Art as Ritual – An Interview With Megan LaBonte
“This is what rituals are for. We do spiritual ceremonies as human beings in order to create a safe resting place for our most complicated feelings of joy or trauma, so that we don’t have to haul those feelings around with us forever, weighing us down. We all need such places of ritual safekeeping. And I do believe that if your culture or tradition doesn’t have the specific ritual you are craving, then you are absolutely permitted to make up a ceremony of your own devising, fixing your own broken-down emotional systems with all the do-it-yourself resourcefulness of a generous plumber/poet.”
― Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love
Many people swear by certain rituals to their art, certain music they have to listen to in order to create, certain times of day they have to work, or even certain shoes they have to wear. Some artists, however, know the mere act of art itself as a kind of ritual; a way for each of us to rent the fabric of the ordinary and transform our everyday life.
Since the dawn of humankind, art has served to heighten the experience of everything it touches from our most holy rituals to our most mundane of tasks. From the ancient shamanistic cave paintings on the walls of our ancestral homes, intended to inject magical visages to prehistoric gatherings, to the war paint of celtic tribes to the ceremonial feathers adorning Native American warriors, art has been used for countless centuries to transform the world – to bridge the gap between the physical realm and the realm of ideas
Holidays are the best place to look for the ways the ritual of art transforms our world. Christmas finds us adorning sprawling living room totems in hopes of a joyful season. Without the baubles and decorations, the cards and wreaths hung from our walls each December, Christmas would lose much of it’s essence. Art as ritual creates the season. Halloween allows us to escape even ourselves for one night, by literally transforming ourselves with masks and garments which normally exist only in our individual or collected imaginations in the form of costumed heroes and villains from myth, legend, and more modern media.
Through The Looking Glass
One local artist has been exploring these very themes all her life. Megan LaBonte – who many Valley residents may already know as, “The Hoola-Hoop Girl,” a moniker Ms LaBonte picked up in the early aughts for her public impromptu Hoola-Hoop parties on the steps of the First Congressional on Main, has spent the last decade exploring the boundaries between art and life, most notably with her installation pieces placed in Northampton shop windows in which she turned blank white mainline heads into exquisitely detailed fantastical faces. This last year however, Ms LaBonte took the plunge, emerging her world in an everyday ritual to produce images of worlds which exist right on top of our own.
The 366 Program asks artist to take a picture of themselves every day for a year (in this case a leap year hence the 366). This seemingly simple task has blossomed into a treasure trove of opportunities for Ms LaBonte to explore reoccurring themes such as nature and the woods, femininity and sexuality to name just a few. Each day she uses her camera to become a kind of portal, allowing her each day a moment to transcend the every day. One day may find her transformed with brightly colored scales rippling across her face, while another a satyr deep in a green wood complete with horns and elven ears.
In the following podcast interview with Megan LaBonte, I discuss her ongoing 366 project, her past work and touch on some of the ideas discussed above.
View more of Ms LaBonte’s work at her online gallery here.
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