. Peter Adams

The artist’s chief role is to shift people to a deeper understanding and appreciation of their place in this world. And, if needed, work to change their perceptions of it if those perceptions become abusive to the greater good. In other words, the artist’s main role is political, not decorative.

I defend this role with the ferocity of a mother wolf protecting her cubs.

Nearly half a century ago, as a young man recently graduated from Harvard, I worked for two years in Korea as a Peace Corps volunteer. The wrinkled, nearly toothless grandmother of the house where I lived questioned me once about a photo she saw in a magazine that depicted the many people attending Woodstock.

“Why are they barefoot?” she questioned. “Are they poor?”.

Thus started my life long quest to look at the individual and societal “unexamined assumptions” about place, culture, religion and — in the mix of all this — language.

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For the grandmother back then, just recently coming out of peasant poverty, anyone without shoes was certainly poor.

For me today, seeing a woman wearing a burka or other total facial covering connotes “oppression of the female in a patriarchal world”.

Who’s right? Whose wrong? What’s in a word? What’s in an image?

We should all be ardent believers in understanding our evolution. Not only in the physical evolution of this world and how/why our “humanness” evolved from the first cellular constructs of the ocean over 1,000,000,000 years ago, but, as importantly, we should seek to understand the evolution of our cultural norms, religions and the etymology of language.

Why? Because it is important to consider the deep origins of why we say what we say, do what we do, and, believe in what we believe.

It is not good enough to say: “I believe this because it says so in the Bible” (Koran or any other religious texts). Why? Because all present religious texts evolved out of earlier religious texts and it behoves everyone to go back to the earliest sources to glean why things might be as they are today. Are they better or worse and for whom?

Who is in control. Follow the power.

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To get to the point of this blog, does Gustave Courbet’s painting ‘Origin of the World’ — with it’s in-your-face depiction of the vulva — seem shocking, confrontational, vulgar? Or, perhaps, a brilliant representation of the reality of exactly where all humans come from?

On FaceBook this past week, I shared a quote on the origin of the word “cunt”.

It stated: ‘Cunt’ derives from ‘Kunda’ or ‘Cunti, the Oriental Great Goddess’. She was the Great Yoni (vagina) of the Universe, where all life came from and to where all life returned for renewal.

From this same name are derived the words “country”, “kin” and “kind”. So why, in the English language today is the word “Cunt” seen as a vile, obscene and vulgar swear word?

After posting the above quote on FaceBook, the public comments were positive. I did, though, receive a private email reply from overseas that read in part:

Dear P

You know I’ll query why you persist in posting on Facebook a word that is now impolite. Hundreds of words have changed their meaning in English. It’s no revelation. Awful used to mean in awe now is negative. Hundreds of words have evolved and altered.

I know you may be intentionally provocative and it’s all part of your philosophy but it saddens me as I think it could be why some of your older friends turn away.

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My intention — always — is not to be provocative just for the sake of shocking someone; rather, I want to open up doors of understanding into rooms of evolutionary usage.

My preference is for people to not just stand at the door and say: “This is the way it is today, so accept it as given.” Or, “I vote this way because I’ve always voted Labor/Liberal/Republican/Green/Tory.”

These sort of responses are, to me, a tad lazy and lack intellectual rigour; a too easy acceptance of the status quo.

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I want people — especially those of us brought up in the Judaeo/Christian/Islamist view of the world — who do view a woman’s cunt as vulgar to ask: Why?

In India the yoni is seen as sacred. In Chinese, the vernacular term is translated as “jade gate”.

However, in our western medical schools, the vagina is listed as pudendum: latin for “place of shame”.

Why the difference?

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I try to create art that is both beautiful and pregnant with questions.

I’m an optimist. I believe in a future that is socially just, spiritually fulfilling and environmentally thriving. I equally believe, though, that to get to the future we have to go way back into our past to understand our present circumstances in order to change what needs to be changed.

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I stand barefoot
in “cunt-try”
not poor but rich
planting trees of hope
proud and knowing
fully the deep
origins of my birth.

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Birth-Death-Sex

December 9, 2013

In art, through imagination, is the preservation of wilderness. With the preservation of wilderness (or “wildness” as Thoreau chose to write), the world is preserved; made peaceful, if you like.

“May peace prevail” is a greeting often said during the upcoming holidays.

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As an artist, whose work and life are intimately wrapped up in the experiential, philosophical and spiritual understanding of the processes behind world peace, the three words that best describe, to me, what needs be in balance — to give world peace a chance — is birth, death and sex.

