When I first was chosen as an artist-in-residence for this year, I was thinking I’d be creating work about feminism. I chose Proverbs 8 to respond to, in which Wisdom, a woman, speaks about how ancient she is, and implores the foolish and naive to turn away from their pursuits and instead listen to the instruction of wisdom. I was thinking about making a political work about older women – and I still plan to, but not for this commission.
Instead, as I read the verse, I was struck by a question that bubbled up from within me, which was how does this verse relate to your life?
At that point, my brain drifted back to an exhibit I had seen some years ago at the Metropolitan Museum of Art about the medieval Book of Hours, which was a book of prayers created individually for the lay contemplative – a religious person who was not a monk, but wanted a structure that emulated the disciplines of the monastic life. The books were beautiful, full of illuminated letters and drawings, many of them kept in special cupboards. The prayers in this book feel so personal in their individual way, prayers that reach out like a grabbing hand, blindly away from the self into the unknown divine.
In Proverbs 8, Wisdom says:
Blessed are those who listen to me,
watching daily at my doors,
waiting at my doorway.
For those who find me find life.
I take this to mean that wisdom comes only to those who are willing to ask for help and are therefore willing to give up being right, to open up the heart to know more – in the broad sense of know, as in not only learning information and facts, but growing in the understanding of oneself and others
So instead of creating a Great Political Work, I am taking this project as a challenge to understand more deeply how it is that one can answer wisdom’s daily call to her gate, how all of us – whether Christian, non-Christian, non-religious or other – can engage with the call to continually seek wisdom.
Over the course of this year, then, I will be crafting a multimedia book of hours that engages the audience of the work in daily acts of contemplation that are theatrical and/or literary. The work examines the following questions:
– How does asking for help intersect with living a more contemplative life?
– What is wisdom? How do we know when it is found?
– How do we daily, in word and action, invoke the spirit of wisdom in our lives?
– How can wisdom and prayer live outside of their traditional forms? What are the many ways we understand prayer in different forms?
This month I’ll be in residence at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center in Nebraska City and I’ve brought a lot of books with me as I move into the research and execution phase of this project, including edited works of Thomas Merton into a Book of Hours. I’m also enrolled in a Harvard Online class that’s very closely examining the form and structure of the medieval book of hours, which I was excited to happen upon in the last couple of weeks.
Next for me is the simultaneous actions of absorption and creation as I create a big list of ideas and an investigation into how the different pieces of Proverbs 8 will come under close examination in the larger piece. You can anticipate instruction booklets for contemplative action, philosophical dialogues with wisdom, video work and more as we continue forward together through the year.
See Lauren’s artist bio here.
These images are copyrighted by the artist and used here by permission.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™