From King to Rankine

January 18, 2019

Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today’s post.

Every Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I enjoy rereading some of Dr. King’s remarkable works. As a culture, we are still coming to terms with his life, his death, and his very beautiful words. Personally, his words resonate with me in any number of ways. Foremost, perhaps, is the fact that he calls for honest (and perhaps painful) dialogue. The “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” for example, is a rational response to eight clergymen who called King’s activities “unwise and untimely.” In this letter, King writes that he cannot respond to all criticism, but he wants to address their particular concerns because he feels that they “are men of genuine good will” and that their “criticisms are sincerely set forth.” This, then, is a necessary prerequisite to any actual dialogue: the open-minded ability to weigh another person’s argument.

This same element of discussion is being embraced throughout America in a number of ways. I recently listened to an OnBeing podcast of a discussion between Claudia Rankine, the Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry at Yale University and founder of The Racial Imaginary Institute, and Krista Tippett. My favorite moment of this discussion is perhaps also one of the more uncomfortable moments in which Krista Tippett takes for granted the idea that in the ‘70s or ‘80s American society had moved past race. Claudia Rankine interrupts her and says, “Don’t say ‘surely we were past this.’” She means to say that the more nuanced elements of racism linger in ways that outsiders can hardly imagine and so while some people saw progress, others were still seeing perpetuated injustices like disproportionate incarceration rates. The moment is slightly uncomfortable, but the result is a shared understanding, which to me is the greatest achievement of dialogue. Not all moments will be successful or transcendent, but these small moments work toward a greater good. The transcript of this section reads:

Ms. Tippett: Well, right. But I think there are reasons to feel that, to be nervous. And it’s interesting, because there aren’t that many people, even just given this conversation - there aren’t that many people like Eula [Biss], saying, let’s talk about whiteness. Let’s talk about whiteness. There was actually a moment in that conversation with her where - two white people talking about whiteness, and we both agreed that it was mortifying and embarrassing and messy. Part of it is, you feel like, surely, we were past this. We shouldn’t be having to have this conversation at this advanced age. She talked about how —

Ms. Rankine: Krista, don’t say that. Don’t say, “Surely we were past this.”

Ms. Tippett: I think that’s one reason people feel awkward, because we’re still getting over from this cathartic five years —

Ms. Rankine: No, but you know: mass incarceration — you know what’s happening.

Ms. Tippett: I know.

Ms. Rankine: So not “surely” — I mean, those things were always happening.

Ms. Tippett: They were, but I think people who grew up in the ’60s and ’70s and ’80s and ’90s were born into a world in which they were told that yes, sure, it wasn’t perfect yet, but we were inexorably moving past it. That’s an instinct. And now we’re having to unlearn and say, actually, we weren’t anywhere. We just made baby steps. That’s what I mean.

Ms. Rankine: OK, OK.

I appreciate Claudia Rankine’s persistence and care with speech, and also her patience to understand Krista Tippett’s response. I also appreciate Krista Tippett’s ability to explain what she meant and how she meant it. Subjects such as racism are personal and offensive and often instill hateful rhetoric. To me, this conversation demonstrates necessary elements of reason, patience, and open minds.

It is important, perhaps vital, to note the moments when people disagree. As a leader of conversations, I try to take advantage of those awkward moments, which is not always easy (or successful). The conversation between Rankine and Tippett reminded me, once more, of Dr. King’s words. More than anything, he is frustrated by the “appalling silence of good people.” He writes that “injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.”

This conversation deals specifically with elements of race, but dialogue is a necessary aspect of all human relations. I find that the more we practice open-minded listening, the better we will become as a society.

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Experiment in Art

October 23, 2015

A few weeks ago, Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, interviewed New Mexican artist Lea Anderson. Today's post stems from that interview. This lengthy blog post is an experiment. We would love your feedback regarding the results. Thanks to Alissa Simon and Lea Anderson for today's post!