Not to fully understand the evolutionary history of life on earth is to mis-understand what is required to maintain it.

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Whether human or insect or plant, all are driven to reproduce and will seek out the most favorable conditions to maintain genetic inheritance. Hence, refugees will risk life threatening boat voyages to seek a future potentially safer than the fear of death they left behind.

Until governments are mature enough and compassionate enough to understand the relentless evolutionary drive behind the decision-making processes of Boat People and other refugees, than no mandatory detention policy will ever work. Certainly, peace will never be attained.

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Thinking deeper yet: Until the world’s major cultures look at the evolutionary underpinnings of life and create a mythic ethos — through the visual arts, song and drama — that reflects these underpinnings, then world peace will remain on turbulent waters.

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With just a cursory examination of the present state of affairs, it should come as no surprise to learn that the world is top heavy with masculine virtues whilst feminine virtues are secondary and considerably reduced in importance and position. This imbalance, however, is not reflected in Nature.

World peace does not require an overthrow of the patriarchy and replacing it with a top heavy matriarchy. Rather, a re-balancing of the masculine and feminine as seen in Nature is required.

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The Yoni-Lingam Dehiscing sculptures are a symbolic representation of this balance. They are phallic in their upright thrust, for sure, but imbedded at the top of each sculpture and down the slit sides is a stylized vulva.

The seeds emerging from the top are “not” the phallic sperm going forth to impregnate and make fertile the awaiting egg. Rather, the seed comes forth fully ripened and “fully balanced”. Full of potential to carry on life.

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A few weeks ago I presented the above four and a half thousand year old drawing as symbolic of a mythic ethos that clearly demonstrates a balance between male and female energies.

My holiday gift request is for artists the world over to take up the challenge of bringing to the public consciousness a replacement for the current cultural paradigm; a paradigm that is consistently undermining efforts to bring forth a fruitful Peace on Earth for all.

For those people who think my Christmas wish is not very Christian, let me reassure them that as a child in a protestant Christian Science Sunday School I would recite, as part of the Lord’s Prayer, this refrain: “Our Father – Mother God all harmonious”.

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Imagine the effect the inclusion of a “Mother God” into a sermon has on how little boys and girls view themselves and others of the opposite sex. It beggars belief.

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Subjective rejection

June 3, 2013

When I submitted photos of the sculpture “Boat People” for inclusion in the Hobart Art Prize, I was half expecting the possibility of winning the $30,000. To me, the subject matter of refugees seeking a safe haven in another country is, in Australia, a potent political debate and worthy of an artistic interpretation. Putting politics aside, the aesthetics of the nine boats carrying little “stone people” could also win the day. Or so I thought.

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I didn’t win 1st prize. In fact, I didn’t even get short listed and won’t even be able to exhibit this sculpture come July.

Hubris and humility are not what I want to write about. Nor a vindictive of sour grapes directed at the three jurors who selected what art got into the exhibition. Rather, what interests me is the total subjectivity behind the process. I, myself, have had to select “winners and losers” in art exhibitions and it is always a terribly difficult and emotionally draining experience.

I continue to do it — both make art and judge art — because I want others to see what I see; to feel what I feel.

Oddly, the decision of the three judges was an affirmation of the ability of the brain’s right hemisphere to overcome the left’s more “rational, academic, less imaginative” tendencies and to demonstrate, yet again, that beauty is always in the eye of the beholder. Purely subjective. (Or, so I hope.)

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The same day I received the email telling me of my non-inclusion in the Hobart Art Prize, I was looking at a photo of the Eagle nebula. The description read: “the extended wings of the Eagle Nebula are spread over 120 light-years”.

But I couldn’t see any wings. All my imagination could see was the side profile of a bearded, youthful, romanesque, head with eyes closed blowing a wisp of stars softly from illuminated puffed cheeks out into the vastness of the universe.

My point is that even our imaginations can create totally different visions. Who knows what the jurors saw when looking at my Boat People. Certainly not what I wanted them to see.

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Poet Marge Piercy writes of this:

A flame from each finger,
my hands are candelabra,
my hair stands in a torch.
Out of my mouth a long flame hovers.
Can’t anyone see, handing me a newspaper?
Can’t anyone see, stamping my book overdue?

from “I am a light you could read by”

Like all artists, Piercy’s poetry is an attempt to communicate her intense, individual experiences of living and being to her readers. The fact that no one else seems capable of seeing/feeling what she is experiencing is typical of the life of the artist.

