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Athbheochán: Untranslatable Wisdom - Solo Show at Anacostia Arts Center

The first time one cuts a stone it alters perspective of the world’s fixedness. There is really no way to know a stone until you attempt to cut it. Some resist and require intensive work. Others open easily. Some disintegrate into awkwardly shaped shards, and others cleave like butter. Surprises abound inside the stone where the interior may be a completely different color, pattern or texture, it may contain fossils revealing a history dating back thousands of years, or it may exude a pungent odor of trapped sulfur wafting and curling with each crack. There is mystery in every stone.

My ancestors came from Ireland during what was called the potato famine, but was actually the convenient enablement of England’s ongoing attempt at the cultural genocide of the Irish. This past summer, I had the opportunity to cut stone in an ancient forest in Cong, County Mayo, Ireland while working beside Irish stone masons and architectural students to construct a stone structure with integral mosaics that were made right there in those Cong Woods. Our site is down the road from one of the Gaeltachts (places where the only language spoken is Irish Gaelic). I couldn’t help but wonder if I might be speaking the language of my ancestors too if things had been different with geopolitical and religious conflicts. Growing up on the coast of Salem, Massachusetts, I’d sit for hours staring out to sea with a sense of saudades – a Portuguese word I learned later in life in Brazil - meaning a profound sense of missing someone, something or a place in time. I was looking across to the west coast of Ireland with saudades for something I didn’t know was even missing. I’ve now begun to see the ocean as not only a separator but also a connector.

Technology, communications and transportation have minimized the impact of the separating oceans today, but even now, many immigrants do not teach original languages to their children in new lands. In the many transitions of immigrants crossing bodies of water all over the world, decisions about what to take and what to leave behind are made. Not just physical possessions but concepts, ideas, beliefs and views. Pragmatism of survival in an unfriendly or hostile new world is the explanation for discarding these. As sea levels rise due to climate change, could it be that the oceans are metaphorically seeking to reconnect us all to lost souls and wisdom drowned in the oceans during the many passages of immigrants all over the world? What if the ocean in its primordial wisdom knows that we need all these subtle or bold, sacred or profane bits of knowledge and wisdom that have been sacrificed in the name of progress? Perhaps there is not one single bit of wisdom from any group, no matter how small, that does not matter to us all.

Each of the pieces in the Athbheochan series contains hidden, untranslatable words from all over the world embedded in a flowing and undulating series of three-dimensional relief mosaics of stone glass and other materials including tire scrap and a horseshoe crab carcass. Embedded in mortar and built on handmade substrates of mesh and mortar, each piece is a moment in the vastness of oceans – the vastness of wisdom that evolves with structured intuition. As an architect, I do plan my pieces and have an overriding schema for the work as I begin. However, I rely on a meditative process of intuitive decision-making to move along through each piece. I am not the same person I was even a few moments ago, much less within each piece, so from one to the next, I am different, as is that particular piece. Much like the ocean itself. The show is entitled Athbheochan because this Irish Gaelic word means revival.

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