In my interview with Lea, we discussed the the power of beauty as given by an artist and as received by the viewer. From this short discussion, Lea and I decided that it might be fun to create an artist/viewer experiment. Therefore, I recently went to see one of Lea's pieces at the Albuquerque Museum, where she is the current Artist-in-Residence. Prior to learning anything about this new piece, MERIDIAE, I wrote a visceral, personal response, which I have placed, mostly un-edited, below. Lea's exegesis regarding the work follows mine. We thought it might be curious to see what similarities, if any, exist. Let us know what you think of our experiment either below or at

Image: MERIDIAE by Lea Anderson, Albuquerque Museum. Photo credit: Lea Anderson

Image: MERIDIAE by Lea Anderson, Albuquerque Museum. Photo credit: Lea Anderson


Alissa Simon's response to MERIDIAE:

Circle over sky. Designed like cells of blood on an entire building wall of windows. Sectioned by windows, segmented into slices like oranges. A geometry of cross-sections. The horizon disorients, superimposed by building which obstructs both cloud and sky. Designed like ink on skin, tattooed windows with light. Mostly circles and swirls. Mostly color and light. Mostly me reflected back to me, circles now mirrors. Mostly biology, not geometry, cells functioning as galaxy. One Milky-Way cross-section. Colors carry the light, like hands, as if handing them directly, silently, internally to me.

What happens at night? Imagine the color with starlight and perhaps a crescent moon. Phosphorescent orb of jellyfish without the trail of tentacles. Spiral. Amazing how many shapes appear to make one solid shape. Unity like a family or nation. Size does not seem to matter, but just the explosion of shapes, fireworks on glass.

Of course, it isn't a circle, isn't any design or shape. Unnumbered, not infinite, but unmatched is the best that I can do to define the swirl of colors. Unmatched, a visual example of emotion at work on the imagination. And I am the reason (through imagination?) that imposes shape, color, design and metaphor. Self-imposed limits. Again, self-reflection is at play.

Is there an inherent reasonable quality in the junction of image and emotion? I am only trying to understand these MERIDIAE as if connections. As if pieces of you that fit to similar pieces in me. All connected by the tenderest string – not in the sense of puppets – rather the sense of compassion and empathy. The absolute charity of the work astounds. I see a solid human presence as sunlight filters, flits, a cloud passes and the piece visibly beats, not unlike a heart. MERIDIAE shivers and an internally composed essence leaps from shape to shape. I can touch it and the phantom is nearly tangible. Of course, now your design is also mine and we, I suppose, have formed some sort of silent unity.

Image: detail from  MERIDIAE  by Lea Anderson. Photo credit: Alissa Simon.

Image: detail from MERIDIAE by Lea Anderson. Photo credit: Alissa Simon.

I should comment on color. I feel an overwhelming sense of blue, all the blues in the ocean, which, I assume, is how I arrived at phosphorescence and jellyfish. It is both warm and deep, profound perhaps, and ringed with light. I mean, there are reds, yellows, greens and more, all mixed together in the way an ocean moves and waves reflect. If I step back they all blend. If I step forward, colors separate. The window doesn't move, but seems to. Sort of an inverse of standing on a solid earth which is always moving, but doesn't seem to. All bodies in motion. I feel that the color makes movement, excites something identical within myself, a likeness which moves me more towards an understanding of the window, light and color. Without my presence, the window remains solid. Without the window, my excitement diminishes. Some combination of the two creates an unmatched, unquantifiable unity.

For some reason, Adrienne Rich circles in my brain, much like one of the shapes from the window. I think of her descent down the boat's ladder and into the wreck, of her body stirred by water. I remember her body's movement through something other than her own presence. She writes:

First the air is blue and then/ it is bluer and then/ green and then black I am blacking out and yet/ my mask is powerful/ it pumps my blood with power/ the sea is another story/ the sea is not a question of power/ I have to learn alone/ to turn my body without force/ in the deep element.

