studio love

A Notebook

ruminations of an aspiring artist

On shadows


Shadows of Sound and Space

An exhibit by
Arlene Kim Suda & Blue TrucK

WHEN: Saturday and Sunday, Nov 11-12, 11a-6p
with an opening reception on Friday, Nov 10, 6-9pm

WHERE: Blue Truck, 1890 Bryant St, #314,
San Francisco

The idea for this exhibit started with a conversation with the architects at Blue Truck about parallels in the work of architects and musicians. Both are creators and designers of spaces for people -- physical spaces and spaces of sound. They asked if I had read the book, In Praise of Shadows, by Junichiro Tanizaki (a treasure of writing including a forward by Charles Moore) and that essay became one spark that led to this exhibit.

"It comes with the thrill of a slap for us then to hear praise of shadows and darkness; so it is when there comes to us the excitement of realizing that musicians everywhere make their sounds to capture silence or that architects develop complex shapes just to envelop empty space. Thus darkness illuminates for us a culture very different from our own; but at the same time it helps us to look deep into ourselves to our own inhabitation of our world, as it describes with spine tingling insights the traditional Japanese inhabitation of theirs. It could change our lives.”

- Charles Moore, School of Architecture, UCLA

And then what a gift to come across this passage so eloquently stated by Tanizaki that captured my attention (down to my bones!):

were it not for shadows,
there would be no beauty…
— from In Praise of Shadows by Junichiro Tanizaki

The concept of noticing, facing and even praising shadows has appeared in so many of my observations of life and art -- from the books and poetry on my night table to the music that fills my studio. Together, they all point me to these kinds of questions:

Why in life do we have a tendency to deny and avoid the shadow side of our existence? Why are we all so obsessed with being "right" or "wrong"? By avoiding the darkness of our own shadows, are we missing out on the potential beauty in our lives?

We do seem to be taught from an early age that there are certain ways of being that are ‘acceptable’ and others that are not. We still live in a culture where a fear of failure and a fear of not belonging somewhere is pervasive even though it’s not quite clear who is setting the gold standards of the ideal life we are trying to achieve.

Instead of using critical reasoning, healthy curiosity and emotional intelligence to learn HOW to confront the less desirable attributes or darkness we experience in life, we often end up avoiding them all together, suppressing our own stories without knowing we are slowly cultivating a subtle hatred of being human -- an unhealthy perspective that can lead us to think there is something wrong with the shadows that make us who we really are. Ignoring our own shadow can prevent us from living authentically and perhaps is part of the cause of this national phenomenon where we can't seem to have non-defensive conversations with each other anymore. When we don't integrate the shadows of life with the better parts of ourselves, everything remains black and white and we forget how beautiful the grays can be. Perhaps then, everything is bound to feel so personal (if, on the surface you don't believe in this idea I believe in, then you must not believe in me).

So this exhibit is really about noticing, acknowledging and even “praising the shadow” with a hope that this is one small step to making it okay to compassionately confront things in our lives we aren't happy or proud of or that we feel are too dark or ugly or sad or uncomfortable to think or talk about -- a hope that we can remember what connects us so we can start to have real conversations with each other again.

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
— excerpt from T.S. Eliot's The Hollow Men

HOW we react to the darkness in our lives can end up defining how much beauty we are able to experience and give back to the world around us. The important thing is that we don't stop trying to connect with each other...and I can't think of a better medium than music to remind us of our shared experience here on earth, our humanity, again.

Listed below are descriptions of the works that I've chosen to include in this exhibit. These are the Shadows of Sound that I am grateful found me and my studio over the past few years -- they have changed my life!

Schubert’s Impromptu in e-flat major D.946

2017, sumi ink on paper, 14 x 11 inches each

Schubert died when he was only 31 of what is believed to have been complications related to syphilis. He wrote Drei Klavierstücke (three piano pieces) D. 946 around six months before he died. It was not published in his life but thanks to the attention and generosity of Johannes Brahms, who found it and was moved by the original manuscript, it was published posthumously.

I believe a gift Schubert has for many of us (outside of his prolific music) is his ability to see and make beauty out of darkness. When I hear his work, I feel both sadness and joy often situated right next to each other – just one dissonant note can bring a hint of a shadow to an otherwise bright melody. Or a stormy section in a piece (this one in rondo form: ABACA) helps to tell of a tumultuous transformation experienced in the piece's main theme: one that starts out bright and lively, returns a second time around like a respite after a storm, only to come back one last time filled with quiet resignation. This is what drew me to this work that I’ve spent the last year drawing in different forms and also learning to play on the piano.



Schumann's Last Composition: 
Geistervariationen (ghost variations) Woo24 

2017, pencil & acrylic on handmade 16th c. style paper by Magnolia Editions, 24 x 18 inches

The Ghost Variations are the last works Schumann wrote before being admitted to an asylum after attempting suicide by jumping into the Rhine River. It is not played very often (perhaps out of respect for a great composer in his final decline). Maybe people think it is haunted? I really am not sure.

When I first discovered the piece (in the SF Public Library), I was surprised by how simple it looked – like something even a novice like me could play. And then the first time I felt the notes played by my own hands...the melody sent a shiver through my hands and body. There is such a tenderness resonating from this piece – it’s like a heavenly hymn that is also grounded in the reality of being a human suffering here on earth. To me, the work is not in the least bit 'crazy' – if anything I feel an overwhelming clarity in it.

I felt a little unsure if it would be disrespectful to create and share this artwork because of the pain the composition must have caused Schumann as he faced the sad end of his career and life. But to me this is one of the shadows in life that we need to learn to face with courage, respect and dignity. I made this work with compassion and tenderness hoping to convey comfort and gratitude from centuries away to this composer who will forever be a guide to me through his melodies and music. I will always aspire to create art with the same virtuosity of composition paired with raw emotion that he was able to capture.


Song or Storm (inspired by Brahms)

2017, acrylic and paper collage on linen, 46 x 18 inches

I am less ready to describe this work with words in part because I’m still trying to understand the emotion that fueled it. I’m connected to Brahms in part by following Schubert and Schumann. My mother also sang a Brahms work, The Alto Rhapsody, when she studied singing in music school and I still recall songbooks by Brahms at the piano when I was growing up. This artwork was made out of pure emotion: the colors  -- including violets and grays that Delacroix and Fantin-Latour used to "achieve harmony", the storminess, the resolution over time if you read the work as time moving from left to right. To me this work encompasses the idea of music as an energetic storm that in its passing integrates shadow with beauty.


Matins (12am): Midnight song

2015, acrylic on canvas, 64 x 48 inches
2015, acrylic on paper, 14 x 11 inches

I am also including a couple works from 2015 that were inspired by the poem The Canonical Hours by W.H. Auden. The larger piece was made while in a dreamlike state. I wish I could remember what music I was listening to in the studio when I made it (I think it may have been Sergei Rachmaninoff’s All Night Vigil). When I look back at it now, I also feel Schumann’s Träumerei and Mahler’s somber and deep 4th movement of his 3rd symphony and the landscapes of sound and space they all conjure: a child's innocence, a foreboding shadow of pain and heartache, but in the end a joy that ”seeks deep, deep eternity”. 

O Man! Take heed!
What says the deep midnight?
"I slept, I slept—,
from a deep dream have I awoken:—
the world is deep,
and deeper than the day has thought.
Deep is its pain—,
joy—deeper still than heartache.
Pain says: Pass away!
But all joy seeks eternity—,
—seeks deep, deep eternity!"

- from Friedrich Nietzsche's "Midnight Song" (used in Mahler’s 3rd symphony)

Arlene Suda