Litchfield >> Wisdom House Retreat and Conference Center in Litchfield has a history of presenting some of the most cutting-edge and challenging programs and exhibitions. It has always welcomed men and women who value soul searching and learning in a contemplative environment. The center has traditionally had a concern for contemporary issues and has been at the forefront of experimenting with new ideas and ways to present them. Now, with “Transfourming Sorrow,” conceived by multimedia artist Kardash Onnig, Spirituality Coordinator Sister Jo-Ann Iannotti and visual artist and curator Tony Carretta have mounted one of the Center’s most compelling presentations.
“Tony and I were having a discussion,” Iannotti recalls, “and we were talking about the interplay of contemplation and art. Then he made me aware of the artist Kardash Onnig and suggested that we exhibit his work. Here at Wisdom House we try to encompass all areas — spirituality, education, the arts, and the environment. We have presented artists for many reasons — to take our programs as well as to teach them. Julia Cameron was the first art experience we had. It enabled us to bring artists together for reflection on themselves and to be part of a community as they shared ideas from her book “The Artist’s Way.” That was in 1993. We realized what a wonderful experience we could offer and so we opened the gallery.”
Carretta started out as a sculptor and eventually founded the New Arts Gallery in Litchfield in 1996. Nestled on a country road, the structure typified a wonderful weathered barn, with two floors affording the perfect space to experiment with artists and their work. The rustic setting and the creativity Carretta lent to making the space unique made the gallery the go-to spot for interesting exhibitions. During its tenure, the gallery featured some of the most innovative and avant-garde artists. One such artist with whom Carrera established a rapport was Kardash Onnig. Onnig took his work out of the realm of the object itself and created statements.
“This exhibition is an offshoot of the creativity I have always pursued,” says Carretta. “Taking nontraditional spaces and doing things with art that create a kind of synergism that you can never get in an ordinary gallery situation. With Onnig’s exhibition we hope to illustrate some new magic and correlation between space, place, and the specific art.”
It is unusual for Wisdom House to turn its 10,000 square-foot, multilevel chapel into a gallery, but this is a golden opportunity to invite the public to an exhibition that has interactive moments and many thought-provoking elements. How does taking a space not meant for art, function in the moment?
“The main installation will occupy the first level of the chapel,” explains Carretta. “We will also use the small gallery which will act as an introduction to the big room. You are walking through this narrow space, a compressed state of feeling yourself and then suddenly you enter this wide-open area. The concept is that space or place has an implication, no matter what the situation.
“There will a drum representing a heart beat and a symphony of sounds to reflect each element. Pieces of objects will be hung above, symbolizing rising above your own internal sorrow. A place like the chapel implies both retrospection and introspection. There will be the interaction of the installation and the people around you who are experiencing the moment as well.”
Lebanese born artist Kardash Onnig has made a career out of utilizing his art as a means of illustrating the futility of human conflict while presenting the possibility of resolving differences through mutual responsibility and common self-interests. He looks upon “Transfourming Sorrow” as an invitation to not only grieve, but to transform our collective sorrow.
Onnig first produced “Transfourming Sorrow” two years ago at his 11-acre property in Stanfordville, New York. That event helped commemorate Onnig’s journey from his family’s survival of the Armenian genocide to his present life in America.
“I talk about grief,” says Onnig, “because it is a big issue for many of us. How do we come out of our grief? We are all full of our own history and we seem never to want to look at the other side. How can we translate our ability to examine ourselves to understanding others?”
Onnig believes that our way of communicating is the problem because we have so many different languages and so many different interpretations of events that happen to us. He wants us to understand the universality of grief by presenting certain images.
“My own quest for universality and transcendence began in earnest in the 1960s. That’s when I came to realize that the two-dimensional, linear tools of communication such as national alphabets, books, television, and movies are counterproductive in terms of the evolution of the human species.
“This realization led me to dedicate my life to the development of a three-dimensional mode of expression that would help foster transference between two others. My abiding goals have been to help break down cultural barriers, to cross borders, to melt down that which makes our fellow human beings ‘others,’ to transform sorrow into the miracle of universal rebirth through human kinship.”
Onnig has taken the idea of universality and created a three-dimensional communication system. It is comprised of four forms that have their genesis in the principle quaternary, the ancient symbol of creation. The four in his title represents all fours — the four seasons, the four primary elements of air, earth, water and fire, and the four disciplines of art, science, philosophy and spirituality. Each one is a lifeline.
The comprehension is in the visual. To see Onnig’s work is to suddenly understand his goal to accept grief and to understand its universality. His creation takes us on a quest for the answer to dealing with our own grief and accepting that of others. We suffer the same emotions and disappointments and in that alone there is a universal commonality.
“Transfourming Sorrow,” organized and curated by Tony Carretta, opens at Wisdom House, with a reception for the artist on May 20 from 3 to 7 p.m. There will be an informal walk through the exhibition with the artist on June 3 at 3:30 p.m. The exhibition runs through July 29.
For more information call Wisdom House at 860-567-3163 or visit www.wisdomhouse.org.