Writing about the poet Rilke, but equally applying to Piercy and other artists, J.B. Leishman states:

“Here we encounter what for many readers is the intrinsic difficulty: the fact that experiences which for Rilke are of central significance are for them only occasional, intermittent, or peripheral.”

“Here, experiencing and reviewing life, is a very solitary person, one to whom institutions and organizations, which to most people mean so much, seem to mean almost nothing.”

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Years ago, when I first attempted to exhibit the “Forest Bench”, I was requested to remove it from the exhibition because it was deemed inappropriate. Today, this design is represented in the permanent collections of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney.

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From the many poets I read — Rilke, Oliver, Stafford, Wendell Berry to name a few — the inspiration I receive from their words comes, not in the form of a visual three dimensional sculpture, but in how one might live as an artist. And this all boils down to artistic integrity, perfection achieved through patience, and most importantly, maintaining a beginner’s attitude.

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So… a month ago the sculpture DeepTime suffered a horrific first oiling after 14 months of steady slow carving and sanding. In the end, all I could do was 1: maintain my artistic integrity by being out in the open and honest to visitors of this mistake by the “master”, 2: not yield to a tired temptation by calling it good enough, and 3: go back to the beginning and start over whilst asking questions of others on how best to fix the problem.

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Love

Fragile as a spider’s web
hanging in space
between tall grasses
it is torn again and again.
A passing dog
or simply the wind can do it.
Several times a day
I gather myself together
and spin it again.

Spiders are patient weavers.
They never give up.
And who knows
what keeps them at it?
Hunger no doubt
and hope.

May Sarton

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It took a bit grieving and procrastination before I could get the courage and motivation up to tackle this issue. During this wait, though, I did manage to carve Paulus’s walking stick as well as seek solace in the garden enclosure where I prepped winter garlic beds, toiled in the soil, harvested autumn squash and picked the remaining tomatoes and green beans. Soothing.

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Now I am beginning the slow process of removing the sticky, slightly hardened oil by first applying acetone and then sanding to a 1,000 grit finish. Probably a week or two of extra time.

If nothing else, the office where I work in has the added benefits of fresh air and beautiful surrounds.

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A walking stick propped up against the gate post is usually an announcement that someone has come visiting. In this instance, however, the person must remain imaginary and a memory of times past when he came from America.

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About a month ago I began carving a piece of huon pine for my mentor and long time artistic buddy Paulus Berensohn. I put the first coat of oil on it the day before his 80th birthday.

And the source for it’s quirky form? Perhaps, the hakea bush outside the kitchen window?

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The bulbous sensual forms should fit nicely in the potter’s knowing palm as he struts to the Penland post office to retrieve mail still sent the old way.

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And who knows? There might be a dance waiting to be choreographed with this willing third leg. I’m certain that the 20 stacked fruit are desiring of a partner to give them caressing pushes and pulls, swings and taps around the dance floor.

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Some personal, some global. Without a doubt these past two weeks have had more than the average share of troubling news.

So how to cope?

There are two processes I use that are effective in taking anger, despair and/or any sense of hopelessness and embroidering them — as constructive threads — into the fabric of my life. With compassion and intentionality they are woven into this ever widening tapestry. They are not seen as separate from all the other colorful threads; discarded as irrelevant or not being part of the original design.

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So, what helps me continue with my life’s weaving? Firstly, I gather a few friends and take a walk out to The Point or other wild aspect of Windgrove.

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Sitting on top of a cliff while watching the waves crash 50 or so feet directly below one’s overhanging feet is enough to power up anyone’s flattened battery. When the big sets roll in, nothing but positive energy — even if verging on the scary — envelopes the body (along with a bit of salty spray). The irony of being in all this chaotic mess of wave does not escape me. It informs.

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Secondly, I find going into the sheltered cave of my home with a piece of wood, a few carving tools, a warm fire accompanied with a mug of coffee in the morning and a glass of wine in the evening is extremely effective in bringing about a bit of equilibrium to the day.

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Pictured on the dining room table is a walking stick I’m carving for my mentor, fairy godfather and dearest friend Paulus Berensohn who will celebrate his 80th crazy year in a couple of weeks.

In the 37 years Paulus has been in my life, among the many learnings, the most important is this: It is okay to drag along a suitcase full of shadowy fears, vulnerabilities and anxieties for this is where your muse resides.

Listen to what she is trying to tell you and then use this information to live artistically/Artistically to help both yourself and the world around you in this “one wild and precious life” you have been given.

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