Blue Silence” Elena Kats-Chernin
5. “Memory Pieces lll – Wed” David Lang, Lisa More
6. “In pursuit of Silence” Alex Liu. Original Sound Track of 2016 film, “In Pursuit of Silence”
April 13, 2017.
Peter co-founded the artist run organisation, Jugglers Art Space Inc in 1998 and became its chair/director in 2011. Since 2010 he has been exploring his own art practice, knowledge and skill base with a strong drawing focus. This parallels Jugglers’ strong and passionate focus. He includes sketches in his daily routines of morning walks, meditation, ABC Classic FM and coffee and has found himself unable to escape introspective autobiographical themes in his work. His interest in silence and its connection to aspects of spiritual un-knowing are becoming more necessary for him in his frenetic daily routines and family life. He would love to live and draw in County Kerry, Eire but for now, he enjoys the birds and trees of Ferny Hills.