100 Messages Sent by a Crow:
A Temporary, Ephemeral, Fragile Document.
It is humbling to consider the scale of this project, impossible to calculate or even adequately estimate the hundreds of hours of preparation required to stage a single 8-hour event. The spiritual, physical, mental and material investment of Kim Garrison and Steve Radosevich, The Crow and The Crow’s Manager, United Catalysts, was everywhere in evidence.
The guiding themes were successfully maintained at every level of the production, from The Crow’s costume and persona down to the smallest detail of texture, color and spatial relationships: infinite detail and not a sour note, a manifest labor of love. 100 Messages Sent by a Crow fulfilled its promise; it was an extraordinary event, a day out of the ordinary, a day of transformation and suspended disbelief, I dare say, for all who participated, and as personally meaningful as one’s own investment in the process allowed.
As a work of art, 100 Messages Sent by a Crow was many things at once: Performance, Art, Spectacle, Theater, Shamanistic Healing. It cut across many disciplines of the arts, and across the boundaries of many art forms and genres; it produced meaning on multiple levels: spiritual, aesthetic, formal, psycho-social, and material, just as, historically, it borrowed from contemporary and pre-modern cultural traditions: African tribal masking societies, Native American Shamanism, folklore of the Crow and Raven, Lila the South Asian aesthetic of dance as Cosmic Play, the ethos of Capitalism and its antithesis the Gift Economy.
The Crow’s movements, embodying The Crow Spirit, were borrowed from dance and the language of mudra, but just as importantly were grounded in direct observation and research. The Crow Mask - as complex and functionally beautiful an object as any Spirit Transformation Mask from the Northwest Coast tribal tradition, the personae, and the costumes served not only to mark identity but also to protect the wearer against any and all threats, such as in this case the territorial, potentially aggressive behavior of other crows, or even other artists. The installations demonstrated how the sacred and the extraordinary are hidden in the profane and the ordinary, and how not everything is always what it seems.
100 Messages Sent by a Crow. 100 balloons to carry them. 100 “weights” to keep them earthbound. The solidity of the Gifts - the Shaman’s “power objects,” the curandera’s “fetishes” - testified to the reality of The Crow. Like the ritual tools of pre-modern spiritual practices that may function later, out of context, as art objects or anthropological artifacts, the Gifts have intrinsic material and symbolic, iconographic value. In their intricate beauty and complexity the Gifts resemble the offrendas of the Huichol of Central Mexico - small, beautifully made ritual offerings deliberately dropped along a spiritual journey to amuse and delight the gods. The Gifts are Intention made visible, throw-away or keepsake, we were free to decide.
Art historically 100 Messages Sent by a Crow - a temporary, ephemeral, fragile document - shares a continuum with art movements of the 1960’s that rejected Formalism and Abstract Expressionism; movements that pushed the boundaries of the visual arts beyond painting and sculpture, movements that liberated art from the confining “box“ of the gallery or the museum and brought it directly to the people in the street; movements that destabilized art’s “center” by redefining the “margins;” movements like Italy’s Arte Povera, that challenged the commodification of art, and International movements like Fluxus and its Japanese counterpart, Gutai, that preferred live, interactive, usually spontaneous performances, “Happenings,” and temporary installations to permanent, static pieces; movements that re-emphasized the content of art and conveyed messages that were often culturally or socially subversive, or highly politically charged.
Two of United Catalyst’s guiding spirits might be Robert Filliou, and Joseph Beuys whose theory of art as Shamanistic practice directly inspired the first international multi-cultural exhibition of contemporary art, Magiciens de la terre/ Magicians of the Earth, which opened, not without controversy, at the Pompidou Center in Paris in 1989. Beuys’ identification of art with Shamanism coincided with anthropological theory that identified the Paleolithic Shaman as humanity’s first artist and linked art’s origins to rituals of transformative healing. In anthropology the Shaman is associated with altered states, spirit journeys, shape changing, and creative genius, and art in practice mimics ritual.
100 Messages Sent by a Crow is a Shamanistic journey undertaken in a modern setting. As such it is an invitation to meditate on many things and raises more issues and questions than one could even begin to discuss. The deliberate mixing of the Gift with the purchased service challenges our preconceptions about the economy. At a moment when the world is captivated by fear of a deadly bird flu virus, we are invited to consider The Crow, the bird messenger, its beauty, strength and fragility. By extension, all birds, possibilities of extinction, ecological ruin, and Nature - perhaps, the ultimate ephemera.
Aya Louisa McDonald
Department of Art
University of Nevada, Las Vegas.