Libby Byrne

Libby Byrne

Respond, Discover, Connect, Create

Making theology in the studio

Within my practice, I am increasingly aware of an experience of mutuality that exists within the practice of making, seeing and being with art. Art is so much more than a resource to be mastered or manipulated in the communication of an idea. In fact the important thing is not what I can do with art, but what art can do with me. When I am open and alive to these possibilities, art becomes a path on which to travel and place where I can be.

Sink like a stone, 2019-20

Sinking into the invitation to experience and express care Last year I was privileged to work with the Centre for Music, Litury and the Arts to explore the idea of painting my contribution to a...
Read More "Sink like a stone, 2019-20"

Who is an artist anyway? 2020

Watch: ‘What does it mean to be an artist?’ What are we claiming when we say, ‘I am an artist’, and why is it that some people are able claim this sense of identity whilst...
Read More "Who is an artist anyway? 2020"

Drawing in church and drawing in-to joy, 2019

This project explores what can be learned about the possibilities for joy when the private practice of drawing is located in public experience of Sunday worship. A case study identifies distinct phases of making, being...
Read More "Drawing in church and drawing in-to joy, 2019"

Living and healing in faith communities

One of the significant benefits of belonging to a faith community is knowing that we have a place in the larger human story that also connects us with the Divine calling toward healing and wholeness....
Read More "Living and healing in faith communities"
Untitled, 2014

Untitled, 2014

Exhibiting Untitled

Having worked for three years on the development of a series of palimpsests exploring the art of healing, I was deeply immersed in my own understanding of the work. I sensed that there had been a shift in my experience and understanding of each of the works individually, but it was important for me to have the opportunity to see them in relationship with one another as an exhibition; a body of work. It was also important to hear from other people with regard to what they were seeing in the work, in order to support my own capacity for reflexive distance. I opened the exhibition as Untitled and invited viewers to offer titles for any or all of the works.

What did we see?

Whilst the exhibition was open viewer’s responses were collected in sealed boxes in the Chapel on Station Gallery. I was aware that when the exhibition closed, I would need to bring the entire body of work home and also make room in the studio for the participant responses. Before I dismantled the exhibition I took the time to thoroughly clean the studio, clearing it of all unnecessary clutter. I bought a clean carpet for the centre of the room and rearranged the furniture. In doing all of this, I was preparing space for the next phase of the research project. Eventually I was ready to read and respond to the participants’ ideas. There were three boxes of responses and as I opened them I systematically recorded the participants’ ideas. Before moving on to the next participant, I took time to offer a prayer of thanks for the person who had shared these things with me. I then checked in with my own responses to what had just been shared and noted how I was affected by what I was reading.

Once the responses were collected, they were collated and then coded in various ways. There were 104 written responses in total. It was evident that the participants had generally taken great care to engage with the work and clearly articulate their responses. One participant took the time to go around the exhibition twice, identifying which title emerged in the first viewing and then naming what may have shifted in a second round of viewing. The gallery staff reported that a woman had photographed all of the work and taken the response sheet home saying that she wanted to sit with the ideas for a few days and then come back with her response. Yet another participant took the time to create two columns on the response form, assigning a sound for each of the images in the first column and then noting a corresponding word in the second. This particular response form was folded into the shape of a boat and then deposited in the box. It was interesting to note that the participant chose the title for the exhibition and then clearly ensured that her response was intentionally and intricately. This response and method of posting seemed to speak clearly of the experience of paradox that was held within the exhibition for so many people.

IMG_0250

The following is a record of my own ideas about the theme being explored in each artwork and the basic themes identified in the viewers’ responses to each piece. The works are displayed in order according to their place in the exhibition, which in turn correlates with the order in which participants were asked to respond.

