Friday, April 11, 2014

The Dream Collective (last note before I go)

Vija Celmins (Latvian-American visual artist known for photo-realistic paintings and drawings of natural environments and phenomena.) 

This is my last message to you before I head off with my dream pouch to walk a great distance. Physically, I'm not ready, not in the least. Spiritually, I'm both balanced and hungry. I'll be fine. In a few weeks, I will be strong. I am two days back from a 6-week artist residency at Holden Village, a remote village and spiritual retreat center in the North Cascades above Lake Chelan. In these two days, I have tied up many loose ends  (boat, bike, rent, loans, mail, food boxes, insurance, tabs).
Vija Celmins

It would be improper now to head off on a dream journey without consulting Joseph Campbell. So let us do that. Excerpt from conversation with Michael Toms, Joseph Campbell is talking: "The rules of the past are restrictive of the life process. The moment the life process stops, it starts drying up; and the whole sense of myth is finding the courage to follow the process. In order to have something new, something old has to be broken; and if you’re too heavily fixed on the old, you’re going to get stuck. That’s what hell is: the place of people who could not yield their ego system to allow the grace of a transpersonal power to move them." So, are we ready to let go of the old? Almost, almost, and here we go.

When I was conceiving of this project, I took it to some friends for feedback. Sometimes this is helpful, sometimes it's damaging. I was put off when the biggest dreamer I know asked if my project wasn't self-indulgent. Hmmph! Maybe he's not a dreamer. I took him for a dreamer. Maybe he's just been quoting the dreamers. The world is full of quoters, reading off the famous words of famous people, as if they were hired to pull a certain truth forward, as if the past were whispering into the web through them. Maybe that's what we need, an onshore breeze of great thoughts from great thinkers? I don't know. I think we need a journey to Heart Lake where we can, in thirsty sips, rethink it. I think (all) our brains need to be on (all) our bodies.
Vija Celmins

Anyway it started to concern me, so I looked into it, self-indulgent. What does that mean, to indulge? Indulging is a kind of focus and perception, I think, with an after-frustration glow. Through this glow it says hullo, and yes, yes, we must follow our flow. Indulgence is the line between mature and immature, where the body and the mind come together, or come apart, in decisive ways, to make our little histories big.

How does the artist move through the timeline of her history? In waves, up and down, in and out, like a tide, shifting, turning. To quote Jørgen Leth from "The Perfect Human" (it must be 4 o'clock, here comes that onshore breeze), “How does such a number function? What kind of thing is it? How does he fall? How does she lie down?” So objective, our fascination with the artist, with the artistic process. The onlooker, detached, wants to know what it is and what it's like to be attached, and what it is to be alive and  to be creating. He leans in and wonders, is it happening now, is that the face it makes, are they the hand it uses? How can I do that? As if observing another body would tell his body how to feel and find it. "Look at her move," he thinks, "What is this thing? Has she agreed to this thing? Is she driving this thing? What are her fears now that it's begun? Are they warranted? Is she happy? Is she happy now? Are her bridges burning? Can I take that bridge? 

Dreaming is indulgent and we are allowed. Even in this capital capital Fine Arts world, with all its codified, purchasable forms, there must be room for internal stirring if we are to move from action to art, from specific event to collective consciousness.

Campbell says: "The best teaching from the East is the one given by the Dalai Lama. We also had it from Sri Ramakrishna, the great Indian Hindu teacher of the last century, namely that there is a common consciousness which is our own ground and so in consciousness we are one; insofar as you identify yourself with the consciousness that moves and lives in your body, you’ve identified with that which you share with me. And on the other hand, if you fix on yourself, and your tradition, and believe you’ve got It, then you’ve removed yourself from the rest of mankind." This is, what I think, The Woman Who Planted Dreams is about, connecting our deepest desires and dreams.

Vija Celmins
Perhaps in my loneliness, I had removed myself from mankind? The world is looking for martyrs. Sometimes they want an artist. Sometimes they want a rich man. They want to see their pain living out in the world, in us.

I believe we all know how to flow and that we were born flowing. I believe we were trained how to stop somewhere in the world, in school , at work, so we could feed the machine. The machine is about greed. It requires that we stop.

