Sharon Alward

Artist Statement

For over a decade, my projects have questioned the role of the artist in society and the social responsibility of the artist. Suzanne Lacy, a California performance artist, stated that " being an artist carries with it a great potential and a great obligation. For in making art, we embark upon a process of self creating. In a culture made up of images and sounds and stories created by artists who do not hold themselves accountable for that very culture, we have a set up for destruction". I am interested in art as a healing agent. In addition to teaching at the University of Manitoba, School of Art, I volunteered at TERF ( Training and Employment Resources for Females) as the Artist-in Residence, which evolved out of my work at POWER ( Prostitutes and Other Women for Equal Rights) as an outreach worker, and I was an Administrant and Lay reader for the Anglican Church. This ongoing commitment to the broader community as well as the art community is an integral part of my philosophy as an artist.

The focus of my performance projects is a non-dogmatic mode of artistic and intellectual inquiry that explores multiple religious and philosophical approaches to love, mercy and healing. Over the past decade my performance/installations have focused on postmodern religious thought. My projects seek to expand the meaning of Derrida's phrase " saintly postmodern ethics in the moment of endless waiting ". The necessity for ethical action; love, compassion, altruism or care had it's early appearance in the work of Suzanne Lacy, Rachael Rosenthal, Linda Montano, Joseph Beuys and other performance artists. Suzi Gablik talks about ritual's symbolic significance and Rachael Rosenthal speaks about "sucking the disease from society". Edith Wyschogrod describes the blissful enlightenment in the endless assistance to others not as a nostalgic return to a premodern hagiography , but a postmodern expression of desire; a desire on the behalf of the other that seeks the cessation of another's suffering and the birth of another's joy.

My performance/installations and videos explore religious paradigms, metaphysics and religious language. I feel an urgency to evoke a collective experience that can bridge the gap between materiality and spirituality both with my body and with images. One of the most important features of all of these projects is the audience's accessibility to the artist and the work. Audiences are invited to participate and ask questions before, during and after the projects.

There is also an ongoing narrative in all of my projects that examines the aesthetics of the body and hierarchies of authority. Foucault in The History of Sexuality (Volume 1, 1980) states that the new procedures of power that were devised during the classical age and employed in the 19th century were what caused our society to go from a symbolics of blood to an analytics of sexuality. Nothing was more representative of the law, death, transgression, the symbolic and sovereignty than blood; just as sexuality represented the norm, knowledge, meaning, the disciplines and regulation. Repulsion, seduction and exoticism have been explored in my earlier works.

Historically, the spiritual imagination functioned in art much as it did in religion. However with the onset of Modernism the ability of art to transcend causality and remain spiritual was questioned. Modern art achieved aesthetic autonomy through pure formalism, a process of reductive abstraction that removed everything inessential. Walter Benjamin said that the work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction reduced the aura of the unique artwork to multiples that quickly degraded to kitsch. Pop art accelerated this process; the transcendental quality of the auratic artwork disappeared and art became commonplace, superficial and banal. Art no longer represented an independent reality.

This failure of representation in art has led me back to the beginning; to an awareness of our brief mortal moment, to a sense of the unrepresentable and a yearning for meaning. The challenge for me is the possibility of reframing the sacred in our postmodern, post - Christian world. Baudrillard claimed that when every thing is aesthetic, nothing is beautiful or ugly anymore and art itself disappears. He submits that the present disorder in art may be interpreted as a fundamental breaking in the secret code of the aesthetic and that artists should approach art as ritual -- consider art from an anthropological standpoint, without any reference to aesthetic judgments.

Returning art to its ritualistic platform and combining this idea with recent technological developments in the visual arts may create new possibilities for the spiritual imagination. Margaret Morse in her article "The Body, The Image, The Space-in-Between" claims performance, video and the larger category of installation art stand for a contemporary image culture and that " each installation is a revision of the apparatus that represents our culture to itself. A new disposition of machines that project the imagination onto the world and that store, recirculate and displays images; and, a fresh orientation of the body in space with a reformation of visual and kinesthetic experiences."

Performance has been established as a non metaphorical art; it is art as ritual. Whereas most visual art is metaphorical, representational and seeks to bring pleasure, performance, according to Peggy Phelan in her book Unmarked : The Politics of Performance, because of the presence of the body, is metonymy, displacement and pain. Performance arrives at the real through resisting the metaphor and marking loss.

Victor Turner (Performance and Transformation: New Approaches to Late Medieval Spirituality, 1999) discusses performance and it relation to religious ritual as a state of liminality; a transformative concept in industrialized culture where social conflict can be addressed. Richard Rohr, founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and a Franciscan priest, suggests that sacred space is where we are capable of seeing something beyond self-interest and self will. I am interested in creating spaces that allow an alternative consciousness to emerge. Sacred space he says allows you to live with paradox and mystery, feel indestructible yet vulnerable, weep for the evil of which both sides are victims, imagine an alternative universe because you have been there and dare to imagine you can hear God. (Hope Against Darkness: The Transforming Vision of Saint Francis in an Age of Anxiety 2001).

My commitment to performance stems from my conviction that an encounter is always more than its description.