Ralph J. Bellantoni: How many of your works appear in the exhibit [Fresh Meat/Young Blood: New Jersey's New Masters]? Are they from a particular series, or several? What media did you employ?
Eric Valosin: I have 5 pieces in the exhibit, all from the Cosmos on Gray
series, which are erasure drawings on 18% Gray Cards. In terms of media, Gray Cards are the tools used by photographers to balance the digital and analogue worlds in terms of color correction and white balance. I thought them the perfect substrate for a practice that seeks mystical experience at that digital/analogue intersection. I make the images using repeated gestures of erasure, which eventually burnish the surface to create a fluctuating, illusory depth that ironically defies the cards' intended purpose of consistent, accurate digital reproduction. That illusory depth also tends to confuse figure-ground relationships and hopefully provides an entry point for a meditative viewing of the work. The idea of erasure is also tied into the ideas of negation and negative theology, called "apophasis," which aims to get at the unknowable by negating all knowable logic, creating thingness by way of nothingness, and resulting in what the 3rd century mystic Plotinus called "formless form."
RJB: Is your aim to induce mystical states through your art? If so,
how do you intend to activate this process?
EV: Whether or not a mystical state is induced is unfortunately (or fortunately) not up to me. That seems to be solely between that viewer and God. However, I aim to create spaces that facilitate a preparedness for such an occasion. In my projection work and larger installations, I want to unhinge viewers from their perceptual expectations and present them with the sublime: a seeming impossibility that overpowers, disorients, or overwhelms them for a moment, but then is recollected into a net gain rather that a loss. Furthermore, I want to open the possibility of encountering the spiritual in contemporarily relevant, perhaps unexpected places, like cyberspace.
RJB: As a Dominican, Eckhart's mystical insights were achieved within the Catholic spiritual tradition, with its emphasis on a rigorous road to sanctification through the sacraments, prayer and the active practice of the virtues. Can there be "virtual virtues"?
EV: Eckhart was no ordinary Dominican. Though indeed rooted strongly in orthodoxy, he was nearly deemed a heretic on several occasions for his radical approach. Fittingly apophatic, Eckhart's road is rigorously passive. In a conventional sense the sacraments, prayer, and practice of the virtues (charity, kindness, humility and the rest) - the whole enterprise of sanctification - is essentially a means to get past self-centeredness and open oneself to a sort of God-centeredness. Eckhart's method of clearing room for God in the self is by being rid of the self altogether. His prime virtue is one of abgeschiedenheit, cuttoffness, negating even the self in order to be left with only God (and, even further, negating our very notion of God in order to let God be God, unencumbered). Now, where we find God when the self is already being dematerialized into the realm of virtual space is precisely what my work begins to question. The virtual virtues, it seems to me, would be a new language or means for allowing God to be God in our lives and in our selves in light of this new context.
RJB: What becomes of Eckhart's "mystical language of unsaying" if removed from context?
EV: Context can never be removed, it only changes. The philosopher Michel Foucault set much of his life to asserting that. Just the way Eckhart's "mystical language of unsaying" cannot effectively be divorced from its context, neither are we exempt from our own context as we read about it. So, the question then is to see how this mystical language of unsaying holds up when those two contexts collide. Part of Eckhart's context was his goal of continuing the ecumenical ministry of his teacher Albert the Great, who wanted to bridge the gap between religions. This seems strikingly familiar in our pluralist era. I find our context actually shares a great deal with Eckhart's, and it turns out that his mysticism loosened 14th century followers from some of the same strangleholds of convention that postmodernism tried to shake us from in the last 100 years: the limitations of dualistic thinking - measurable/subjective, inner/outer, mind/body, religious/secular - which strip life of it's complexity; we begin to see Eckhart's ideas of detachment and letting-lie coming back to us in the form of Heidegger's gelassenheit; the apophatic cooperation of positive and negative returns in the form of Derrida's différence. Simply put, since postmodernism we see a retooling of mysticism that goes beyond religion to the very phenomenologies of how the world shows up at all. The mystical language of unsaying therefore becomes a useful tool for finding God - or perhaps for finding anything at all - especially in our new context. It's through these paradoxical methods of erasure and negation in my work that I hope to put the viewer in touch with this world, if by unhinging them from it.
Ralph J. Bellantoni is a freelance writer for the Asbury Park Press, Home News Tribune, and Courier News, among others. This interview expands on an article he wrote about my work in the Fresh Meat/Young Blood: New Jersey's New Masters exhibit, entitled The Art of Subtraction. The interview discusses my work's ties to Eckhart's mysticism.