SONY DSC

1. Is it Finished?

Viewers’ Response

Existence in Time and Space

SONY DSC

2. Desiring and Shedding Form

Viewers’ Response

Solid and Fluid held in tension

A paradox

wagner.25pg

3. Resistance

Viewers’ Response

Chaos and Order

Control is Suspended

Order Emerges from Chaos

SONY DSC

4. Letting Go

Viewers’ response

Liberation and Entrapment

Freedom and Oppression

A-7

5. The Wound of Wonder

Viewers’ Response

Clarity and Obscurity

Known and Unknown

A-9

6. An encounter by the billabong

Viewers’ Response

Transcendence and Immanence – A Meeting Point

Into my Body: The Depths of my Being

 

IMG_0084

7. Learning to Breathe

Viewers’ response

From the Particular to the Universal

Truce

 

S

 8. Risk

Viewers’ Response

Existence and Non- Existence

Alone in a Vast and Complex Landscape – But Also Alive

A Truthful Contradiction

Faith and Fear

 

IMG_0077

9. Belonging

Viewers’ Response

I am here, Underneath it all

IMG_0043

10. Containing Canvas

Viewers’ Response

To Hold or Release?

Artist Humus

Emerging Questions and Responses

The invitation to title the artwork was an opportunity for viewers to become engaged with a conversation that led us to collectively make sense of what we were seeing. The invitation framed the exhibition as a question requiring a response and the number of responses received, reflected the significance of this question for the audience. The themes that were identified suggest that viewers saw their involvement with the exhibition as a relational dynamic of Open Question and Response. Whilst viewers were aware that this body of work was an inquiry into The Art of Healing, they had no information about the particular themes that had been explored in the individual works. Despite this apparent gap in the viewers’ knowledge of the work, the titles that were offered seemed to articulate strong relationships between the artist’s intentions and the themes identified by the viewers.

Respond, Discover, Connect, Create

Sink like a stone
Last year I was privileged to work with the Centre for Music, Litury and the Arts to explore the idea of painting my contribution to...
Read More "Sink like a stone"
Who is an artist?
https://www.latrobe.edu.au/nest/watch-artist-mean/ What are we claiming when we say, ‘I am an artist’, and why is it that some people are able claim this sense of...
Read More "Who is an artist?"
The immediacy and the durability of art
Few contemporary artists have sparked our imaginations like Christo and Jean-Claude. Now both are gone. I look forward to a series of retrospective exhibitions and...
Read More "The immediacy and the durability of art"
Painting for memory in a time of isolation
Figure 1. Ava Byrne, (2020). NGV. Gouache on canvas. Figure 2. Ethan Byrne, (2020). NGV. Gouache on canvas. In this time of isolation, I have 2 paintings...
Read More "Painting for memory in a time of isolation"
Tension on the surface
There are tensions on the surface of this image that have resulted in a furious working toward solutions with whatever materials are at hand. Having...
Read More "Tension on the surface"
Postcards from the journey…

Postcards from the journey…

Libby Byrne, (2019). Sink like a stone, Painted in community @ CMLA Conference St Andrews By the Sea, Glenelg.

 

Sink like a stone
Last year I was privileged to work with the Centre for Music,...
Read More "Sink like a stone"
Who is an artist?
https://www.latrobe.edu.au/nest/watch-artist-mean/ What are we claiming when we say, ‘I am an artist’,...
Read More "Who is an artist?"
The immediacy and the durability of art
Few contemporary artists have sparked our imaginations like Christo and Jean-Claude. Now...
Read More "The immediacy and the durability of art"
Tension on the surface
There are tensions on the surface of this image that have resulted...
Read More "Tension on the surface"
Living and healing in faith communities

Living and healing in faith communities

One of the significant benefits of belonging to a faith community is knowing that we have a place in the larger human story that also connects us with the Divine calling toward healing and wholeness. Finding a community where we belong can be a powerful remedy for the experience of isolation and separation that are inherent in the human condition, but when our shared belief systems equate healing with cure, the desire for healing and wholeness can paradoxically leave people living with incurable illness or disability feeling isolated in a faith community.

In the Christian tradition it is easy to read the call to pray for healing in the gospels as an invitation to pray for the restoration of physical health. Whilst a desire for physical health is normal, it is an equally normal human experience to live with illness. Hans-Georg Gadamer proposes the art of healing involves knowing and doing what we can to ensure that we participate in behaviours and treatments that seek to restore health to the whole person, body and soul. Healing is therefore a process of persistently responding to the needs of the body and maintaining the integrity of the whole person. Understanding healing as a fluctuating process rather than a fixed outcome, leads to an appreciation of the unique qualities of every human body. We learn to see illness and disability as part of the normal spectrum of human experience.

