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Rebecca Gozion: Art and Life Are One

By Penelope Schackelford
(On the Wing, ©1989)

The prototype of the Church altar is found in the Book of Exodus in the Old Testament. The wandering Hebrews are commanded by Yahweh to build two altars for the Tent of Meeting: the altar of holocaust for sacrifice and the altar of incense for purification. The church altar is used for both forms of worship. It is a focal centering point for offering, worship and remembrance. The altar was a site for personal worship. The church altar was the place where the large culture gathered for collective worship.

On my first visit to her studio, I was struck by Rebecca Gozion's personal altar. A few years later, when I invited her to participate in Manifestation II, an exhibition on the Virgin Mary, we decided that Rebecca would install an altar in the gallery. In recreating her personal altar in a public viewing space, Rebecca undertook a heroic vulnerable task and created the most powerful installation work I have ever seen. In order to experience its power, one had to be in its living presence in the gallery.

Rebecca told me that her art works are tools for her living and growing. They help her to understand her circular, spiritual connection to all time and and places, to her ancestors and her family. Through her work she is able to reach her inner core to discover what is essential to being and becoming spiritually whole. The objects for her altarpiece included tables that could have been from her grandmother's kitchen, old family photos, holy cards of the Virgin, scapulars, rosaries, candles, personal fetishes, cleaning agent associated with housework, a washbasin and an ironing board. A cloth, like a reredo with the word, "Pray for us sinners," written backwards, formed the backdrop for the altar. In Rebecca's work, recently shown at Michael Himovitz Gallery, each piece, impeccably handled, is like an altar: a place of purification, sacrifice, offering and remembrance. Symbolic markings, hand print, objects of devotion and mirrors give a sacramental quality to the work as well as sacralize the mundane objects of life. "Voo Doo II" with its offering of fish, a towel,scrolls and numerous otherpersonall items and "Voo Doo in St. Louis," with a real-life table and chair, are altar pieces par excellencee.

The connection to her grandmother has been a source of inspiration for Rebecca's work. A pilgrim from Macedonia; described by Rebecca as "one who knows - one shrouded in the mystery of inner wisdom," was like a stabilizing thread of continuity with her racial and religious roots. On scrolls of Hebrew writings in Lesson Plan," a reference is made to the first half of the Ten Commandments by a vertical column of Roman numerals. The fourth number, "Honor thy ancestors," is circled, perhaps in remembrance of the grandmother.

Gozion creates tombstones out of old doors. She once said, "They are trailmarkers" on the journey. The visual epigraph on "Tombstones for the Husband" is an image of the salvific ark of Noah, the Old Testament prototype of the Messiah. Another piece, "Voo Doo in St. Louis," has a nail wrapped in white cloth on one side and a "new map of the world" on the other; regeneration is inherent in death.

Gozion continues to draw on her religious and racial roots to take herself and all of us ever deeper into the inner riches of our psyches. Her works increasingly reflect what Jung has called the "tememos, the inner sacred precinct which is the source and goal of the psyche and contains the unity of life and consciousness." The late Coomaraswamy expressed the integrity of art and life where he said, "Heaven and earth are united in an analogy. Life is a coming and going. The creative process connects the two:" Meister Eckhardt summed it up: "In making a work of art, the very inmost self of a man comes into outwardness, that is man's highest principle, the image and likeness of God."

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Rebecca Gozion