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Interview with Independents Biennial artist Alice Lenkiewicz

Interview with Independents Biennial artist Alice Lenkiewicz.
Goddess Trail at Rimrose Valley.

By Bernadette McBride, Writer-in-Residence for Independents Biennial 2018. 

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B: How does Gaia, and your Goddess Trail relate to the Anthropocene and our modern society?

A: I felt the goddess related to the Anthropocene by redirecting our consciousness and allowing us to rethink our relationship to living systems.

I was interested in the link between the destruction of the land and the ancient goddess which is representative of Mother Earth and nature. Originally it was the female deity that was worshipped as a Goddess in ancient times and later this developed into the polytheistic view by the Egyptians and Greeks when both male and female gods were worshipped and now in our modern society it is the monotheistic world view which is just one male god.

This missing link and duality is about re-addressing unity and the natural cosmic order which is formed for a harmonious balance of the female and male divinity of creation according to divine law and inspiration.

The goddess is a spiritual consciousness that in many of us has become hidden away. When we discover her within us we also manifest spiritual consciousness into our reality and focus more on divine inspiration for guidance rather than focusing our consciousness entirely through manmade laws. Once we become more aware of this duality and celestial consciousness we can then find ways of breaking free from what could be considered the matrix which binds us to an ideology that is centred on ego and self and one that does not consider the holistic values of our communities and society as a whole.

I feel that raising awareness of the goddess who has in ancient civilisations represented the divine feminine and nature itself is a way of reclaiming back the balance, the missing part of our spiritual whole and the planet. I wanted to look at the idea of recognising the two polarities in ourselves.

B: When commissioned to create a work for the Rimrose Valley “Environmental Land Art Trail” what inspired you to come up with the Goddess trail?

A: I took my inspiration from a variety of sources in ancient art such as Minoan Bronze Age art, the ancient chalk drawings in the hills, stone henge, looking at ancient earth works and chalk drawings such as Sidbury Hil in Avebury, examples of early Celtic art, sacred symbols, shrines labyrinths and ancient places of ritual and worship. The hands across the valley event to protest against the motorway at Rimrose, I felt was reminiscent of that ancient need to worship nature and make a statement about the earth. This linking and sharing in our beliefs and using this connection of our love of nature is a powerful thing.

I saw the fight to save Rimrose Valley in opposition to the proposed dual carriageway as an example of reflecting this misunderstanding we have with our relationship with the earth. We can observe that through our fight to save our natural environment that many people still feel this strong connection to nature. This is what they are fighting for.

People are now realising they are being affected by this constant need to destroy our countryside for profit. I think what has been forgotten is our awareness of our oneness with the sacredness of the earth. We have lost our ability to connect to the source which is connected through us via the earth and the divine feminine who offers the missing link in our current monotheistic consciousness. We have lost site of our ancestral spiritual connection with nature. Instead, people worship money and profit like they worship a god. Only today when I went to get money from a cash point the slogan that came up on the screen was ‘Cash gives you freedom’. This is sending out the wrong message. Once we become trapped inside the matrix we lose site of our considered decisions.

To build an eco-system takes a long time. Road building is fast and has no privacy. This fast patriarchal approach destroys and separates the spiritual connection we have with ourselves and to others, we start to become ruled by materialism instead of making positive decisions that benefit people as a whole rather than just a select few.

When I created the trail there was much support although some people had negative or mixed feelings. It was strange to be caught up in arguments about Paganism and Christianity in this modern age! Some people felt I was opposing the church. I didn’t see it as that extreme. I believe that we can all worship a variety of gods and goddesses and belief systems in this modern age but I wanted to make a strong point about the goddess and the idea that spirituality can come to us through nature and nature principles that go back to ancient sacred teachings that have been hidden from us for a long time.

This beautiful natural space was very important to the community and they are fighting against the government proposal of building a dual carriageway through the valley. Not only will this destroy the beautiful park but it will also intrude on the wildlife and the wellbeing of the community who enjoy and use this natural space. The dual carriageway will create more pollution and yet again it’s another scar on the natural landscape. People have been offering alternative ideas such as a tunnel through the valley, or a railway line and have been campaigning to save this area. Authorities do not seem to be responding and we have a voice of the community and beyond who are campaigning for their voice to be heard. It occurred to me that I could do something to contribute especially as I lived in the area and also I visit Rimrose Valley, have created art videos in the valley, walked my dog there and always appreciated this lovely area.

I began by initiating an outdoors art exhibition. I suggested that we create an environmental art exhibition in order to reach out and towards another group of people in Liverpool, the artists. This took a while to get off the ground as we had to get permission from Sefton council and there was a lot to organise but eventually the idea was taken on board and we got the go ahead and this linked in with Art in Liverpool and the Independents biennial who supported the project and also offered Rimrose Valley an arts hub in St Johns Shopping Centre. Our group of artists who reached out to us with ideas for the arts trail set about creating works to be installed in Rimrose Valley. They were all interesting concepts relating to saving the natural environment and we all expressed this through our art in different ways.