Now, even now—what am I, 40, 50, 70—I know how to flow, right now, to connect, though I am often disconnected. How do I stay in tune, in tact? Is there a way to stay present and awake? I have a system that works mostly, but every now and then it breaks. Thankfully, there are way stations for my lost train cars, in cafes, in parks, on beaches, on the bluff, under the moon, in the mountains.

A few weeks ago, I removed a splinter from this project as I struggled to defend it. I dare say the splinter touched a nerve and that helped define some things. I'm grateful for the operation. It told me what I feared. Judgment. Exactly what I long for—judgement, to be seen, judged, approved, loved. A witness comes in many colors.

I'm less afraid someone else will think my project is lacking and more afraid that I will. Is the work too simple? I have to admit that it is. Will it continue to be simple? Yes it will, until my audience breathes themselves into it. It was meant to be an empty vessel and an invitation. My worst fear (grief) is that I it will go unheeded. That I am alone (not lonely but alone with no body to turn to, no outfit to the fringe, no potential for community) with no one to create for.

Dreams began to arrive. The project grew beyond itself and beyond me. Now I'm beholden to so many, and the work has weight, the the weight of communion. Sometimes responsibility is a gift.

I put my arms around Tarkovsky and his daily ritual, his ritual of one thing  repeated, like pouring a glass of water down the toilet (from "The Sacrifice"), like anything, for instance, done everyday, at the same time, with intention. Because of this thing, this one thing, the world shifts, it must, because of this one thing done intentionally. That's where I am. That's where I've been these past two years, on the cusp of things. Changes. Sensing everything about to happen, but quiet and still—the moment before the moment.

Vija Celmins
I have vowed to form a ritual of walking and planting and dreaming this spring, summer and fall. Each night, before I go to sleep, I'll sit a meditation (maybe I'll move a meditation) and read one dream aloud and invite the world to change in me. Together, we'll create an intentional world, one in which we're not afraid to dream or say the word art or announce ourselves, because we're not serious, complex, clever enough. Simplicity will be our vehicle. Planting dreams will be my way of navigating limbo. Hell, am I rowing in hell?

How is holding on different than floating in? How exactly are the sensations different? I've been frustrated with this liminal living. I've been stuck in this static phase, possibly quietly morphing for over two years, floating in this what fluid, working through this who frustration, in every aspect of art and life—what who, what who. There's no difference now between me and you. We're one. Everything. One. But I have no way of understanding and am confused. I need another drink from Heart Lake.

I was wrong to say there was a divide between life and art. There's no such thing. No life without art, no art without life. It was a mirage to say it. This is the source of my art today, tomorrow, until I'm born into something—frustration. How can I manifest my frustration today, for I can manifest nothing else? Is this a gap? No. It is sawdust in the gap. It is a dry place? No. It is too wet even to grip. In lieu of direction, it is movement. In time, I think, a direction will manifest. I mean, it must. It must.

Vija Celmins
I know an artist who says she hasn't committed 100%. Only she knows what this means. The rest of us don't. We only know her as an artist. What is she hiding from? The fear of dreaming comes early, the question of self and art come later. Then the fear of losing what we've gained, because we fear the void or rather the fall into the void. We hold on. Tight. There are artists whose main medium is falling. Bas Jan Ader was one. He fell from rooftops and trees and even horizons. Certainty is not an ingredient for art. It is an ingredient for working or marrying or buying a house.

I was asked by a peer artist, "Does your path bypass your ego? Are you confronting what exists outside (your ideas of) yourself?" I wondered, in response, is there an outside, or just a lack (or glut) of information? It'd be easier to live in the present if I were a wild animal, but I'm not a wild animal, or not enough of one or I've forgotten what kind. I suffer from something. It's not not knowing. It's knowing. I know what tomorrow will bring. Either I enforce my dream or I don't. Either I let it go or I hold on, again.

Vija Celmins
"Planting dreams is an act of universal inhaling and exhaling," says a dream friend of mine. "It's the action of living as an art, rather than living and making art, and this supersedes art and the things that define me as such." I take his statement to mean that art is spiritual and not derivative. It's an experience, not a product, though it may yield a product, which the receiver receives as art.

We must decide if our world is restrictive or enabling, then allow ourselves to feel that world. Is the world, as Jørgen Leth suggests, "boundless and radiant with light, empty, with no boundaries, with nothing?"