These are all bodies, turning without force. The missing element, of course, is what is found within myself, the next viewer, the emotions that excite and inspire.

Lea Anderson's Exegeis:  MERIDIAE (Muh-rih-dee-yay) Created in July, 2015

Digital prints on transparent acetate, 20’ x 20'

MERIDIAE is a symbolic highway of connection, a portal making visible the infinite ideas streaming from all over the world into the museum and into your mind at this very moment. Your mind is now connected to the minds of creative individuals that have lived throughout human history as well as to major cultures, to distinct ideologies and even to things being made this very moment. Simultaneously, new ideas are being sent back out into the world in your mind as you leave this place changed and full of new experiences. MERIDIAE represents the super-stream of connected minds, worlds and ideas, re-combining and evolving through their direct impact upon you on a macro scale… yet also through subtle, infinitesimal processes, like the vitality mingling in a micro-droplet of pond water under a scientist’s microscope.

When viewed from a distance, MERIDIAE appears as 100 colorful biomorphic discs of various sizes and patterns clustering within one large circular form. Each disc is made up of even smaller and varied shapes (approx. 10,000 total). MERIDIAE relates to fractal design because the image of the entire piece is repeated in each and every smaller individual shape. Yet unlike a fractal, which is made of exact copies of itself at a smaller scale, MERIDIAE is instead made entirely of versions of itself that are unique relatives. A basic image of the overall large piece has been repeatedly digitally altered to vary the size, color, and pattern of the original, producing thousands of new versions. Every newly changed form is then arranged precisely so that seen together, they function as pixel-like parts of the whole. Upon closer inspection, one will notice that each shape has recognizably repeating characteristics.

Image: detail from  MERIDIAE  by Lea Anderson. Photo credit: Lea Anderson.

Image: detail from MERIDIAE by Lea Anderson. Photo credit: Lea Anderson.

Stained glass windows have been treasured as symbols of spiritual connection between heaven and earth originating in Gothic architecture (such as the Rose Windows in France’s Chartres Cathedral). The colorfully transparent material used to build MERIDIAE mimics the historical impact of stained glass but also includes a contemporary, hybrid chemistry of other artistic techniques such as painting, mosaic, collage, printmaking, sculpture, and digital art.

The architectural elements of the Atrium window echo the divisions of a globe, indicating an “equator” (horizontal I-beam) and “latitude/longitude” (grid of rectangular windows). On a standard globe of Earth, a “meridian” defines longitudinal “slices” of the Earth. MERIDIAE multiplies exponentially to reveal infinite slices of infinite worlds, as well as our infinite connections to one another through time and space.

To see more of Lea Anderson's art, visit her website:

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Interview with an Artist

September 18, 2015

Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, recently interviewed Lea Anderson, an artist whose work, Memoryfeeld, touches upon many of the Great Ideas. The interview is posted in its entirety following a short introduction of Lea Anderson.

Lea Anderson, a San Diego native, has lived and worked in the New Mexico art community for over a decade and has discovered much during her adventures in the dramatic, colorful, and wild desert environment. Fluent in both two-and three-dimensional visual languages, she creates living, philosophical worlds that echo the formal variations seen in natural systems. These themes are explored through individual works, full-scale ambitious mixed media installations, and solo exhibitions using a wide variety of both digital and traditional media. She has exhibited throughout New Mexico and the United States, as well as internationally in Bangkok, Thailand in 2010. A recipient of numerous awards for her artwork, she was also awarded “Albuquerque Local Treasure” in 2010. In 2013, Anderson was the Guest Curator for the exhibition Flatlanders and Surface Dwellers at 516 ARTS in Albuquerque. Anderson has just completed her tenth solo exhibition, the installation piece “HOLOCENE GARDEN” with Santa Fe’s mobile gallery Axle Contemporary in Spring 2015 (4/17-5/17), and she has been invited to create an installation for the Albuquerque Museum of Art & History as their 2015 Summer Artist-in-Residence.


