The Sixth Principle of Gestalt Theory

World Wildlife Federation

World Wildlife Federation (logo)

I’ve burnt two pots in the last 24 hours.  The house still reeks of the black beans that I left on medium high for 4 stinkin’ hours while I was at the neighborhood block party.  It took some serious elbow grease and Comet, a scrubber and a metal spatula to scrape off those charcoaled remains.  Upon further reflection, I’ve concluded that I haven’t made peace with the end of my daily knitting practice, and much more, the sudden loss of daily contact with the people that I’ve come to love.

Yesterday, I went to the Luau Hawaii themed Block Party that J. the jeweler puts on each year on 16th Street.  Each of us wrote a Hawaiian word on our name tags that we selected from the dictionary.  I overheard C. explaining the word she picked, “It’s Hawaiian for long, fast, narrow boat…or…[her eyes sparkling mischievously] a tall, well-proportioned woman.”  I picked my word randomly again this year by flipping the dictionary open and dropping my finger on the page with my eyes closed.  My word was hemo hemo for “loosening” or “take off.”  For example, you might hemo your shoes.  I thought it was appropriate to the last stages of an art project.  In a sense, I am casting my stitches off now, letting go, and opening up to what lies ahead…But what if the art project was primarily composed of relationships rather than paint, clay or film?  What then? I’ve been wondering to myself…As an artist, I’ve become accustomed to signing a painting and setting it aside.  Art as social practice is different, and I am at a loss for how to wrap up this work.  It’s complicated because the art is not an object but a process and a place and a series of unscripted interactions with people that have brought such richness into my life, including this blog.

It was so hot, I found myself milling about the beverages table, refilling my cup with ice water and juice when suddenly a lanky, older man with feathers poking out of his cap asked me about my knitting project.  I explained to him that it was done.  He leaned forward intently, his grey eyes glittering, and asked, “But are you done?”

“The knitting is done, but the project is not done, and neither am I,” I said.

“Closure.  It’s the sixth principle of Gestalt Theory,” he said.  “I’ll give you an example.  What is the logo of the World Wildlife Federation?” he asked me.

“That’s easy, it’s a panda,” I replied.

“No, it’s not.  It’s just blobs of black paint.  Your mind connects the black blobs and interprets them as a panda.  That’s closure–when you connect the dots and make meaning out of them.”

“I like that interpretation of closure-as-connection very much,” I said.  “I was feeling sad about the end of the project.  I couldn’t even bring myself to type the words Closing Reception.”

“You were thinking of closure as finality, as death.  But that’s not what this kind of closure entails.  Your closure will result in other people’s openings,” he said and as I thanked him, he made a little bow and left the gathering, only to return later without the pheasant feathers in his cap, and I could detect none of his previous mystery that bordered on divinity.  He had given me a profound gift, a new way of seeing the work that I must do to bring this project to completion.  It is about making connections, distilling the meaning of this life-changing experience into words and images and placing it in a new context for people to encounter.  I don’t know yet what that will look like whether a book, photographs or some kind of museum installation.  But one thing I trust is that as we share this experience with others, it will spawn new ideas, artworks and social experiments for the health of our communities.

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3 thoughts on “The Sixth Principle of Gestalt Theory

  1. ravenandsparrow says:

    I am disappointed not to be able to attend the final unwinding on Aug. 1. I have so enjoyed following this project that I really wanted to be there. I think its scary to finish because you can’t see the future of the relationships you knitted and you are afraid they will be lost, but probably they will just change shape. I love the man’s statement about your closure creating openings for others.

  2. Christen Mattix says:

    I’m sorry you can’t make it. Truly. Yes, I’m thinking a lot about how to continue the relationships that have become so beautiful. It will take intentionality on my part–but then all worthwhile activities DO! Warm thoughts to you today. I would love to have tea with you the next time you are in Bellingham.

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