Photo left: Agata and Lucas Piskunowicz, photo right: Gareth Bate, 2012.
Jewel Net of Indra
Artist Statement and Names List
"You use a glass mirror to see your face, you use works of art to see your soul." George Bernard Shaw.
Gareth Bate’s Jewel Net of Indra is a painting-based installation that will take at least 5 years to complete. It is a cosmology representing the interconnectedness of humanity. The starting point is a Mahayana Buddhist metaphor of an infinite net of jewels, each representing an individual. Every jewel contains a reflection of all others. The installation attempts to represent the totality of lives lived. It is "everyone." Gareth is interpreting the metaphor as a meditation on the possibilities of life, and our relationships to the individuals who shape history. It is about self-reflection. The installation is an image of an idea of the self. Do we construct our self-image out of the stories of these people? Are we the accumulation of them? Who are they? What lives did they live? What choices did they make? How do they interconnect and influence each other? What aspects of them are within us?
Phase 1 of Jewel Net of Indra began as a small wall installation with over one thousand acrylic mirrored discs laser cut to the size of Gareth’s palm. 325 mirrors contained hand-painted miniature portraits of iconic individuals. The accumulation of discs fragments the viewers as they move through the empty room. The negative space creates the net. The installation contains three perspectives; atomic, personal and cosmic. Each person is a tiny atom in the whole, yet they are all individually painted in a very humanistic way. The overall accumulation creates a cosmos. In an era defined by apocalyptic thinking, this room is a place to stop and take stock of where we’ve been, and how we got here.
Phase 2 has not yet been exhibited and will involve the completion of at least 5000 portraits. This will take several years. Gareth has already completed over 1100 portraits. He can usually complete 5 to 8 a day. In time the piece will grow into an enormous immersive room installation where the mirrors all reflect each other. In Phase 1 the portraits were arranged randomly, in Phase 2 they will be arranged in thematic layers where every person is connected to the people around them. Like an epic wave of human history.
Gareth chose to paint iconic individuals who all have well-known stories. This highly idiosyncratic mix of people were chosen to represent a cross-section of humanity throughout time. Each person has either had an influence on human history or ideas, or led a compelling or tragic life. Each face acts as a trigger for a story. These relationships form an elaborate puzzle for the viewer to decipher. The portraits are drawn from photographs, sculptures and paintings throughout history. It is not essential to recognize all the faces, that is impossible. It is enough to know these people are present in the work. The piece attempts to collect and catalogue them all, to reveal all the major figures that shaped the world as we know it.
The piece is feminist. There are an equal amount of men and women. Considerable effort was made to find people of a wide range of backgrounds from all over the world. Every person has been chosen for a reason. There are also deliberate omissions! There are philosophers, artists, writers, musicians, singers, poets, politicians, rebels, kings and queens, tyrants, scientists, activists, journalists, doctors and nurses, soldiers, popes and cult leaders, celebrities, athletes, heroes, terrorists and freedom fighters, freaks, slaves, mobsters, thieves, murderers and victims, or even iconic muses from a works of art. Although a list of names is included, the faces are not identified. The piece depends on an individual’s engagement with history, and the preservation of knowledge. Otherwise these people simply become anonymous. The more the portraits accumulate, the more insignificant each person becomes. The presence of serial killers and horrible tyrants is crucial to the piece. This is not about heroes it is about humans.
The act of painting is essential to the piece. It becomes a ritual, a repetitive action. In a sense Gareth has become like a monk transcribing a Bible day after day in his monastery. It is labour intensive, but never boring. Each portrait is different, and a unique challenge. The work involves spending time with each person in an intimate way. Each one requires its own approach. Gareth hopes to capture their essence, so that they feel alive. While painting, his eyes constantly shift between the person being depicted and his own reflection. Gareth found that painting their portraits made these people feel less inaccessible. The act of painting transforms him into them. There is something special about the moment when a portrait is completed and he can metaphorically place them into the whole.
The installation would be impossible to create without the Internet. Interestingly, the metaphor of Indra’s Net has been applied to the interconnectedness of the web. Gareth has spent hundreds of hours researching online for portraits and stories as well as visiting museums, scouring bookstores and reading biographies and travel books. Especially useful, are websites devoted to extensive lists of famous people and events. The process involves sitting at his studio desk painting from an image on a laptop, while simultaneously listening to lectures from the Learning Company. This remarkable series of university lectures called “The Great Courses” covers a wide range of topics. Thus, the process is about engaging with history, philosophy, science and art.
Life has so many possibilities and choices. Why does someone in one time act in the most evil way, while another rises to a heroic position? Are we free to choose? Despite their relative fame or infamy, power or powerlessness, there is an essential equality to all of these people. Each represents just one brief human life.
Special Thanks: Graham Jackson, Dawne Rudman, Marina Guglielmi, Carolyn Dinsmore, Stanzie Tooth, Deborah Wang and Britt Welter-Nolan.
Dates: August 2011 - Present.
Medium: Acrylic mirrors with acrylic painted portraits.
Exhibitions: Come Up To My Room, The Gladstone Hotel, Toronto, Jan. 27 - 29, 2012
Press: Interviewed for the Toronto Standard and featured on the CBC, Radio Canada, Toronto Life, View on Canadian Art, Torontoist, Design Lines, Fashion Magazine, MOCO, and Display Design Magazine. View Press Section
Phase 1 is the 325 portraits painted from Sept. 2011 to Jan. 2012 for Come Up To My Room
* Indicates Phase 2 the 406 portraits painted so far after Jan. 2012 and not yet exhibited.
The latest people have not yet been added to the list.