GalleriesWest art magazine,   Review by Tom Hardy  July 23, 2012 Back to Illuminating Peace
 
     Amy Loewan’s work is a highly crafted presentation of a social and spiritual belief: That peace, in ourselves and with others, can be attained through acts of consciousness initiated by art. The three large-scale works comprising this impressive installation, “Illuminating Peace”, are Lantern (2009), Large Scroll (2005) and A Peace Project (2001). The works – meticulously constructed hanging scrolls are woven by hand from strips of folded rice paper. They bear text through various graphic representations, including calligraphy, print and world alphabets.
Loewan’s art functions in the social arena, but without engaging political arguments or questioning aesthetic structures. Peace is conclusive here. As viewers we are asked to suspend disbelief and allow the work to affect us. Light is shone on this supreme idea more to deepen appreciation than to increase intellectual comprehension. Indeed, the staging has a delicacy and tenderness built upon the work’s material fragility and the emotional plea inherent in what may be described as artistic prayer.
      Loewan is originally from China but now lives in Canada. She casts light on the international by using traditional Chinese practices in a contemporary western setting. For instance, Lantern creates a metaphor for the illuminating heart. Eight large scrolls are connected to form an octagonal lantern suspended over a golden bed of raked wheat. Paper walls glow translucently from light emanating from within. Each side becomes a surface for language, whether the single Chinese character for heart or comments solicited from previous viewers, such as “child’s smile; a walk in the rain” or “mud feels good between your toes.” Other panels portray various calligraphic representations of a group of eight cardinal words depicted on all works in the show.
      Language is the most essential material in "Illuminating Peace". Indeed, it is the apotheosis of the others – rice, wheat, paper, charcoal and ink. Eight words (the symbolic value of eight is important to Loewan) encapsulate facets of empathy essential to peace. Woven across the scrolls in over thirty languages they are: Compassion, forgiveness, kindness, respect, understanding, patience, tolerance and gentleness. In A Peace Project, the artist again uses eight panels, this time suspended in a row above a bed of rice. Words modulate across the panels in various states of legibility as they emerge in and out of the weave. Loewan hopes the aura of the words is transmitted to the viewer, much as feelings are carried in the words of a prayer. Language itself is not investigated as a transmitter of meaning as is usual in contemporary language-based art practices. Instead, words are held transparent and viewers must have faith in their communication.
This installation transforms the gallery into a sanctuary. The atmospheric presentation is meant to hold us in awe. Loewan wants our experience to move from the symbolic to the real, bypassing polemics. Is this naive? Can it work? These are practical questions to ask of this exhibition. Is the message strong and the paper fragile – or is the idea insubstantial but the paper resonant? Loewan’s art exists in this gap.
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