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Viestarts Gaisis (Translated from Latvian)  Saturday, August 16 (2008) 10:28  Multimedia exhibition: Green Land, Bright Sky  An individual must be conscious of their impending death in order to know the difference between important and irrelevant things and to act accordingly. With -- a statement such as this, it becomes easy to understand how Peter Terezakis can use light in his work as, both a symbolic representation of the sanctity of life, and as a rallying symbol to end the abuse of the earth.
When satellite photographs of the earth at night show fishing fleets radiating light brighter than the city lights of Buenos Aires, when fish in mountain streams are contaminated with airborne mercury, when subterranean ground water is tainted with non-biodegradable estrogens from birth control pills, even the least conscious can recognize the suicidal outcome of our path.

His own lights, in forms of enormous installations, are displayed in video and large-scale photographs in the Riga Art room this month. Like lighthouses, they respectfully guide us through surreal, sacred lands of the Navajo, Quechan, Tohono O'odham, and the Papago; the inhabitants of the west before the arrival of European invaders. The American installation artist plans his expeditions around the phases of the moon (sometimes a year in advance), and often travels days to create an experience lasting moments. Careful to respect the animals, plants, and earth where working, he arranges the lights according to the features of the land, in preparation for the twilight which he finds so interesting:

As day gives way to night, golds, reds, and blues, spill across land and sky painting everything in sight with indifferent love. A breeze begins, temperature falls, shadows lengthen, darkness pools and spills into mystery.  Activating the lamps, each programmed to flash in time to my recorded heartbeat, transforms the landscape into a flickering zoetrope of land and shadow.

The arrhythmic beating of contained energy creates a pulsating ribbon of light, beating back the liquid dark. Figure-ground relationships change and change again. Thoughts and images come and go in a flood. In the blackening sky, far from cities and streetlights, the stars reveal themselves. At the periphery of the Milky Way, we are reminded that we are part of a greater whole, and that should our species perish, we will not be missed.


Terezakis, who will cooperate in organization of the Riga Festival’s multimedia exhibition Green Land, Bright Sky by artists from the USA, Great Britain, Mexico, and Latvia taking part in Riga Art room, which is open just today. His spouse, choreographer Allyson Green, has created a play of dance improvisations for this intention. Green is working on a ‘dictionary’ of dance and movement; drawing her inspiration from sites she visits. Dancers make kinetical conversation with Terezakis’ visual images that offer his videos and photographs of enlightened landscapes. Choreographer Olga Zitluhina is taking part in this play representing Latvia.

The first light installation was on ancient Lenape land (now Reading, Pennsylvania) in 1995. 
The lights used a dozen ignition coils powered by my automobile, used over fifteen hundred feet of copper wire, and described a five-hundred foot section of an ellipse. Since then, I have redesigned the electronics a number of times, and set the work in the United States, Greece, Latvia, and Romania.

When asked if what he does is art Terezakis becomes animated:

Beginning with the earliest cave paintings, artists have always used technology to express internal visions. In 1919 Russian Constructivist Naum Gabo created his seminal work, Standing Wave. Aside from the fact that this was the first electrically powered sculpture, what truly made the work revolutionary was the addition of the dimension of time. In the piece a vertically mounted steel rod was made to vibrate such that it described volume and space when activated. With this deceptively simple first artwork of the electronic age, five thousand year-old assumptions regarding the nature of sculpture were shattered.

In 1966, Bell Laboratory engineer Billy Klüver (and Roberts Rauschenberg and Whitman) formed Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.). Their goal was to match artists with engineers for the creation of art works that used contemporary which could neither be imagined by the engineer, or be built by the artist. This group created works for artists including John Cage, Jasper Johns, Jean Tinguely Andy Warhol, and others.
I am part of the generation after them. Then new technologies became less so twenty years later. I use what I know to express what I visualize, creating work which is less mediated by the hands (and minds) of others.

Right enough he does not find an interest in technologies themselves; more their spiritual aspects.

