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An Eva Hesse Kind of Week

It is telling of my weakness that brief, punchy criticism directed towards my abilities in a none-too-important quadrant of my life can swiftly debilitate me. The specifics of the criticism were really immaterial; all I took away was a panicking sense of self-doubt, a questioning of my calling, and the impulse to cry any time someone asked me about my MA thesis.

Sometimes I have days or weeks that remind me of particular artists. I’ve had Fred Tomaselli days where everything seems like a fascinating, jubilant burst of colorful bits. I have had Kiki Smith weeks, where I am acutely aware of the aches and longings of those hurting around me. I have had Lorna Simpson days where the lingering, haunting effects of our culture’s past wrongs ask to be mourned. I’ve even had Marcel Duchamp days where life is just…wackier. (I can’t really say that I’ve ever had a Rubens day, though. I’m not sure what that would entail.)

The last five days — feeling incapable, fearful, and insubstantial — have been part of an Eva Hessa kind of week.

rope piece 1970

Working in New York through the sixties, Hesse worked both within and against the dominant minimalist aesthetic, creating works that toyed with materials and with its relationship to the viewer. Her works often projected out into the viewer’s space, blurring the demarcations between painting and sculpture, object and environment. Many of Hesse’s works, particularly in the late sixties, used new industrial – and dangerous – materials such as latex and fiberglass to create sculptural works which were powerful in their fragility. This work, Rope Piece from 1970, is a drooping, amorphous installation that evokes the body with a minimalist nod. Looped and dangling, the rope somehow still suggests a body.

My own body, while so tense from the stress of the last few days, recognizes itself here. It’s a body aware of weakness, a body on the brink of tears. My fear of others’ opinions — and thus my frequent forgetting of my freedom in Christ — can cripple me. I transpose the criticism of one area onto the substance of my very calling. Should I be in grad school? Should I be writing a thesis? Is my work meaningful? Original? Substantial? Why can’t I write a normal sentence?

With a sister in Darfur and a sister-to-be who is under great expectations, this existential crisis over my academic ability seems rather silly. To some extent, surely it is.

Yet the beautiful thing about Eva Hesse weeks is that I am also reminded of the Incarnation. The Incarnation is the Word becoming a tired, broken body. It is God being born in bloody straw, sweating as he walked, needing naps, crying bitterly. The Incarnation is the God giving dignity to particulars, saying “yes” to the importance of form and flesh and sight. The Incarnation is the reason my unsteady heart and welling fear need not paralyze me. And the Incarnation reminds me why this is my kingdom calling in the first place.

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