I eventually decided on painting as that is my main practice. I was offered a pathway in the valley and I decided to create a Goddess trail of goddesses from around the world. I researched the Goddesses and discovered there were so many. Many cultures had the symbol of the female goddess as their symbol of worship for fertility and to encourage the crops to grow. I focused on many of the earth and nature Goddesses from different cultures. The list was endless.

I took my inspiration style of work from Warli painting, a style of tribal art mostly created by the tribal people from the North Sahyadri Range in India. This range encompasses cities such as Dahanu, Talasari, Jawhar, Palghar, Mokhada, and Vikramgadh of Palghar district. This tribal art was originated in Maharashtra, where it is still practiced today.

B: “EARTH DIVINE GODDESS MOTHER NATURE WHO GENERATES ALL THINGS” are words written alongside your trail art in Rimrose Valley – please can you explain the choices of text by the images and their relevance to the project?

A: I took the words that I wrote on the pathway from an ancient poem. It comes from a 12th century English herbal and is very clearly pagan although it was written during the time of Christianity which makes you wonder about the idea of the Goddess and how this also inspired people at the time. Were they trying to hold on to this lost divinity also? Was this poem part of the early Pagan Revival?

I originally wanted to use graffiti style writing relating to the goddesses and write phrases in protest to save the valley but when I discovered this prayer I was overwhelmed by its beauty and relevance to my project and used these divine words in my work. I have read that this particular historical mysterious poem has been solved by Professor Ronald Hutton. On page 384 of his book, Pagan Britain (Yale University Press, 2013), ‘Ronald identifies this poem as a product of the late Roman Empire, reproduced in various continental manuscripts from the 6th century onwards, though only the aforementioned 12th (or possibly 11th) century herbal in England, always under its Latin title, Praecatio Terrae Matris, ‘Prayer to Mother Earth.’ Here is the poem.

“Earth, divine Goddess, Mother Nature, who generates all things and brings forth anew the sun which you have given to the nations; Guardian of sky and sea and of all gods and powers….through your power all nature falls silent and then sinks in sleep. And again you bring back the light and chase away night and yet again you cover us most securely with your shades. You do contain chaos infinite, yea and winds and showers and storms; you send them out when you will and cause the seas to roar; you chase away the sun and rouse the storm. Again when you will you send forth the joyous day and give the nourishment of life with your eternal surety; and when the soul departs to you we return.

You are indeed duly called Great Mother of the Gods; you conquer by your divine name. You are the source of strength of nations and of gods, without you nothing can be brought to perfection or be born; you are Great Queen of the Gods. Goddess! I adore thee as divine; I call upon your name; be pleased the grant that which I ask of you, so shall I give thanks to thee, Goddess, with due faith.

Hear, I beseech you, and be favorable to my prayer. Whatsoever herb your power does produce, give, I pray, with goodwill to all nations to save them and grant me this my medicine. Come to me with your powers, and howsoever I may use them, may they have good success to whosoever I may give them. Whatever you grant, may it prosper. To you all things return. Those who rightly receive these herbs from me, please make them whole. Goddess, I beseech you, I pray as a supplicant that by your majesty you grant this to me. Now I make intercession to you all your powers and herbs and to your majesty, you whom Earth parent of all has produced and given as a medicine of health to all nations and has put majesty upon you, I pray you, the greatest help to the human race. This I pray and beseech from you, be present here with your virtues, for She who created you has Herself promised that I may gather you into the goodwill of him on whom the art of medicine was bestowed, and grant for health’s sake good medicine by grace of your powers. I pray grant me through your virtues that whatsoever is wrought by me through you may in all its powers have good and speedy effect and good success and that I may always be permitted with the favor of your majesty to gather you into my hands and to glean your fruits. So shall I give thanks to you in the name of the majesty which ordained your birth.”

Translated in ‘Early English Magic and Medicine’ by Dr. Charles Singer, Proceedings of the British Academy, Vol. IV. The ‘thees’ and ‘thous’ of Singer’s translation have been replaced with modern English.

B: Currently climate change and ecological issues are hard to convey, the arts is one branch of communication that has the ability to create dialogue globally and locally. What further role do you think the arts can play in creating a conversation around these important issues?

A: I think art is very important for conveying these messages. My work was only one angle of the environmental debate. There were artists who looked at the capitalist issues, the way that the decline of bees is impacting our environment, weather conditions, light and shadow. Artists also used materials that were recycled and biodegradable and interactive educational projects. The exhibition was fascinating and reached out to the community within the valley as well as online. These artworks could be re-approached and extended into further artworks and ideas on the environment.

There are so many options for the valley that would be educational and help the city and community in so many ways. We need these natural spaces. They are very important.

B: What advice would you give to aspiring artists? Particularly those who want to create work that highlights ecological concerns

A: I would just say try and get involved with voluntary groups and campaigns that are seeking ways to publicise. You will find both sides try and educate the other. Think about ways you can also do art that does not cause harm to you or others and that does not identify who you are. This can be fulfilling and reduce all the paperwork and preparation. If you go down the route of presenting a proposal to a campaign make sure you make it manageable. Talk to others who are doing environmental art.

If I was going to do this again I would probably see if I could seek some funding also as this does help with travel costs and materials and of course your time and is a nice offering to other artists. I think this kind of project opens a window to so many ideas and issues. The work can also be done via performance, film and play writing