Light has always been a symbol for immaterial, spiritual energy. The process of arranging lights on the earth has come become many things for me. Sometimes they symbolize family members, stages of life, or they are lit for a person I have known. Sometimes they are just points of light in the beautiful earth. Each lamp flashes in time with my prerecorded heart rate. This is why this sculpture is called, “Heart Beats Light.” There is more than effort in the installations; my heart is literally in them as well. Sometimes I catch myself wondering why I am in the middle of “nowhere” assembling all of my equipment, hours from what is comfortable and familiar. It is then that I understand that I am not certain why I doing what I am doing. I am compelled to work whether people see the results or not.

Terezakis was born in the USA but his grandparents from the mother’s and father’s side originally are from Greece.

Their parents grew up under Turkish occupation. On my mother's side, her father's father was sold into slavery as a child in Istanbul. He eventually escaped, was recaptured, and eventually freed. His is an amazing story of survival. As children my grandparents were not allowed to attend church, assemble in groups, or speak the Greek language in public. Doing any of these things was punishable by decapitation or disembowelment. If the incentive to leave was not overwhelming, our families would have remained on ancestral lands.

His father was a Greek Orthodox priest but also a nature lover who liked to go for walks in the forest.

Without realizing it at the time, I was very privileged to experience what my father taught me. I no longer take what I saw for granted. The land is changing right in front of our eyes.  Urban centers around the world have grown tremendously over the past thirty years. In the United States and in Europe, forested wilderness and farmlands, have suddenly become neighborhoods, shopping malls, schools, hospitals, and garbage dumps. A small rural road, once sufficient for local traffic needs, now has to sustain the traffic of hundreds or thousands of people and their cars. In the magnificent American west, game trails from the last Ice Age, still in use by deer, elk, and antelope, are now divided with fences, covered with asphalt, and have buildings on them. This happens from one season to the next.   "Last year forest; now shopping mall," is barely an exaggeration.

One of the reasons why Terezakis started to take photos of the starred night sky is because it is increasingly difficult to see the stars clearly due to pollution.

We forget where we are, where we live, what is important, what our place is within the cosmos. If a person cannot see the stars, he loses his sense of perspective and mortality.  Without perspective, it becomes difficult to see how caught up we are in advertising schemes designed to occupy and enslave body, mind, and spirit. Our world becomes smaller when we cannot see the wonders of the night sky.” Toward this purpose, Terezakis, has taught the History of Art and Technology of the Twentieth Century at York’s School of Visual Arts, and the University of California in La Jolla, San Diego.

Prometheus's gift of fire to mankind may have been premature. Until human nature catches up with divine gifts, we are going to continue to have misuse of technology. Illustrating how man has used the technology of his time for artistic expression is a good way to show what changes and what does not.


He also created the event Sacred Sky, Sacred Earth, where people have the opportunity to at least symbolically return something to the earth, even if it is a drop of water, as people are used to only taking from the earth.

It is curious to me that we must have, "environmental causes and groups."   It is almost as if people are saying that the environment is something separate, distinct, and apart from each of us.  The environment: We all live here and depend upon our biosphere in order that we may survive. There is no other spaceship. As this is read, earth is hurtling through space at nearly 70,000 miles per hour. Our atmosphere is about 62 miles thick. The diameter of the earth is just 7,926 miles (5,100 miles from San Diego to Riga). Everything is fixed and measured; we have only so much of everything to make our lives.

Where does everyone think pollutants go?  Bad air does not go "elsewhere," any more than pollution in the land or water goes away.  What pollution does is to either move further downstream, becomes less concentrated, or remain, sitting at its point of origin.  For the most part, entire nations still use concepts dating back to the seventh century B.C. for waste disposal.  With this model, sewage and waste is diverted from where ever you are (i.e. Rome), to someplace you are not, like down river or out to sea (the Mediterranean). Out of sight, out of mind: Let it be someone else’s problem, as long as sewage or pollution is elsewhere.

In the center of the South Pacific Ocean, is a collection of suspended and floating garbage known as the Pacific Gyre. Every piece of floating detritus jettisoned from the Pacific facing portions of the Americas, Asia, and Australia, is floating around out in a growing mass (and designated navigation hazard) twice the size of the state of Texas. There is an equivalent mass in the Atlantic (the EGP, or Eastern Garbage Patch). 

