This is art? A conch suspended in the air, an easel draped in fabric, Christmas lights and an assortment of mannequin legs lay sprawled in a heap in the art gallery of Redeemer University College (RUC), with a host of other odds and ends.
Is it simply a purge of a storage closet from the art studio caught halfway through the cleaning? It would seem to be an easy and safe assumption that this pile of junk does not belong in the art gallery. In fact it is likely most would question why it is there.
But if you were to give into your curiosity and walk a little closer you would discover that there is a solitary black stand holding a black rectangle with a open viewing square in its middle. A viewfinder.
And if you were to walk over and look at that pile of mismatched items from that specific vantage point, suddenly you realize that it is not random pieces of junk. Rather, the pieces have been carefully selected and placed, working together to create a unified image.
RUC art students based their installation piece, “O Jesus, My Trash” on the work of renown French installation artist Bernard Pras who has created installations that are an assemblage of found objects that when viewed from the right angle transform into a clear and recognizable image.
Sometimes when we look at our lives all we see are our mistakes and bad choices which have created a mess, a life that does not seem to amount to much of anything. Yet like the artwork created by the art students, it all depends on your perspective. Through whose eyes do you see yourself?
So often the lens we look through is one of shame. If a person’s starting point is that at their core they are no good, it is then hard to see that anything they do can be considered to have value. Sometimes people are incredulous that others see value in what they otherwise considered trash. “Really?” they ask, “You think it is good? You like what I did? You think I have something to contribute?”
Receiving that kind of positive or alternate feedback is essential in helping people to shift to a different perspective themselves, to one that will enable them to see their own inherent beauty and worth.
Or think of how our perspective plays out in relationship to parenting. How do we understand the child’s behaviour? Do we simply see it as acting out? As being manipulative? Lazy? What is our vantage point? What if we were to shift our perspective and look under the behaviour, what would we see? Perhaps we would then realize that the child is hungry or scared and her behaviour stems from her fear or hunger.
Or think of how the experience of trauma or chronic neglect can shape how a person sees the world. How does a young child learn to see himself if the eyes that look at him, when they have the time to look at him, are filled with disgust or anger?
These repetitive experiences provide the basis for the child’s understanding of what he come to expect. These experiences inform the perspective he has about himself, the world, and other people: whether he sees the world as safe and worth exploring, and people as basically good, or whether he expects that the world is dangerous and people are out to get him and that people are not trust worthy. We all tend to act and react according to our own interior perspective.
Our lives, like the artwork in the RUC gallery, can look like junk strewn haphazardly across the floor, yet when we step back, pause, give space and shift our perspective, we can begin to see beauty, a coherent piece.
It makes me wonder how much we are missing out on seeing the beauty that is hidden in our self and in others, waiting to be discovered if only we shift our perspective?