Journey in Turiya is an homage to Alice Coltrane, the late musician and swamini of the Sai Anantam Ashram in California. Though widely known as the wife of jazz giant John Coltrane — and a crucial member of his late quintet — Alice Coltrane continued long after her husband’s passing to explore the frontiers of sound they’d begun to chart together. A genre-busting harpist, pianist, organist and composer who became a spiritual seeker, Alice Coltrane’s work and persona represent a relevant and timely model of hybrid artistic and spiritual practice.
This installation — which incorporates light, color, a levitating harp case, and continuous sound — functions as a meditation on art, music and spirituality, proposing the figure of Coltrane as a kind of aesthetic guru. Its title refers to Coltrane’s fourth solo album Journey in Satchidananda (1970), inspired by her association with Swami Satchidananda in the late ‘60s. Alice Coltrane became known as Turiya (transcendence, nirvana)— then Turiyasangitananda (the highest song of bliss) — as she deepened spiritually and worked to send “illuminating worlds of sound into the ethers of this universe” (as she describes in the liner notes to her 1971 album Universal Consciousness). This piece is inspired by Alice/Turiya, and represents the outcome of the artist’s effort to create a space in which one might consider the possibility of transcendence through an immersive aesthetic experience.
Dedicated to Alice Coltrane and Franya J. Berkman.
Journey in Turiya was originally created with a 2013 Regional Artist Project Grant. The Regional Artist Project Grant is funded and administered by the United Arts Council of Raleigh and Wake County. This project is supported by the N.C. Arts Council, a division of the Department of Cultural Resources.The program is operated in partnership with the Franklin County Arts Council, Johnston County Arts Council, Vance County Arts Council and Warren County Arts Council.
Thanks also to Travis Donovan, Drew Robertson, Matt McConnell, Neill Prewitt, Nick Hammer, Lauren Pegram and Chuck Johnson for your psychic and material assistance.
Installation, 2013. Artspace Pop-Up, Raleigh, NC. Light, paint, vinyl lettering, vintage photographs and integrated sound. Dimensions variable.
This work explores the fitting room as a private, yet other-oriented, space where identity is often in flux. Lou Reed's lyric, “reflect what you are/in case you don’t know,” functions as both a suggestion and a question. Reversed text leads the viewer to read into the illusory space of the reflection. A series of found photographs from the portfolio of a fashion model evoke the presence of another, and the act of representing. The room responds to a visitor’s entrance, as vanity lights flicker on and textural echoes of a melody fill the space.
The song "I'll Be Your Mirror" points inevitably to Warhol, the Factory and the oft-fraught nexus of self/other, interior/surface, and celebrity psychodrama. Originally released in 1967 as the B-side of the single, "All Tomorrow's Parties," the song is, in a sense, a reflection of that A-side’s concern with an other-oriented construction of identity. In this installation, the song’s deconstructed melody haunts the viewer. The fitting room becomes an intimate space in which one might consider the relationship of appearance to identity, and consider the reflection as a potential locus of strength and possibility.
In 1959 Charles Mingus recorded a composition called Fables of Faubus for Columbia Records, to be included on his album Mingus Ah Um. Like most of his recordings, it was an instrumental track. But this composition was originally written with lyrics, and Mingus would record a version with accompanying vocals for Candid Records a year or so later. The piece is a rather brazen send-up of Governor Orval Faubus of Arkansas, who in 1959 sent in the National Guard to prevent nine black students from integrating Little Rock Central High.
Mingus’s lyrics in Fables of Faubus take on the utter ridiculousness of segregationist attitudes at the height of the civil rights era. His approach to confronting the bitter atmosphere of the times was to take a sideways swipe at the obliviousness of those on the wrong side of the debate. Without being didactic, he struck a blow at the heart of the issue in a way only an artist can.
As I worked on Radios Appear, this idea was an inspiration. I asked a local group of musicians to arrange and perform a take on Mingus‘ composition, and built the visual elements of the piece to evoke the atmosphere of the fable of the tortoise and the hare, where the right and good path ultimately prevails over the hasty rush towards a shortsighted goal. Explicitly, Radios Appear is a commentary on the utter ridiculousness of the current Wake County School Board majority here in Raleigh, who in 2010 are working to reverse decades of progress by dismantling our nationally-acclaimed diversity policy. (See the Raleigh Gawker for comprehensive commentary on the matter. A letter to the editor I published on the matter in the News and Observer is here.)
This debate is certain to rage on… I felt I could not let slide the opportunity to speak on the matter through my piece at Block2.
(Special props to Crowmeat Bob Pence, who assembled a crack team of musicians for a really rad take on Fables of Faubus. The band included Crowmeat Bob, Dave Menestres, Mike Isenberg, and Jon Hubbard. The audio is taken from their version of Mingus' composition, with permission of his estate, and from Yohimbe's American Bologna, recorded especially for Miles' contribution to this piece.)