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Kimberly Nichols, NewArtLab

NewArtLab: Interview with Sculptor Gesso Cocteau on her Original Mother

The American sculptor Gesso Cocteau has just unveiled work from a new series called Original Mother that mirrors a crucial time in humanity and reflects upon our universal commonalities.

Original Mother represents the initial seed of all humanity that, when coupled with our myriad lineages across eons of social, political and chronological history, takes us back to that universally common abstract moment of life’s first true spark upon this earth. The place, relative to us all, where existence burst forth, that although has been communally washed away in the psyche by time, cannot be denied its presence in our blood, bones and flesh.

As if unearthed from the ground, she carries a ruddy exterior reminiscent of mud, dirt and primal matter, layered in meticulously applied custom patinas and stains, denoting the relationship of erosion juxtaposed against timeless survival and the dance between terra firma and animate existence. Arms around her legs, she sits in quiet meditation, revealed and repositioned amidst all the complexities, ambiguities and contradictions of being human.

Two faces grace Original Mother. One is soothing and conjures the womb while the other gazes solidly at the viewer provoking profound inner reflection surrounding one’s place on this earth. The unconditional gazes of the mother, holding space for the potential of self-individuation and realization as we stand in the wake of worldly experience. She is curious, yet without judgment.

The markings on Original Mother represent a corporeal energy, an unconscious instinctive force. A pronounced spine carries upon it a metamorphosis of symbols culled from every era, culture, religion and esoteric sect, rendering all indistinguishable yet inherently familiar and homogenous.

At the intersection of pelvis and gut, lies her Kundalini energy, the sleeping, and dormant potential force of the human organism.

Conceptually, the diamond (made from our infrastructural carbon building block) on the top of her head evokes clarity, ascension and wisdom.

A symbol of our universal matrilineal ancestry, more ancient then the mitochondrial Eve; pre-Christ, Mohammed or Abraham, she educes a cultural respect for life in its very presence, stripped of the ego’s illusions as mater matura or “mother of the first dawn.”

Original Mother intends to tell a story of resurrection celebration, as an icon, sharing the elixir of belonging and the merging of the spiritual and material worlds.

To observe the Original Mother is to expose all of our inner questioning and to be open to a direct, visual dialogue with our ancient cellular memory.

We spoke with Gesso about her newest work and her role as an artist.

Original Mother, in a semi-departure from your regular sculpture ouevre, seems to have sprung from your artistic psyche from the same place that bore her manifestation as a physical art piece. What do you think was going on in your psyche at the time that birthed such a strong and individual statement?

I think back when I first started to work on Original Mother and I think in some ways it was an ‘active imagination’ exercise for me. My Father had just passed away and I was forced to see my Mother without her mate, this was the first time in fifty-five years I had come face to face with my own personal Mother Archetype and it frightened me and confused me. Original Mother was a way for me to translate my emotions into a physical sculpted narrative. It was a way for me to go into the cellar of my psyche and act out the thought forms of my unconscious. She became a gift to myself on many levels all of which point to the primordial urge to remember where I came from and how I fit into the terrain of my own belief system. At the time working on this sculpture gave my sorrow, (when my Father died) a platform, an energy field to open a dialogue with myself about life and death and the thread of a common background we all share. As time passed she became more about a maternal symbol representing unification and strength. I began to imagine her as an exalted icon of backbone and resilience. I started to think about how humans are the product of four billion years of evolutionary development. Then this sculpture went from a personal journey to a broader spectrum. I was inspired to think of her as a symbol of the oneness of human existence, the mythic image of the feminine principal. I suspect in some ways I wanted to create a valid expression of the sanctity and unity of life. I wanted her to look as though she had been excavated. For her flesh to hold the idea that it was meant to depict an exchange of soil into life and life back to the earth. Descending from the human to the mineral world and then a resurrection from terra firma to animate existence, a somewhat loosely concept of adaptation to environment: rising up from inorganic material to breath. I guess on some levels, though it sounds a bit lofty, I wanted Original Mother to be a symbol that could help raise awareness of what it is to be human, I wanted her visual narrative, to remind us to step outside of ourselves and view the larger picture of life. Some of these ideas came from emotions I was having after my Father’s death, his absence in my life literally carved me out to the zero emptiness of a Zen state. My ideas about OM came from emotions beyond words, I guess from the soulfulness of the sadness I was feeling and also the questions I was having about my own life, those all inclusive questions, of where do we come from and what happens to us when we return to the soil of the earth.

As an artist, why did you feel compelled to give breath to what she represents?