As the plastics industry takes no responsibility for this state of affairs, how can anyone believe that that nuclear waste will be handled any differently?  Nuclear industry spokespeople would have us believe that putting nuclear waste in containers deep underground is a good idea. We can’t even properly get rid of a plastic salad fork, and we are supposed to be able to safely handle nuclear waste? Given the evidence, I find political promises and industry assurances the worst type of pandering imaginable.


There is a tremendous amount of discussion in America about ecological dangers. It is difficult to know if people are making more environmentally sound choices or not. I always see people in cars with just one or two people are riding inside.  With the price of gas rising to the level it should be, a lot of attention is paid to alternative energy. Market forces will drive people to embrace ecological sound purchases sooner than imperatives of conscience, big industry permitting.


Light in Thoughts Terezakis is not really a hippy walking in wicker sandals; he is a New Yorker and loves the city.

I lived in Manhattan most of my life; twenty-seven years.  For a long time I thought it would be impossible to live anywhere else.  And so the issue: How do the best achievements in the urban, civilized environment of man get along with Nature?  Is Man the ruler of the planet here to exploit and subjugate every living and non-living thing?


Or can he be a caretaker, using what is necessary and not destroying, replanting, rebuilding as he goes along?  We have changed geological features to suit our purposes, and erased forms of life that have been on the planet much longer than us. If there is any truth to the idea that we are a part of an inter-connected sphere of life, we must plan for generations ahead.

To what level are we actually in control of the process of unrestricted global development? Who is watching out for what we are doing as a species to the planet? What is the price that we and future generations will pay for all these houses, highways, shopping malls, and other ear marks of civilization? Is the mindless goal to pave the planet and create one vast global city? 

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Nothing occurs as an isolated act. What does it mean to base an entire culture on unrestricted use of petroleum?  The plastic packaging that we purchase today will go somewhere. Today that packaging will go into a landfill, the ocean, or will be burned for all to breathe.  Nothing vanishes or goes away.


Like a point of reference in his art, Terezakis is using classical Greek culture.

"Fashion and technology may change, human nature remains the same. Five thousand years later, we still cook our food with fire. So what really has changed? Nothing. We are the same creatures with the same questions:  Who am I?  Where am I going?  How long do I have to live?  What will happen when I die?

On the other hand, through the adoption of modern technology we live more fantastic lives than Jules Verne could have imagined! Health care has improved so much that diseases which routinely kept populations in check have been conquered. Infant mortality is at an historic low. We routinely fly through the air sitting on easy chairs, send robotic devices to the furthest reaches of our world, instantly communicate through a combination of voice, text, and/or speech to people anywhere on the planet, and access the greatest source of collective human knowledge using hand-held devices. This is a world full of wonders and possibilities. Tomorrow holds unimagined opportunities.

Terezakis' leitmotif is light, but not only literally.

We need positive dreams in this postmodern world to help bring us forward, this is the power of art. We have the power to reclaim the idealism exhibited in the 1960s. The idea of striving for utopia has to be activated in the collective consciousness. Positive dreams are necessary to propel us in to the future.

Unless there is a catastrophic event, we will be here tomorrow, just as we have for the past ten thousand years and more. We start a new day each sunrise. We make decisions constantly. Everyone is liable for their actions. If there is a chance to do something good, to think and to act more positively we must do so.


The alternative to behaving as conscious citizen-protectors of our planet, to continue as a global mob motivated by greed and expediency, enmired in superstition and thoughtless action, is unsustainable.  We need to elevate our perspective beyond the vision of one lifetime. Earth is Homo Sapiens’ point of origin; not necessarily our destiny. We have the rest of the universe to explore. But first, we must take care of our home.


The title for this exhibition in Latvian did not translate the way that I would have liked. “Green Land, Bright Sky,” neither encompasses the healing dark, or the parts of the planet which are not verdant. It is our knowledge and appreciation for the wonder of creation and the sanctity of life that make our earth and sky, Sacred.

It is the intention that the art works in this exhibition raise a series of questions within the viewer's mind. Immaterial and non-objective phenomena are utilized to create a dialogue about the earth and sky in which they are staged.  The temporary nature of the installations asks after the mortality of the viewer.

Greater than the sum of our parts, we need to judge ourselves by the world we will leave behind, and base our actions accordingly.  That is what is important.

 
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Unless otherwise indicated, all media Copyright Peter Terezakis 1999 - 2009