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The Space Between: Mark-making as Meditation

To draw the aural and spiritual is to give form to the immaterial. Stroke by stroke, line by line, breath by breath and pause by pause, the exhibiting artists, Cindy Yuen-Zhe Chen and Phoebe Rathmell converge the ephemeral with the visual. Underpinned by Chan or Zen Buddhist philosophies, their intricate practices use ink to chart soundscapes or map a spiritual state. By sensitively and subjectively interpreting exact moments, their artworks remain as traces of experience.

Responding to a variety of sounds within a natural environment or to Buddhist chants, with a single repetitious movement Chen translates the sonic into a series of vertical lines. Using a calligraphy brush, she paints in the kung pi style, described as the ‘labouring brush’. The brush is held perpendicularly and only the tip of the brush touches the paper. The brush is moistened with a precise mixture of water and ink, so that individual hairs can be deciphered. A breath is taken, a line is drawn. Each line holds chi: containing breath and emotion. Together, the lines create a visual rhythm of the sonic across the paper. They pitch and fall to create a visual melody. According to a change in tone or frequency, Chen places these groupings within the composition, and the result is not unlike a traditional Chinese landscape painting. The emptiness and spaces between the lines and forms are not considered negative space, as in Western tradition, but the space where the artist themselves exists within the work.

For Rathmell, there is no separation between her meditation practice and her art practice. Driven by process, her art is a manifestation of her spiritual experience. She exercises repetition as her mantra. Seemingly infinite echoes of motifs such as the enso circle or indra net stretch across her canvases. The repetition of form is mesmerising. They are uninhibited brushstrokes that express a moment when the mind is free to allow the body to create. However, it is not just the lines that denote significance; it is also the void or space they form. Rathmell’s patterning conveys a sense of the infinite and concurrently, the void or nothingness, a key element of Zen Buddhism.

A central component of Rathmell’s practice is her live performance work. This time working on a large scale, the artist uses her breath and her whole body in a gestural motion to draw rhythmic and repetitious lines. Transcending the sense of self and time, the artwork reveals itself allowing for the possibility of chance. The artwork itself remains as a trace of the artist’s spirit at that instant of creation.

The Space Between: Mark-making as Meditation brings together these two young Sydney-based artists whose process-driven practices are informed from Buddhist philosophy. This profound exhibition displays the aural, mental and spiritual experiences of the artists, as they immerse themselves in aspects of ritual and repetition, the breath and meditation, the body and sound, and mark-making and calligraphy.

Venita Poblocki

Image: Phoebe Rathmell, Enso to Infinity (C)

The Space Between: Mark-making as Meditation