When we pray for healing we are anticipating that something may change as a result of our prayer (Matthew 17:20).  As a person living with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), I have asked for healing prayer and been deeply blessed in the experience. My original request for healing prayer was deeply embedded in a strong desire for cure. When it was evident that I was still unwell, I wondered what this said about the faith we had expressed in prayer. I worried that people might interpret the presence of illness as a lack of faith. Having travelled with this illness and the healing power of prayer for the past 10 years I am fortunate to be able to say that the chaos and disruption that are part of living with MS have become for me a reminder that the body is a site for continuity and change. This crisis in my body has been an invitation to become more aware of the needs of my soul.

Theologian Paul Fiddes suggests that we experience movements of divine life coming, turning, flowing, and burning in the body itself. To pray for healing in the spirit of participation, repetitively and with anticipation, even in the absence of a cure can lead to an awareness of divine life in the body that is turning, flowing and even burning with neuropathic pain. The repetition of the prayer is a mode of perception that turns my attention toward the life of God that is inherent in my embodied experience in the world. In this way, it is possible to say that if we have faith we will be healed even if we are not cured, because it is in faith that we participate in the life of God and God’s life participates in the body.

Art making has been an important part of my healing process. Ellen Dissanayake claims that making art offers the opportunity to engage with the art of repetition to elaborate on our experience of desire, instilling a sense of belonging, meaning and competence in ourselves and in other people. Art can also redirect our focus away from ourselves, enabling us to pay attention to the movement of God. Art can therefore function to engage our bodies, enabling us to be aware of ourselves and attend to our bodily presence whilst refocusing our attention toward God in whom we ultimately belong. In this way making art can be considered a prayerful movement toward healing that leads us to the acceptance of what it means to live in a human body, fully engaged and participating in the life of God, in sickness and in health.

When the experience of disability was new for me, finding ways to continue working as an artist were important. Hope on the Horizon I, is an oil painting that is largely bound with plaster bandages. The thin line of transparent green oil paint that is the horizon emerges from beneath the bandages, as a reminder to carefully respect the unseen process of healing that is at work in the presence of serious illness.

Hope on the Horizon I, 2011.

Art Therapist Shaun McNiff says that, “Art heals by accepting the pain and doing something with it.” When Jesus approached the blind man Bartimaeus he did not presume to know what the man needed but asked him “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:42-52). The question was an open invitation for Bartimaeus to participate with the healing process by recognising and naming his deepest need. Healing was not something that was done to Bartimaeus. I would venture to suggest that it was not even something that was done for him. Rather it was something that Jesus did with the full participation of Bartimaeus who wanted his sight restored and expressed his desire directly with Jesus.

So, what is it that you want? In naming what we really want we are open to the fullness of our humanity and we are vulnerable because we are not sure what will happen next. It is important to not presume to know what a person living with illness and disability might want. To live in ways that are healing, we must encounter the whole contingent experience of living with, in and through our uniquely able and differently abled bodies. We don’t all need to be cured of disability – but we do all need to live in ways that are healing, as we navigate the human condition.

 

Dr Libby Byrne

Published in Religica Blog, 2019

Drawing in church and drawing in-to joy, 2019

Drawing in church and drawing in-to joy, 2019

This project explores what can be learned about the possibilities for joy when the private practice of drawing is located in public experience of Sunday worship. A case study identifies distinct phases of making, being with and seeing art, all integral to the process of aesthetic theological inquiry, as mechanisms for drawing in both artist and viewer to participate in creative conversation. In the immanence of honesty, the experience of
making and seeing art in church offers an experience of joy characterised by an embodied experience of ‘emotional attunement between the self and the world’ (Volf 2015). Whilst the experience of drawing in-church extends our capacity to see God at work when it happens, the emerging work of art is drawing-in (the) church, inviting us to participate in a process of honest reflection that transforms the way we understand what it
means to belong in a life of faith.

Read more in Practical Theology, 2019.