Exhibit’s different mediums offer different messages

By Miko Sloper Daily Planet Correspondent
Saturday May 19, 2001

“ALIVE IN HER: Icons of the Goddess” 

Tuesdays & Thursdays  

10 a.m. - 3 p.m. Free. 

Museum of the Pacific  

School of Religion 

1798 Scenic Ave. 848-0528 


Joan Beth Clair’s exhibit at the museum of the Pacific School of Religion demonstrates that “Holy Hill” is far more advanced as a center of multicultural awareness and acceptance than one might guess.  

Here are images of the sacred goddess displayed in a Christian setting and expressions of ideas which, in a less enlightened place and time, might be condemned as blasphemy, rather than embraced as new manifestations of non-traditional spirituality.  

Some of the images focus on the relationships between roses and symbols of bondage vs. freedom, and others play with folded paper cranes in a natural setting. The final triptych lets the cat out of the bag: “Moon in the Hair of the Goddess,” “Snake/Rose” and “ALIVE IN HER: She who is Perfectly Empty and Perfectly Full” form the denouement of the show, as Clair paints her vision, allowing her brush to express what she had been striving for, or hinting about, in her photographs and collages.  

The multimedia pieces are nice enough, mixing elegant photographs with exquisite handmade paper that coyly displays its internal structures of imbedded flowers, leaves and fibers. But the message is different when the medium is different. The paintings are icons to the Goddess, while the collages focus on the relationship between Nature and the human-made world. The sense of philosophical play abounds in the collages: We are invited to reflect on the photo of a paper crane hovering on a flower stalk, but then we notice that the photographic paper is mounted on paper with real flowers imbedded in it.  

Where is the boundary between reality and imagery? Clair states in her introductory notes: “I have deliberately chosen not to frame my art because frames reinforce the idea of an ‘art' separate from life. I prefer the scrolls that are used in oriental art. There is less of a sense of ‘immortality' of the Artist and more a sense that ‘art' does not stop at a border.” The icons are also borderless scrolls, but even more pointedly: they are infinite. The final goddess image forms the “figure-eight” symbol of infinity and portrays the yin/yang koan-like contradiction of empty fullness. 

Although this is a small art show (alas! too small), there is much to ponder, for there is as much informed commentary as art. The 17 pieces are interspersed with an equal number of lengthy citations from writings by Jose Arguelles and William Blake, as well as reflections on Chinese aesthetics, Sioux cosmology and Balinese sociology. 

The museum visitor will also be rewarded by the displays in the other half of the hall, which contains a rich collection of pots, lamps, scarabs, glassware, seals, cuneiform tablets, and other artifacts spanning three millennia, from the excavation of Tell En-Nasbeh, an ancient city just north of Jerusalem. A happy juxtaposition places a case full of “Cult Objects,” featuring ancient fertility goddesses, just opposite Clair's modern painted icons. The official Museum commentary reads: “Cult practices that grew up around the goddess and her consort were believed to assure the fertility of both land and people. Though the (Old Testament) prophets condemned these practices even the Israelites often found the goddess irresistible.” This seems still to be true for many of us post-modern Berkeleyans.