Monday, October 14, 2013

Another Offering

All the elements are waiting to find their proper place.

Amy hangs up the backdrop
The time has come again for the Center for the Arts and Religion to make another offering into the life of the Seminary community. The Day of the Dead ofrenda has become a much-anticipated annual event over the years, since Artist-in-Residence Lauren Raine first invited us to help her create a temporary place to remember those who have joined the great cloud of witnesses of those who have gone before us. This morning, Amy, our student assistant Narae, and I gathered the odd collection of candles, silk flowers, fabrics, icons, calaveras, and other objects from our offices and the studio, as well as Chip’s always-expanding contribution of things he has collected on his various journeys, especially in the US Southwest. This year, we were delighted to find a sugar skull that looks like it came directly from somewhere along the Mexican border.
Narae untangles some strings

One of the innovations this year is that the ofrenda is asymmetrical. When Amy climbed up on to hang the backdrop of tissue flowers and paper lace that Narae had made by adapting patterns she found in a book called Day of the Dead Crafts, we discovered that the screws in the wall would not allow it to be centered over the table. With only a few words and gestures, we understood almost simultaneously that the visual weight of the hanging on one side could be balanced by piling all nichos on the other. 

The basic structure
Once the basic structure was in place, we began placing the smaller elements, all of us working in an easy, non-verbal, collaborative dance. An accomplished artist and graphic designer from Korea, Narae had seemed a bit confused last week as to why we were asking her to do this simple craft project, but by the time she was untangling strands and arranging silk flowers this morning, I think it made a lot more sense. After all, every culture has some tradition of making offerings, of remembering loved ones who have died.

The ofrenda, ready for the prayers
and memories of the community
When we finally finished placing the last, gaily painted, wooden shoe, the ofrenda still looked a little empty. And that, of course, is the intent – we only provide the framework, the outline, the starting place for something that only becomes complete when other members of the community participate. This morning, the ofrenda belonged to us artists, our years of studio practice guiding our aesthetic decisions. Over the next couple of weeks, other people will put photographs and mementos and memories wherever it seems good to them to set them down. As the Feast of All Souls approaches, the Wesley community will fill in the blank spaces with their prayers.

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