Reflections: Sound of Silence

Since I can remember, I have fantasized about taking my own life. Not in the brutal and selfish way, I wanted to go out slitting my wrist, quietly fading away pain free without a single witness. My fantasy of insular death was a disillusion at best. Every action we take massively affects others.  What began as a sad, angry, childlike form of escapism caught up with me later in life. When I was diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer in my early thirties, I began to understand that my death wish was a deep rooted longing to come home to myself – to my soul - released from the shackles of my physical body and the traumas of the mundane world. Initially I pretended the cancer wasn’t happening, struggling to avoid the deep depression lurking around the bend. Eventually, this marked the beginning of a deep emotional and spiritual decent. Deep diving into darkness, I searched desperately for my soul. The experience offered a brutal awakening – an opportunity to really take a look at myself, fundamentally expanding my perceptions about existence.

Where I was born, there are no universities or specialist colleges. People leave home to get their degrees, some at a young age.  Many never leave at all. I left my family in the North of Norway as a child to live with my Mum in Oslo. At the age of 17-years-old, I left my Mum’s place over a boiling, adolescent rage for my stepfather.  I studied art glass in Sweden and eventually settled in the UK, living further and further away from my family and friends as time passed. It was as if somewhere along the way I had adopting the mantra trust nobody. I stopped connecting with people in anyway that could be described as whole, authentic and vulnerable. You cannot selectively numb yourself. You can’t numb grief, sadness, shame and disappointment without depressing the body’s natural ability to feel and express joy, happiness and gratitude. The more I attempted to numb with antisocial and addictive behaviours, the more my life lacked purpose and meaning.

I began studying for my Masters Degree in Manchester just ten weeks before my cancer diagnosis. Despite myself, and my routine insistence on living in my head, my body was crying out with truth. My MA research focused on my own community, specifically on the nearly abandoned Victorian Park next door to my home, which would eventually lead to starting the non-profit artist collective Alexandra Arts. My goal was to create the perfect project for the communities surrounding Alexandra Park…what better place to look for a sense love and belonging? Reconnecting with nature was a key part of the healing process, and felt much like going home.

Eventually things started falling into place. As it turns out, we can’t practice compassion if we don’t treat ourselves kindly. Each and every one of us is hardwired for connection, that’s why we are here. Without the opportunity to love and be loved by others we are nothing. Within the complexity of human connection exists life’s most precious gifts – love, joy, hope, courage and compassion. And creativity. For real connection to take place one must allow oneself to be seen, deeply and authentically. Our society’s overarching rejection of vulnerability often stems from an avoidance of humanity’s darkest emotions - fear, shame, grief, sadness, and disappointment—emotions that we don’t want to discuss, even when they profoundly affect the way we love, live and work.

As a female artist in a patriarchal art world, the odds are stacked against me. To put my art and ideas out into the world with no assurance of acceptance or appreciation—is a daily exercise in being vulnerable. My battle with cancer woke me up to the fact that the creative work I do is fundamental to life; it’s not a luxury, not for the privileged few. My love and passion for what I do has a direct and positive effect on others. Through this process, and accepting my cancer as part of my soul’s own design, I’ve found the courage to be imperfect, to be enough.  I have an increasingly greater clarity of purpose and live a more meaningful spiritual life, one involving more emotional risks, more loving, more compassion for others and myself. One thing that became clear was a necessity to work with other people. Redirecting my energy towards others has been a very healing element of this process.

The work on show at Studio 511 bridges my past with my current work. A black & white photograph on the back wall depicts the feminine motif I designed to be the essential pattern representing my work with the communities surrounding Alexandra Park. Situated in front of the photo canvas, a shimmering shower of tear-shaped crystals flows from floor to ceiling. The mass of crystals is installed vertically, strung to follow the curvaceous forms of the image behind. In my return to my original medium – glass – I offer a glimpse of my vulnerability, fragility, my light, my love. In the poetics of the space, and the luminous, radiant colour signatures embedded in the subtle contours of crystals, I offer viewers a reflection of my deep and personal journey into self-expansion.

Sound of Silence: by Lotte Karlsen

8th - 24th September 2016

Studio 511, West Chelsea Arts Building, 526 West 26th St. New York, NY 1001

Preview: Thursday 8th September, 6- 8 pm

Opening times: Tuesday – Saturday 12 – 6pm, and Thursday’s 6 – 8pm

This exhibition is a collaboration between West Chelsea Artists Open Studios, artist and feminist writer Katie Cercone, of Go Push Pops and ‘Pankhurst in the Park’ 2016 programme of events, funded by the Arts Council of England.

 Read the press release here