Image: Memoryfeeld, Copyright: Lea Anderson.


Alissa Simon (AS): I am struck by the way that humans age. We do not know exactly why organic matter weakens/degrades as it ages. Looking at a piece like Memoryfeeld, I am curious about the effect of emotion on organic matter. How do you see emotion combining with physicality in this piece?

Lea Anderson (LA): Most of us are aware that our memories fluctuate, degrade, and even re-surface over time. In Memoryfeeld, the physical materials are significant to the meaning of the piece. Each of the 1000 pieces is made using a method called “Image transfer”. Image Transfers are made using an ordinary b/w toner-based photocopy and clear acrylic gel. To get the photocopy image to transfer into the gel, I had to spread the gel (mayonnaise consistency) on top of photocopies of past images of my own artwork (to represent my personal memories). Once the gel dried, I soaked the paper/gel combination in water for a few minutes until the paper could be scraped away. The black toner was then embedded in the clear gel- and in effect, my memories were then trapped in the semi-transparent membrane-like gel pieces. One of the important things about a photocopy is that it is not an exact replica of the original - it is a simplification and a generalization – another appropriate metaphor for how we store our memories. While imprinted and stored somehow, our memories are not exact replicas of the original experiences. In Memoryfeeld, some of the individual forms are large and colorful (I added paint), some are clear, some are cloudy, some are buried, some sit on the surface, and some are incredibly tiny. This differentiation could demonstrate both the degradation of certain memories over time, or through aging, or through trauma, as well as the exaggeration or embellishment of certain memories based upon intense emotional resonance.


AS: The idea of love is often ennobled...meaning that humans make extra allowances for love. It appears that love ranks as a more powerful emotion than any of the other emotions. In addition, there are various types of love: mother/child, husband/wife, love of self, friendship, etc. Do you feel that your work represents an emotion of such diversity? And if so, how? Is it the sole emotion represented, or do emotions bleed into one another (desire, fear, hate, jealousy, etc)?

LA: Because each individual piece in Memoryfeeld is made using photocopies of older artwork (and segments of older artwork) that I had made over many years, there are many representations of my own experiences - love is certainly there (in certain pieces) in many forms. If I had the time, I could talk about each ‘memoryshape’ individually and reference all kinds of emotional, philosophical, and symbolic content. One of the things that may lend authenticity to this piece is that each individual component still represents a range of experiences and time periods from my past. While a memory might be experienced as a point of focus, the boundaries of where it begins and ends or what the sights/sounds/sensations that are associated with that memory are never 100% defined or even fully repeatable, even if you call up that memory again and again. Likewise, I believe no singular emotional experience is really possible, either definitively in Memoryfeeld or in our own internal collection of memories. Emotions absolutely bleed into one another, and can even change over time (our interpretation of them) as our own values or understanding of the world continues to evolve.

Image: a single memoryshape in Memoryfeeld, Copyright: Lea Anderson.


AS: When we create, what are we trying to create? A type of wisdom? Knowledge? Understanding? Human connection? Truth? What do you contemplate before/during creating a piece of artwork as complex as Memoryfeeld (or other works of your choice)? You demonstrate a vast emotional journey, perhaps a unique and singular journey...for what purpose? To better understand emotion? Self? Humans?

LA: Hmm. Maybe a chicken/egg question here…. I believe all of those are mixed into the recipe. While I can’t speak for all who create, I think most generally the act of creation provides an experience for the creator, and for those who encounter the creation, in order to make all of those “whats” possible. The physical/productive creative act itself is one aspect of that experience, and then the contemplation of, final function of, or interaction with the creation is another arena for more experiences. For Memoryfeeld, I can’t say that the idea was in any way fully formed when I began. I had a short time period in which to make it (6 weeks), so I had to act/produce immediately. Knowing the transfer technique was a way to produce a lot of material somewhat rapidly, I began with the technique and associated materials, and then the ideas were born as I pondered the conceptual implications of those materials. I believe most of my work begins with a general decision about materials (or for an installation piece relates to the space I’m given to create within). The development of the idea and process of actually making are intertwined. Idea development feels as though I’m attempting to solve a 100-sided, morphing Rubik’s cube, and yet I’m not really sure what the “solution” state is supposed to be. The various possibilities are turned around and around, shifted, revised, reversed, and fiddled with until I finally come to a resting point; maybe never solved as neatly as I’d like, but to a certain level of satisfaction.

