Sublime

I like to get chatting on the tube. Reading over the shoulder of the pretty French woman on my left, I saw she was reading about energy healing, in particular chi massage for vital organs. So I asked her about it. The passage she was reading was keen to get the healer protected against sick energy from the recipient. Healers may take on the sicknesses of those they heal. The young, with greater vitality, may live with this for a while, but the sickness breaks through.

-What do you do to protect yourself? she asked.
-I don’t know. Perhaps all I do is to protect myself.

She got off at the next station. I try to protect myself, and it is not working.

I went to London to see my psychotherapist, but when I got to the GIC she was not there, and had not informed them where she was. I was very glad I had set out before they tried to contact me, because that meant they paid my train fare. So I went to Tate Modern to see the Agnes Martin exhibition for the third time.

The Islands is a series of twelve 72×72″ canvases, each covered in white acrylic paint. Each is divided into horizontal stripes, with no vertical lines: the edges of the stripes are one or two graphite pencil lines. Some of the stripes are lightly shaded with graphite. Before I entered I found a single stool leant against the wall, which I took, to sit before each canvas in turn. 1 ¾ hours later, I ceased looking at the twelfth, and went for chocolate cake and coffee. As I left, the guard said “Thank you”.

They are sublime. Any other art work I have seen I can impose my own rules, my own understanding on it. It fits within my world. We make our own understandings, something less than Reality but something each of us can more or less function in, and place new experiences within that framework- which is why it is so hard to get an inkling of what another human being is really like. But these, I cannot. I look at the wash of graphite- the words make no sense, except they express the feeling of it- at first feeling that I know how these stripes work: except that they do not follow my Understanding. They are Themselves, wholly other.

In that time, I seek to open myself to the things in front of me, as if meditating, and at another time curl up into a ball, protecting myself from them, but still looking. I rock: friends have rocked while sitting, for comfort, and I have not felt moved to do so before.

Looking at the edge of one, it is as if the darker stripe is divided into darker and lighter narrow graphite stripes. Looking at the middle of the wide stripe, I am unable to confirm this. So both understandings are possible.

Possibly because of seeing this art work, I could say today I am entirely of myself. Possibly, it liberates me.

They are beautiful things. The white acrylic paint shines in the well-lit gallery. They are on show at Tate Modern until the end of the exhibition on 11 October. They are normally at the Whitney Museum of American Art, which wants its url http://www.whitney.org on this post. The photo is fair use, as part of non-commercial criticism of the work.

The Islands at the Whitney museum of American art

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