An art show that focuses on the origins of human suffering might not sound like uplifting fare. But it can also encompass ideas about how people respond to the pain and inequity they see around them, and how everyone has the capacity to hurt and heal.
An art show that focuses on the origins of human suffering might not sound like uplifting fare.
But it can also encompass ideas about how people respond to the pain and inequity they see around them, and how everyone has the capacity to hurt and heal.
In “The Human Condition,” two artists working in sculpture and mixed media pondered these ideas on their own, and brought them together.
The exhibit is a collaboration by Geoffrey Koetsch, of Harvard, and Mary Kaye, of Medford, who were making creations based on similar themes, but did not realize it until they compared their works.
Koetsch and Kaye have been colleagues for more than 30 years, working and teaching at the Art Institute of Boston, now a part of Lesley University.
The exhibit takes cues from the biblical story of Adam and Eve, which says that the first couple disobeyed God, who expelled them from a cushy and carefree existence in Paradise an into a harshly indifferent world to struggle for their living.
The exhibit takes this story in various trajectories beyond the bounds of the original narrative.
A bust of Eve does not have flowing tresses, as has historically been depicted by artists, but close-cropped knots and a disturbing, charred mouth.
“Eve’s mouth has been burned black, because she is being punished by God,” Koetsch said.
In another work by Kaye, Adam has a snake hanging curiously from his mouth.
In the Bible, Satan, disguised as a snake or serpent, goads the couple into an act of rebellion – eating fruit from a forbidden tree.
Kaye has crafted an Adam who was fallible, but also courageous – swallowing the snake in order to save his wife.
Paradise lost, but some say, wisdom gained
The story of Adam and Eve has come to take on varied meanings. In traditional religious views, the story is literal truth, or at least, an allegorical one – the primeval humans did the one thing God asked them not to do, breaking a pretty undemanding contract and costing all of humanity dear.
Others see the story as one of a panoply of creation myths, in which there is a recurring theme – human beings are curious and desire knowledge, and there is no way to keep them from it.
Here, Adam and Eve – and other characters in the narrative, including an angel – are sometimes graceful and beautiful, and sometimes verging on the stuff of nightmares in their anguish. But always, a dignity comes through, and a beauty, and perhaps a glimpse of two people who made both good and bad choices as they struggled to know themselves and each other.
It’s even a bit evocative of the Mark Twain story, “The Diaries of Adam And Eve,” in which both tell the story of their creation, expulsion and life after Eden from their respective points of view.
In that version, despite the tragedies that beset them, Adam and Eve found happiness within each other, as summarized in the last line, written by Adam at Eve’s grave: “Wherever she was, there was Eden.”
Devotion and redemption find their way into Kaye’s and Koetsch’s works as well, and Eve, as in Twain’s story, continues to be debated and re-imagined.
To Koetsch, far from being the instigator of misery, Eve helped ameliorate it by opening the way for her descendants to seek information and solve problems.
He said, “We think of Eve as a hero who is punished unjustly – we talk about how, the only real miracles in the world, in our somewhat jaded view, are modern science, which saved people from suffering and brutal work; capitalism, which saved people from material need, and the Enlightenment. The all come from knowledge, so in that sense, Eve is being punished unjustly.”
Many points of view
If Koetsch views the Adam and Eve story from a secular point of view, he uses it as a way to find common ground with his sister, Nancy Goes, who he says is a devout Christian and who enjoys religious art. In his piece, “The Redemption of Eve,” Eve is adorned with a delicate, beaded head and body covering crafted by Goes. Koetsch said this incarnation of Eve speaks in part to the Christian idea of Mary, in the New Testament of the Christian Bible, sometimes referred to as "The New Eve" and seen as an instrument of redemption.
Kaye said of the exhibit, “Even though we have taught as colleagues for more than 30 years, we didn’t realized that, simultaneously, we worked in the same territory.”
She observed, “The worlds seems to be going to hell in a hand basket – in other words, we call it the human condition, because we both meditate on the fact that, since its inception, humanity has been in trouble.”
She added, “This has been encapsulated in the story of Adam and Eve – the story encapsulates the idea in very vivid ways.”
Because the story of Adam and Eve is part of the Bible, Kaye said it’s possible some viewers will look at the work in a religious context, and that other viewers will come away with other ideas.
“There is a Chinese proverb that says, ‘Every work of art has two creators – the maker and the viewer.’ I don’t know what people are going to come away with. ... I don’t feel my job as an artist is to be a propagandist for one view or another.”
If you go
‘The Human Condition, by Mary Kaye and Geoffrey Koetsch
WHERE ArtSpace Gallery, 61 Summer St., Maynard
WHEN Through Feb. 26
HOURS 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday
FOR MORE INFORMATION Call 978-897-9828 or visit www.artspacemaynard.com.
Margaret Smith is Arts and Calendar editor at GateHouse Media New England. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.