What is my purpose in this creative journey? I see the creative act as a form of literal magic; of evidence that there is more to our world and existence than we can possibly understand, that there is some kind of “other” - a place, a dimension, or a source that we are feeding from, transforming energy from “there” and bringing it “here” through creativity into physical and/or virtual and/or ponder-able reality. This is true of Memoryfeeld and of all of my other works.


AS: How does the mind of the observer enter a complex work of art such as Memoryfeeld? Does it logically enter, and then follow a logical/reasonable path? Are logic and emotion bound together in some complex form? Is there a correct way to enter a piece of art?

LA: I do think there is an immediate physical response to Memoryfeeld. Logically, the mind of the viewer is going to associate their response with something familiar. Because Memoryfeeld is not an actual “thing” from the tangible world that anyone has seen before, they must begin to make connections to stored knowledge to interpret it. This is incredibly interesting to me, because there are an infinite amount of associations that can be made, each person filtering their visual response through their own personal Memoryfeeld and finding similarities. Any emotional response would also be connected to this set of stored associations. I’m fascinated to hear what those are, and if they are similar or completely different than what I ascribed as the original meaning in the piece. No, there is no correct way to enter a piece of art. It really depends on their cultural background, their visual sensitivity, and their learned behavior (or lack of learned behavior) around anything labeled “art”.


AS: As the artist, do you remove yourself from the piece of art in order to maintain symmetry? Or is it better to feel presence? Does it depend upon the piece?

LA: I assume you mean symmetry in an ideological sense, not in a visual sense, and you mean it as another word for ‘balance’ or ‘democratic ideological availability’. I believe that I am ‘in’ the piece when I look at the work, and if someone is exposed to my ideas surrounding the work then I am in the work in their understanding of it to a certain extent, but someone who doesn’t know me or my ideas about the work can access it on completely open terms. By removing/intentionally not including/distorting recognizable and potentially loaded imagery from most of my work, I assume that viewers tend to have to respond instinctively and associate more generally. Both the informed and the naive reaction are valid. It is highly unlikely that anyone would read the piece exactly as I intended it without an explanation, and that’s perfectly ok with me. Some people like to know what the artist was thinking about and some people are just as happy to find their own meaning. I think that’s an especially exciting aspect of art viewing.


AS: Sarah Lewis, author of The Rise of Creativity, The Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery, claims that a person's will is moved by beauty. What 'aesthetic force' (Sarah Lewis) changes us as artist and as viewer?

LA: It seems that ‘aesthetic force’ refers to a ‘powerful response’. It also seems that any discussion about the conditions that foster the creation of an ‘aesthetic force’ consistently includes the debate about the quality of ‘beauty’ as either an important ingredient in art or a quality that diminishes the legitimacy of art. I do believe that those of us using contemporary English language as our way of interpreting the world around us have come to most often connect the word beauty with the word pretty… which is frequently used as a light compliment but also quite regularly in terms of shallow or morally insubstantial. It might be true, at times, that something that is beautiful is also pretty, but I propose that we more intentionally use the word beautiful instead as a synonym for powerful. I believe that something powerful might also be pretty, but something powerful might also be horrifying, tragic, offensive, confusing, and so on. By using the adjective beautiful as a synonym for powerful rather than for pretty, then beauty can more accurately be called a necessary ingredient in art and in ‘aesthetic force’. “Power” is what changes us… beautiful Power.

For more information about Anderson's work, visit her website: .

For questions regarding this blog or interview, email


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