Mean Times Make Nice Art | Spiritual and Soothing Art by Sameer Reddy

nowFortune cookie – Good Fortune, 2011, fortune cookie, paper.

Sameer Reddy’s generous and humorous sculptures, photographs and performances are welcome balms against the stresses and hurt of hard times. Reddy’s puckish wit counterbalances the warmth of his works; offering skeptical viewers tart delights while people craving comfort can find hope and relief in the spiritual aspects of his art.
Prior to developing his art practice, Reddy established himself as a respected critic of luxury design, fashion and culture. His writing regularly appeared in the New York Times, The Daily Beast, W magazine, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal and similar publications. Although he now focuses on his writing on art-related subjects, his expert knowledge of the values, taste and aesthetic concerns during eras of opulence informs the appearance of his work. Yet, his art speaks passionately to invaluable ideals and anti-materialistic needs. Reddy’s art is a playful and intimate rebuttal to the superficial aspects of the art-world and a warm-hearted alternative.

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balance scale with greeting cards – Funny Ha-Ha, 2012, balance scale, paint, greeting cards

As part of his performance practice, Reddy opened Transformance℠ in Manhattan last summer. Conceived as a sincere exploration into metaphysical healing, the center offers Reiki Tummo, Prema Birthing and Rising Star sessions, as well as the I Ching, Tarot cards, gem essences, Biogenesis tools, crystals and Tibetan singing bowls. The arresting self-portraits of Reddy in the guise of various deities, mythic figures, representative stereotypes and cultural icons presented on the walls of the  Transformance℠ center, however, add a knowing meta-narrative to the environment. Reddy’s photographs invite viewers to consciously decide whether to engage with their experience critically or trustingly. Both approaches offer rich rewards.

For Apokálypsis Now, Reddy’s solo exhibition at Kentucky’s Institute 193, he will be performing a series of individual healing rituals and presenting photographs and sculptures imbued with spiritual promise. Here, Reddy explains the significance of faith, skepticism and belief in making, and appreciating, art.

AFH: What powers or traditions do you call upon when blessing your work?

SR: I ask a concept that I term Source – which I view as presence both outside of me, and inside of me, in the truest sense, everywhere – to instill a transcendent intention into the work, in order that it might be transmuted into an object or experience that brings the viewer or participant into a deeper relationship with him or herself.

AFH: Are your sculptures primarily art objects or religious objects?

SR: All of my sculptures are conceived of as such.  I’m primarily attempting to contextualize them in an art world setting, and my intention is that they be viewed from within that context, but I’m also working at odds with this intention in some of my work.  I’m interested in problematizing the concept of an art object – I’m uncomfortable with static definitions and structures because, by nature, they limit potential… so sometimes I work to create a sculpture that could also be categorized as a holy object (but never as a religious one.) I don’t see anything mutually exclusive about these roles.

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balance scale with virgin mary and smart water – Light as a feather, 2012, antique balance scale, silver leaf, chrome plate, stainless steel plate, Smart water bottle, holy water bottle.

AFH: Aren’t all art objects inherently imbued with viewers’ faith in their value, transcendent potential and meaning?

SR: I don’t believe this is the case.  Faith, in its typical sense, doesn’t enter the equation, except perhaps in an abstract perspective on the value of art making. Viewers determine value of an art object based on their experience of that object… if it appeals to them or they appreciate some aspect of the experience, then they propose a value, and if not, then they attach little or no value to the object. I don’t think viewers approach an art object with an innate faith that surpasses their personal experience of the object.

AFH: Do you want your work to make viewers more conscious of how faith influences their relationship to art?

SR: The objects and experiences I create are subject to the same process of evaluation, and I’m happy that this is the case. I’m not interested in blind faith – I think it’s the height of irresponsibility. The kind of faith I’m interested in is actually better described as trust. If someone verifies for herself, through firsthand experience, the value of an art object or performance that I create than I would hope she would trust her own experience, even if it challenges her ideas about rational phenomena. Examples of this are to be found in the energy channeling aspect of my performances, or in sculptures that double as ritual implements, intended to actualize a psycho-spiritual effect. This comes into play with the transcendent intention that is the foundation of all of my work, that viewers and participants might be able to momentarily access a state of being that supersedes an experience rooted in the Ego.

AFH: Can you define “transcendent” in this context?

SR: A working definition of “transcendent” that I find useful is: something superior or surpassing (for instance, God), something that goes beyond that what is given to our experience (metaphysical knowledge in the traditional sense). So my intention is that, by interacting with an object or performance, a viewer/participant might be able to internally align with an aspect of the divine – call it Source, or the Higher Self, or whatever is comfortable – and shift away from an Ego-self orientation.

AFH: Do you feel that art itself has a potentially healing and cathartic power?

SR: Definitely. Catharsis can manifest on many different levels – I’m primarily interested in a spiritual catharsis, which I view as intimately linked to emotional catharsis. By creating conditions in which audience members can come into contact with a level of experience that defies scientific materialist assumptions, I hope to provide a kind of shock that jolts people, temporarily, into an altered state. If they choose to make use of that moment, there are many possibilities. Sometimes a buried, stagnating emotion is released, sometimes people reexamine their intellectual biases in light of their experience, and sometimes, and this is what interests me the most, sometimes an experience occurs that is so definitively beyond our conventional ideas of possibility occurs, that a person is transformed in an undeniable way. When this happens, there’s a chance that they will choose to venture further in this direction in their lives, towards an embrace of the unknown, which is a scary, but perhaps essential, place to be willing to travel to. I guess it all depends on what you want to do with your life, and how far you’re willing to go for it.

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Left: Detail shot pearls from balance scale – Diamonds and pearls (detail), 2012, Right: Detail shot diamonds from balance scale – Diamonds and pearls (detail), 2012.

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Balance scale with diamonds and pearls – Diamonds and Pearls, 2012, balance scale, paint, natural diamonds, synthetic diamonds, diamond powder, quartz, natural pearls, synthetic pearls, pearl powder.

AFH: How does the role of the artist relate to the role of a healer?

SR: As far as the relationship between the artist and the healer/shaman, I think both can serve as catalysts for healing fractured societies and individuals. Both embark on fraught interior journeys in order to bring forth truth into the external world. And both actualize a fundamental mystery of our experience, the process by which meaningful, oftentimes therapeutic expression originates from an unknown source and descends into the material world, through a human vehicle.

AFH: What role did spirituality, faith or religion play in your upbringing?

SR: I was always very interested in spirituality but I had no real exposure to organized religion growing up. As a child I used to imagine being a healer, and I’d picture energy streaming from my hands. I bought my first copy of the I Ching when I was 15. Then, in college, I put aside these interests temporarily, because I felt like I was supposed to focus on making something ‘substantial’ out of my life, defined by more conventional ideas about success and achievement. But after I pursued this path for a decade, as a magazine editor and creative director, and then as a writer, I got very ill and oddly enough, I turned back towards my former interests for practical reasons, because I thought they might help me heal. I learned to channel Reiki Tummo energy, and through daily self-healings for a couple of years, I was able to achieve a state of health I had never felt before in my life. One thing led to another, and I found my practice re-orienting itself to reflect my experience.

Ana Finel Honigman

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