“The artist is the archetype of the 21st century,” says Deepa Patel of the Seven Pillars House of Wisdom. Seven Pillars will sponsor “Vanishing Art: An Intimate Festival of What May Be” at the Abode of the Message in New Lebanon, August 24-28. The title comes from a series of “poetic actions” Peter Lamborn Wilson has conducted around the Hudson Valley: artworks that literally vanish after being created. In a cemetery in West Park, for example, Wilson erected a tombstone made of ice for Mary Cragin, one of the founders of the Oneida Community, the 19th-century free-love commune. (Cragin’s actual tombstone has disappeared.) This festival will also feature artists and poets: Robert Kelly, Carolee Schneemann, Dorothea Rockburne, Wendy Tremayne, Bisan Toron, Phong Bui, George Quasha, Charles Stein, and others. Each day of the gathering, Wilson will perform a work of “vanishing art,” one for each of the four alchemical elements: earth, air, fire, water.
Wilson, Christopher Bamford, and Pir Zia Inayat-Khan invented “Green Hermeticism,” a philosophy combining the practice of alchemy with the ideals of environmentalism. Bamford, editor-in-chief of SteinerBooks, will begin the gathering with an introduction to art as a mystic practice. Much of the four-day event will be given to dance and music performances, poetry readings, and interviews with artists. There will also be “art contemplations,” led like meditations. “It’s a celebration of what is trying to come to birth through art,” Bamford notes.
Carolee Schneemann, the eminent performance artist, has lived in a French Huguenot house outside New Paltz for 40 years. Built as a farmhouse in 1750, the structure has deeply influenced Schneemann’s art. “All my work comes from this house,” she says. Schneemann will recount “personal, elusive, paranormal events that have happened here around the house and in the woods.” These stories illustrate her “personal iconography”—the higher meaning she creates from daily life.
“Vanishing Art” will present a wide array of artists. Phong Bui is the influential publisher of the Brooklyn Rail, as well as a professor and installation artist. Poet Robert Kelly has been teaching at Bard College for 50 years and has published more than 50 books. Syrian-born Bisan Toron is a vocal improviser. Dorothea Rockburne is an abstract painter inspired by mathematics and astronomy. Wendy Tremayne is an activist and performance artist who invented the Swap-O-Rama-Rama, an anticonsumerist bazaar.
“The act of art, the experience of art, is inherently a spiritual activity,” observes Jennifer Alia Wittman, executive director of Seven Pillars. “We are moving in the direction, we believe, of a return to art—not just what you would typically deem as art, but everything as art. We are all artists, if we want to be. We are all poets, if we want to be.”
Most artists attempt to make works of eternal beauty, to be treasured by rich people with exquisite taste. “Vanishing art” questions these assumptions. “In a certain sense, all art vanishes,” Bamford notes. “Everything vanishes. Beauty vanishes.” But when art vanishes, what remains? The viewer remains, and so does the artist, but without a comforting object between them. “Vanishing art” attempts to save artworks from being swallowed up in the vast American entertainment industry. Part of the mission of “Vanishing Art” is to generate a manifesto—or antimanifesto, “because manifestos are a dime a dozen,” Bamford asserts—about the future goals of art.
"Vanishing Art: An Intimate Festival of What May Be" will take place at Abode of the Message in New Lebanon, August 24-28. (518) 794-8777; www.sevenpillarshouse.org.