Monday, May 19, 2008

The Waters of Lethe

Richard Sudden "Xin's House"

If you've got a free second, pay a visit to "Xin's House."

Sitting in Susan's side yard, twenty feet from Whitespace, it does not get any more tranquil than this.

The Zennest spot in Inman Park. It's a transportable sanctuary for meditation, prayer, incense burning, picture taking.

I missed the opening, but apparently people were spending up to half an hour alone in here. The opening sounded like an incredible experience, candles everywhere, and an installation that elicited strong emotion from the audience, becoming an almost a spiritual experience for some.

"Xin's House" is a side project for Richard Sudden's show "For the Waters of Lethe," an interesting step forward after his last installation "The Wreathmaker" at Whitespace in 2005. "Wreathmaker" was a political statement about the Iraq war, and involved Sudden creating a plaster wreaths inside the gallery as a memorial for each soldier killed. "Lethe" is both a more personal body of work for Sudden, and also more removed in the sense that the artist's process is not on display but instead the finished works are presented in a sombre yet theatrical display that can be disarming in its dark solemnity.

The theme of the show is based off of the mythical River of Lethe and Sudden's struggle to reach an understanding of his mother's battle with Alzheimer's disease. The show poses the question, among many, "what does any of it mean if you cannot remember the ones you love?"

It's a horrific thing to deal with, if you sit in a dark gallery space and allow yourself to imagine life without memory, or losing someone else to this.

The focal point of the show is a film Sudden created, illustrating a fable of a goddess in love with a mortal and the souls that refuse to give up memory and spend eternity walking the banks of the River of Lethe.

The theme of the river continues in the many kayak shaped sculptures which Sudden created for the installation. Each one is an impressive bit of craftsmanship, the result of having brothers and a father who are all "river runners," and experienced in making kayaks and canoes.

One of the original plaster wreaths is included in the show, identifying another connection between Sudden's previous and current installations. In "The Wreathmaker" each wreath represented a remembrance and now Sudden is revisiting the complexity of memory itself, from it's mythological definition to various three dimensional representations of the mind's interwoven thoughts.

"Laws of Nature" Vines and Pendulum

And the wreath shape is echoed again in dried vines surrounding a pendulum.

More video is used concurrently with the kayak sculptures to expand the space, coming across as portals into abstracted thoughts or snippets of memory.

Left to Right, "Concept/Gravity," "Nest," "Body of Light," "Winter Solstace"

Nests, hives, branches, weights,


The work is laden with personal symbolism for Sudden


and left up to the viewer to decipher

"Winter Solstace"

or more likely translate into their own understanding.

The adjoining Whitespec space is displaying a series of encaustic on Braille paper pieces by Sudden that seem to be further meditations on the concepts of the installation.

"Waters of Lethe" Encaustic on Braille paper

"Burned" Encaustic on Braille paper

"Leaving Troy" Encaustic on Braille paper

Show up at Whitespace until June 21st 2008. Pictures do it no justice, go check this show out and let me know if your thoughts - I'm curious to hear other interpretations of the cryptic symbolism.


Ben Grad said...


or, "operant conditioning chamber"

This looks fantastic. The kayak+Lethe mix provokes a few million amazing images - I can't wait to see this show in person.

Jeremy said...

The opening was interesting... I wouldn't have called it "spiritual," but the energy was great. Definitely another good one at Whitespace.

The video kind of annoyed me. I'm going to sound like a snob, so I'd rather not explain why.

Anyways, those kayaks in the first room were great. I considered buying Laws of Nature, but I realized I really need to control myself a little more...

Jonathan said...

I'd have to say I'm still chewing on the concepts of this show, particularly the placement of the various symbols inside the boat frames. There are a lot of connections here I am not making.

Jeremy- At the risk of snobbery (which I feel I may have already been labeled last post) - possible problems with the video?

Video art is too amorphous for me to define but the film seemed to serve more as an illustrative element - setting the stage in the show. For me, the two kayaks used in the film that are displayed in front of the video projection became most important - the video becoming their backdrop.

Jeremy said...

Snobbery, huh? Why did the last post make you a snob?

On that film: it was interesting, but I'd have to agree that it was peripheral to the kayaks and just experiencing the sculptures on their own terms. The "lethe" video just seemed too literal. At best, it provided a narrative supplement to the artist statement.

So here comes the snobbery: "lethe" is a very profound metaphor. It forms the base for the Greek word for truth - aletheia. Linguistically, the "a" in aletheia negates "lethe."

Think of it this way: truth is the negation of forget, the un-concealment of knowledge. It's that moment of realization that makes you say, "I never realized; I never thought of it that way before..."

Alcoholics call it a "moment of clarity," which I think is a brilliant translation of a very deep concept. Here's the wiki on Martin Heidegger's concept of aletheia.

I'd much prefer something less literal, less illustrative. Like I said, the kayaks were enough.

(Sorry for the extremely delayed response, I've been quite distracted for about three weeks... as evident in my recent neglect over on my own blog...)