absence presence

In December 2007, I was asked to participate in, Pulling Down, an exhibition and performances about the Holocaust, honoring the Day of Memory, held at the auditorium in Rome, Italy in January 2008.

I was staying in the neighborhood of the Jewish Ghetto and spent many hours walking the streets both day and at night in preparation for the exhibition. I sensed that the streets themselves would let me know what they wanted me to express- that I would find my inspiration there- since it was there the Jews were forced to evacuate their homes.

Coming from a Jewish family, I was interested in exploring my origins and the historical events that took place in those streets during the Holocaust from an artist perspective. From there, the exploration of absence presence was born.

In absence, there is presence. Without presence, there is absence. Empty streets and houses hold a haunting feeling as though the streets themselves know that something is missing. It has been said that the spirit often returns to the places it has known, trying to make sense of its experiences and to find its body.

As more an intuitive rather than rational artist, I’m interested in the invisible manifestation of movement that resides below the surface of knowing. In the process of creation, that invisible world shows me what is there, and its gentle but guiding hand always comes up with more interesting and surprising results than I could have imagined.

I’ve discovered that there is an invisible veil between worlds that creates the illusion of separateness in our lives; however, when people and things begin to materialize from the fiction of one’s art, the question arises not only about how everything is connected, but what is actually real, and which comes first, fact or fiction?

In terms of space, where does the hidden world lie: below, above, next to, or, as in dreams, inward? Does it matter, or is it necessary to place it? Whatever the case, there is still a vanishing quality even in the materialization of this invisible world. And the meaning that comes has a multiplicity effect within the ephemeral world implicit in the invisible.

Presence requires inhabiting the body.

Presence is essential to all spiritual practices and to life. If we are not present we are missing our experience and the opportunity at hand. With this in mind an exploration of absence and presence evolved. Although I establish my parameters—my frame—what takes place within that context is unknown, subject to movement and presence. Shooting only at night, there is absence of light.

In terms of movement and what I know about the fluid system—thanks to my practice of Continuum Movement which recognizes the body’s fluid intelligence and capacity to orchestrate—when there are any isolating phenomena, as there was during the Holocaust—the fluids will compress, forming a barrier to the world. This results in a kind of hologram of survival which can be read like a diary. The social consequences of these behavior barriers give rise to a loss of fundamental resonance, resulting in an inability to feel. The Holocaust was an example of this condition. Unfortunately, aspects of this malady are being acted out now with alarming intensity, both nationally and worldwide.

After shooting in the Jewish Ghetto in Rome, my exploration of absence presence continued in my studio in Brooklyn. Walking into the frame or parameter of the camera and the passage of light, I am able to learn something new about myself, others, and my environment.

Having painted for many years, this process of painting with light is a natural progression. My work is not constructed but emerges as life presents itself moment to moment. The photos are one-shot and not constructed in Photoshop, though I have begun compositing as well. Having worked in various art forms for many years, I have learned to welcome whatever form seems to beckon, rather than reject its entrance into my work.

My intention with these photos is to capture what is hidden, invisible, or that which is not normally seen. And to enter into a non-linear, unpredictable dream state, like a conversation where what is not said has just as much or sometimes even more relevance than what is.

In looking back at my work with absence presence over the last years, I only now fully understand the alchemy of it. That’s the beauty of an art practice. It’s as though an invisible force drives you to create, and in the creating, you are able to work through exactly what’s needed. Like homeopathy, the medicine takes its miniscule root from the ailment—”let like be cured by like”—and in doing so heals you. Not to say that all art is a healing process, but in the relatedness of all things, art itself takes you to the next step of your evolution. It’s only in the reflection, however, that you realize where you have been and how you’ve gotten there.

About Barbara Schaefer

Barbara Schaefer is an interdisciplinary artist whose paintings and photographs are exhibited internationally. She obtained a BFA from The University of Arizona and an MFA from San Francisco State University. She won a Helen Wurlitzer Foundation Artist-in-Residency award in 1997, the New York Foundation for The Arts Sponsorship in 1996, a grant from the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation in 2004 and an Artist-in-Residency award at the Fundación Valparaiso in 2005. In 2011, Barbara had a solo museum exhibition at the Museo Comunale D’Arte Moderna in Senigallia, Italy and received a grant from Franklin Furnace. In 2015, Barbara’s photography was exhibited at the Louvre Museum in Paris, France and at the Scope Art Fair in Miami. In 2016 she had a solo exhibition in Rome, Italy at Studio Matacotta.

Barbara lived in Rome, Italy from 1983 until 1995. Her experience of living in Rome had a significant impact and influence on her work and in her life. The city's beauty inspired her toward refinement and aesthetic choice, while its omnipresent history, such as the facades of old Rome, weathered with patina, permeated her work. Italian culture and language, so rich and lively, compelled her to think and act in ways she would not have otherwise discovered.

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