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Helen Mirra / MATRIX 209

65 Instants

November 23, 2003 - January 25, 2004


Download the exhibition brochure (PDF).

In his 1969 book Silence, artist and musician John Cage, deeply influenced by the Buddhist teachings of D. T. Suzuki and the Instrumentalist philosophy of John Dewey, wrote, “We are involved in a life that passes understanding and our highest business is our daily life.” The practice of Chicago-based artist Helen Mirra similarly explores the everyday relationship between the natural world and the people who inhabit it. Working from a broad array of scientific, historical, and aesthetic references, she creates work out of drawing, sound, film, photography, fabric, text, and installation involving precise, repetitive actions that mirror meditation and honor labor. The horizon—as it refers to the earth, sea, and sky—occurs again and again in Mirra's aesthetically minimalist works, which feature a consistent palette of green, blue, and brown.

65 instants, Mirra's MATRIX exhibition, arises from the second-century Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna's idea regarding the moment between initial perception and intellect or judgment. Sixty-five instants are said to occur within this moment, the length of time of a finger snap; these instants have been variously described as too short to comprehend and registerable if one is sufficiently attentive. Mirra will have made sixty-five works, one a day for sixty-five days. Each is created from a one-by-six-foot recycled shipping pallet plank, hand-sawed to match the length from the elbow to the fingertip of one of the artist's arms and the width of her other hand. Diligently hand-sanded, the planks are monochromatically painted with milk paint, an eighteenth-century matte furniture paint. They will be installed to create a horizontal band around the MATRIX Gallery.

The process of making each work over the course of a day is comparable to kinhin (walking), that is, a meditation directed toward making space and prolonging instants. Buddhist teacher Seung Sahn wrote in The Compass of Zen, “This world is impermanent....Even one second of our lives seems full of so much movement and change in this world that we see. But your mind—right now—is like a lens whose shutter speed is one divided by infinite time. We call that moment-mind. If you attain that mind, then this whole world's movement stops. From moment to moment you can see this world completely stop.”

Born in Rochester, New York, in 1970, Mirra holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Bennington College and a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her work was included in Delays and Revolutions at the 2003 Venice Biennale, and recent solo exhibitions have been at Stephen Friedman Gallery, London; the Whitney Museum, New York; and Donald Young Gallery and The Renaissance Society, Chicago. 65 instants is the result of a six-month Bay Area residency cosponsored by the Arts Research Center of the Consortium for the Arts at UC Berkeley and the Awake project.

Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson
Phyllis Wattis MATRIX Curator

The MATRIX Program at the UC Berkeley Art Museum is made possible by the generous endowment gift of Phyllis C. Wattis.

Additional donors to the MATRIX Program include the UAM Council MATRIX Endowment, Ann M. Hatch, Art Berliner, Christopher Vroom and Illya Szilak, Eric McDougall, and Glenn and April Bucksbaum.

Helen Mirra/MATRIX 209 65 instants is supported by the National Endowment for the Arts (as part of the multiyear collaborative project Awake: Art, Buddhism, and the Dimensions of Consciousness, generously supported by the Nathan Cummings Foundation and The James Irvine Foundation), Joan Roebuck, and the Arts Research Center of the Consortium for the Arts at UC Berkeley.