I think Original Mother was intended to tell a story of resurrection celebration, sharing the elixir of belonging and the merging of two worlds. Life and death, sleep and awakeness, breath and stagnation, you know, trying to bridge the opposites, balance the wheels of our own lives. I wanted her to be a symbol of realization; behind the mask of conscious experience there is an abstract ancestor.  The mythology of Original Mother is psychological. It’s as if she is pointing the way to our origins, to how we have all evolved from the same beginning. She is the initiator of our psyches, to realize how we fit together in the cord of humanity. When we accept all people as one family we are guided through life with more enrichment and realization. I think we can all agree that our world is in need of unification symbols and icons, visualizations that unite people and heal our fractured communities

What do you think the artist can show the world through pieces like this, or connect the world towards understanding?

As an artist I am aware of the urgent need to comprehend the world as a unity. As I age I try not to force shapes or conceptions. After three years in the making Original Mother felt like she was telling her own story. I think that mythic images are very important on so many levels. Symbols and icons radically influence us both in our personal and in our collective lives. If you look closely at Original Mother you see her markings. They represent a corporeal energy: an unconscious instinctive force. I chose to bring attention to the spine because of the many myths and symbols, which are contained, in this part of the anatomy. Kundalini energy is described as being a sleeping, dormant potential force in the human organism. Accentuating this area of my sculpture was an attempt to suggest an awakening and uprising. Once again to come from the earth, to rise up and become conscious and with this the social responsibility to help one another, to place emphasis on the power of loving and healing.

Why do you think it’s important for us to remember our primal birthing as one as a connected humanity? What can remembering teach us about living in the world?

Original Mother is a reminder of all that we experience as humans, the commonalities we inhabit, the memory of roots that lead back to one idea, we are in this grid together, we are not separated just because certain belief systems rupture our vision of who we are as ‘one people’. We are humans, the differences make up much less than the sum of our DNA. Original Mother is the ‘material prima’ churning in the alchemical process of regeneration. I hope that she can remind us of this idea that we all return to the primordial womb of Earth.

Why is the artist in a unique position to make statements that cause us to relate? What do you think the artist offers that say a politician or a leader or a teacher cannot?

I think we should all be expressing truths that contribute to the greater good. I do believe that we should all take responsibility for the imagery, words and lessons that we put out into the world. All energy translated into feelings, thoughts and emotions causes all of our experiences; there are no exceptions to this. If we continuously put out violent ad negative propaganda our society will respond by more violence and more negativity. The primal law of cause and effect is something we should all be clearly aware of. Things produce after their own kind. As artists, if we contribute to the pool of hatred and violence even on the level of a satirist, we are guilty of adding shit to the pool. I really do not think artists are in any more of a unique position than a politician or a teacher. I believe that the most fertile soil in the world is found in the human mind and that we should all be responsible for what we put out into world.

What did the process of birthing OM transform within you, or bring to light in your own consciousness?

Working on OM made me remember that we all come from a single seed and that we are all more similar than we like to think we are. Also, that our differences are really minute in the totality of the sum. She also gave me the opportunity to realize and experience reality beyond verbal training. One of the lessons OM brought to light for me is the truth that no matter how you try to stabilize your reality there will always be the mystery unexplained.

What concepts are you currently exploring or will you embark on next?

There is a book called Seven Nights by the poet Jorge Luis Borges. It is a short collection of seven lectures given over seven evenings in the summer of 1977 in Buenos Aires. Each chapter of this book explores topics like Dante’s Divine Comedy, Buddhism, Nightmares, Blindness, Poetry, The Thousand and One Nights and The Kabbalah. The book is sublime and full of imagery. Every time I read it, I think to myself that I would like to do a body of smaller sculptures that represent each lecture. It is incubating. Then again I may do a follow up to OM.

Article by Kimberly Nichols

Newtopia managing editor KIMBERLY NICHOLS is author of the book of literary short fiction Mad Anatomy, a contributing editor to 3AM Magazine and has exhibited as a conceptual artist throughout California for the past decade. Her non-fiction articles have appeared in magazines and media internationally. She was a founding editor of Newtopia in its former incarnation where she was also a member of the NewPoetry Collective. She is currently at work on her novel Fish Tales: Looking for the Bird with the Golden Feather. Follow her daily beat poetry on Twitter @LITGFOA or her arts and literature blog.



3 thoughts on “NewArtLab: Interview with Sculptor Gesso Cocteau on her Original Mother

  1. Your work is of GREAT interest to us at the 73 See Gallery in Montclair, NJ. send a message to http://www.facebook.com/73SeeGallery

    Posted by Mary Z See | December 19, 2011, 1:18 pm
  2. These two new sculptures, the Original Mothers, impart emotional depth of human kind’s past and beginnings. The complexities and the simplicities of these works create a longing and a recovery for the observer.

    Posted by Cheri Babajian | December 21, 2011, 12:38 pm
  3. Beautiful work, so detailed..and the colors give that rich, expensive charm!
    Gesso, you are my number one sculptor!

    Posted by Catherine Ann | January 27, 2012, 5:38 pm

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