My friend Vin Jensen recently reviewed my “Babylonian Voices” paintings at Art Slash Life. Below is a reprint of his take on the series.
If, in the mind of God, a thousand years is as a day, then we’ve known for only a minute or two that languages are as permanent as icebergs; yet we continue to forget that our children do not understand us, nor we them, that every grammarian is self-appointed, that the Tower of Babel rises and falls on a regular basis, like the breath of a generation, that each of us, come right down to it, speaks a dialect entirely her own, his own, my own.
The stories spun by an ancient tribesman hunkered against the onslaught of forces incomprehensible to the science of his time, continue to inform my fearful, my joyous, my awestruck imagination. The incantations of a televangelist dead these several decades still flourishes a wand in my unconscious, conducting my cadences. The opposable thumbs of upright teenagers text the essential grunts, squees and LOLs that served a clan of vagabonds on the savannah only, by God’s clock, the day before yesterday.
These five canvases of Ann Salk Rosenberg, her “Babylonian Voices” series, tell a perennial tale. They speak abstractedly of human atrocities waged against the “other” for the sake of its otherness. They document the isolation of the soul from its body of knowledge. They encipher a secret we hold dear, whispering that you and I are one and the same. They weep that we still don’t know it. Speech, Rosenberg reminds us, is a paradigm, a model of the world that we mistake for the world itself. We used to believe that if you can’t say it, you can’t think it, and we built dystopias around that model of the mind.
In the world of Babylonian Voices #1, the world is made up of one family. We don’t look, act or think alike. Our worship practices differ. Our morals and mores differ. But under the skin of each of us beats the same heart. It is our hearts that tie us together and bind our different voices across time and culture. The family in this painting is cohesive – joined together by their touching squares. The circles within the squares represent the voices that softly sing out to one another, each ringing with the harmonious sounds of family and love. This is the beginning of a new world, one where we all accept each other and work together.
The extended world family shared one voice and built a great tower together, but in Babylonian Voices #2, the tower has tipped. The squares that previously lived together harmoniously are falling and changing. The circles that represent the individual voices get bigger, louder and farther apart; they morph, twirl and spread out until they cover the four corners of the earth. The world is no longer the same. Connections are broken.
Minimal order and cohesion remains in Babylonian Voices #3. There is neither black (emptiness and the absence of everything) nor white (the presence of every possibility) in this world. Everyone is struggling to make a place for themselves. There is not even time for bickering. Everyone is acting independently, trying to survive and find his and her own way, barely recognizing the ancient bonds of family or tribe. The whole world is topsy-turvy.
Babylonian Voices #4 shows how the world now has areas of stress. This tension reveals itself in the black that is reappearing. No longer satisfied with their/our place in the world, the jockeying has begun. The need of the individual to be the best, own the most, have the power and control the others has emerged.
In Babylonian Voices #5 we have arrived at a crossroad, an opportunity. There is the hint of a meeting place forming in the middle. Will enough of us gather and unite? Or will we compete and be left with winners and losers? The outcome is left to the viewer’s imagination. We all share responsibility for what comes next. What do you want? Are you willing to speak out? Do you share the Babylonian dream of a world working together? Can you imagine a new way? Can we influence what happens next?
~Ann Salk Rosenberg
We keep outliving our prophecies even as we keep fulfilling them. We break our contract with the divine because we’ve discovered print too fine to read with the naked eye, then finer than that, and finer still. And because we have broken faith with our own divinity, and with the divine principle that you and I are two Mendelian peas in a pod, we use that fine print to dismantle the fabric of the universe. We have broken our word. And the Word was God. And so we begin again, in our own image, creating and destroying the languages by which we live, making and unmaking our minds, our maps, our memories.
We are unholy gods, and we have built new syntaxes, new rules to govern a minor universe of machines that they might think together, faster and more thoroughly than we can think for ourselves. They update one another while we sleep and dream our separate dreams, tap-tap-tapping at the door to the collective unconscious.
Do I read all this into the inscrutable march of squares and circles across one canvas and into the triangulated chaos of another? Being literate, I do. Being human and participatory in the enigmatic processes of creation and destruction, a meaning-maker and a manager of my own mystery, I must.
By looking and saying, by pointing at the commonality of our idiosyncrasies, at the whimsical nature of our separatist tendencies, I, you, we, this painter named Ann in all her specificity, may come together in the blink of an eye and construct the human universe anew, watch it unfold its inter-coordinated purposes, its mysterious origami, the magic of its meaning.