Vija Celmins
The world says to feel everything and I do, but my peers tell me not to feel some things. Some things, they say, should be overcome, like frustration and pain and sorrow and grief and anger—unproductive things. I disagree. Happiness, like fear, will pass. I must find a way to be present to what is, whatever is. Ice. Fire. Pain. Comfort. Otherwise I'm driving and not flowing, telling and not listening, burying the path I could be following.

"The spiritual and the earthly rub and cause sparks," says this same dream friend. Yes and the body and the mind too cause sparks and the other and the self also do. That's the sparkiest spark of all, I think, the other and self. It's ever the source of trouble and resolution. "Hold this idea," he says, "art is dangerous." Art is only dangerous if life is dangerous, he says. Art is only dangerous to our worldview, to our political system, to our ability to remain the same. Art is not dangerous to the dreamer. Art is dreaming.

To be heard is not to be understood, but to be shared and to share. To be funded is not to succeed, but to be valued in one way. To be focused is to be isolated and sometimes blinded. I am not so emotionally intelligent as to know what I am feeling (at all times). I only know that I am feeling. My mind asks my body if I am perhaps avoiding something or preparing for something? In answer, my body takes a step forward or back and the question is gone. Removing the question is one way of answering it. The way to remove a question is simply to ask it a larger question or come at it from the other side.

Long ago my world told me I had to decide on one or two things (to make a life). You cannot keep on beginning, it said. You must settle on a hobby or a vocation, get a husband or a wife, have some children, buy a house. Procreate in a way we understand. But there are only so many people you can be in 93 years! A professional beginner, that's what the artist is. That is what I want to be.

Vija Celmins
Annette says a liminal state is not a way station, but is full of magic. That's easy to see in hindsight, I think, from the outside. The child in the womb isn't fascinated with its fasciations. It simply is.

German performance artist, Joeseph Beuys, was shot down in the desert. His plane crashed. He would have died except he was found by some nomads, medicine men, and taken away to be healed. Is this real or was it a myth? It is a dream of mine to leave this world and return again. The power of returning is what I long for. Beuys said, "The artist must remove himself from the consumerism in which he has dreadfully been trapped and instead contemplate Time, its perception, on the different spiritual depths of man and nature, exploiting, on the one hand, the value of the spaciality of the mind as an attitude of man's intuitive potential and, on the other, the courage of truth, of the truth that goes beyond the systems needed to live and love reality." Like Campbell, Beuys believes our prisons are self-constructed and we know (only we ourselves know) the way in and out of them.

I do not know what is coming for me. I only aim to be open and opening and stepping into your (my)(our) dreams. I've received poems and objects and large and small instructions and vague ideas of possible horizons and I thank you all so very much for your work and for dreaming with me. Without you as a companion in this world, I would die, I am sure, of loneliness and neglect. I intend to give you my every attention in thanks for your heart.

Vija Celmins
I've collected apple seeds and will collect conifers as I go, to plant with our dreams. My mother has agreed to send a package of dreams in June, so if you haven't already, and still want to, send a dream by snail mail, but do it soon: Mimi Allin, 117 E Louisa St #201, Seattle WA 98102. It will go to Seattle first, then to PA, then to me in CA. You can also go into the woods all by yourself (or to the sea) (or to the meadow) and dig a hole and whisper your dream into it or put a hand written note into the ground and that will also reach me.

My dear friends, Laura Musikanski and Clinton Bliss, have offered to receive my handwritten notes during this journey and scan and post them here to this blog. If you want to follow my journey and see our dreams planted, check here from time to time. I will otherwise be off the grid and fully immersed in these, our dreams. All blessings to you.


  1. Mimi,
    Where to begin? Your 'writ from the heart' writing; your full-on embrace of life? You leave me with a trail of questions each time I glimpse a sliver of your life through blogs, FB, and photographs. I love the notion that any one of us can serve as inspiration (and often do) for others; that we can, through bold living, be a soft presence where others might grow. You made me want to ask questions, first about your work, then of myself, and later, about that sacred space where it (we) all intersects.
    Bless you, Mimi. Bless you real good!

    1. Thank you Jenny. Thank you for engaging. That connection, the one that art can spark, has always my way point and end goal. xo