exhibit began in a brainstorming session between CFEVA artists
and Astral musicians in early 2006. There I meet my collaborator,
Koji Attwood, and we quickly discovered our shared love for Alexander
Scriabins piano music. Koji had written his doctoral thesis
at Julliard on the composer and told me about Scriabins
synethesia, a cross-sensing ability that caused Scriabin to associate
different keys with specific colors. (Ive included Scriabins
associations with all the notes in the scale at the end of this
statement.) Scriabin had a dream of combining all of the senses,
and all of the arts, in his work. He created a color-organ, a
machine that projected light during his home performances. Just
before his death in 1915, he was planning an enormously complicated,
seven-day long piece titled Mysterium, a compete integration
of all the arts and senses to be performed in the Himalayas and
designed with the purpose of ending the world. In
addition to being a musical genius, he was, perhaps, a little
extreme and eccentric.
saw his house when I recently traveled in Russia, researching
and taking photographs for this exhibition. I saw the famous light-organ,
disappointing crude. I saw a video of the Mysterium Prefatory
Act, a compilation of the notes Scriabin left behind at
his death translated into a performance that used projected colored
light in swirls and streaks behind the orchestra. It was awful.
To me, Scriabins music is so visually rich, human, and evocative
of place that it seems better paired with strong visual imagery.
His music sounds like internal conversation, external argument,
an event unraveling. I listen to it and see specific imagery.
also see color
or at least feel his color assignment for
the key signatures of the pieces often makes sense. It may seem
strange to talk about the color of an exhibition that is technically
black and white, but color can be present apart from simple notation.
For me Following, inspired by the Prelude in
C-sharp Minor, is purple, the color Scriabin associated
with C-sharp. It is the color of the forest at the end of the
day when it is still quite light outside its edge, but already
deeply purple within. Scriabin assigned the color flesh
to E-flat, and I thought biblically of Prelude in E-flat
Minor as the flesh, a man struggling against
himself just to stay afloat. Mary at Sea, inspired
by the gorgeous Prelude in G-sharp Minor, (which I
listen to over and over,) is certainly lilac grey, the color of
the mist between two worlds. Skull Rider, inspired
by the frighteningly abrupt Prelude in F Major, can
be nothing but the deepest red. The falling-overtop-of-itself
running sound of Etude in B Minor, Slate Blue (Unbridled)
is the moment just before total darkness when all color becomes
blue, gray and shadow.
also associated notes with certain characteristics. He thought
of D-flat as the Will of the Creative Spirit. When
his character description seemed to fit what I heard more precisely,
I used it, like in Running Within, the creative spirit
in a cage of beauty, my feelings of the creative process. I also
used Scriabins characteristic description of G-sharp as
Movement of the Spirit into Matter in Last Judgment.
This piece sounds like a dividing of the soul, like heaven and
hell. Absolute. Either one, or the other.
was lucky enough, thanks to an Independence Foundation Fellowship
sponsored by Astral Artists, to visit Russia for three weeks last
May. I was already deeply into this body of work by then, surrounded
on all sides of my studio by images of Russia that accumulated
the longer I listened to Scriabins music. I went to see
those beautiful cube-shaped medieval orthodox churches to try
to understand this form that had taken over my visual life quite
unexpectedly. While I did spend several days in Saint Petersburg
and Moscow, the bulk of my travels were through Novgorod, a medieval
town just south of Saint Petersburg, and the smaller cities of
the Golden Ring, a circular pilgrimage route north
east of Moscow. I walked each town seeing many churches. Novgorod
alone has over fifty surviving. One of these was surrounded by
a cemetery where I took photographs of the many headstone portraits
seen in the exhibit. I saw mostly the outsides of the churches,
the locks on the doors rusted over during the Soviet area. But
those I did see inside were covered with frescos. Almost invariably
the crowning scenes of these frescos was the Apocalypse, the Last
Judgment, when Christ divides humanity into those who are
saved and those who are condemned. I was fascinated, not only
by the extreme visual beauty of some of these frescos, but by
the idea expressed, a mystery to me. Growing up the daughter of
a Lutheran minister, I am familiar with the biblical rules. While
the rules can seem remote to me, Im drawn to the idea of
an incomprehensible absolute.
have also become fascinated with the Virgin Mary. I saw many stunning
icons of Mary in Russia, and have been thinking about her ever
since. She is such a strange character; the embodiment of unconditional
love, yet seemingly resigned to the fate of the world. The female
deity as an intercessor, but powerless, a witness with tears evaporating
above the hell fire.
of these themes have dominated my creative life because of that
one meeting, more than two years ago, brought about by the desire
of two wonderful organizations to collaborate in honor of their
joint anniversary years. The project I originally designed, the
model of which is presented in photographs at the beginning of
this exhibition, is a large performance piece that combines live
piano performance with all-surrounding video projections inspired
by Scriabins music. It is a twenty-foot cube, a Music
Box, with a grand piano on top that houses an audience of
eighty-eight sitting beneath the piano within its scrim walls.
It is designed to be installed in the atrium of the Kimmel Center,
a temporary third performance box within that arched-glass structure.
This exhibit, and the concert given in conjunction with it, is
the first stage in realizing the larger project. A project that
sometimes seems a little like Scriabins Mysterium
- terribly large and a little crazy. I hope to see it someday.
first stage, Scriabin Music Boxes, would not have
been possible without the countless hours given by Debra Rosenblum,
Julia McGeehan, Dale Castelucci and, especially, Shane Stratton.
Thank you to Genevieve Courtobis for handing me a loaded Holga
camera a year ago and absolutely insisting that I use it. Created
at a time when the cost of bronze ingot has more than tripled
in price, I am so grateful to my parents, Janet and Bernhard Bischoff,
who purchased the metal I needed to cast this work. Thanks also
to the Independence Foundation, The Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation,
The Sugarman Foundation and The Norton Island Residency Program
for supporting this body of work. My fondest thanks to Maida Milone
and Vera Wilson for inspiring this exhibition in the first place.
And heartfelt thanks to my brilliant collaborator, Koji Attwood,
for his beautiful playing.