TV for Spiritual Beings

Visit the MCA from wherever you are in this Tour Video Series dedicated to discovering more about the world, our communities, and ourselves through contemporary art.

Learning about contemporary art isn’t just a matter of historical facts and artist biographies. Contemporary art is special and important because it can help us see our present moment in new ways. In this episode, join the MCA’s Manager of School Programs, Jeremy Kreusch, and apprentices from the MCA’s Teen Creative Agency, Hisham Kysia and Vivian Zamora, to explore works from two exhibitions that connect to the spiritual—in us, around us, in spite of us.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

JEREMY KREUSCH: Welcome to the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. My name is Jeremy, and I’m the manager of school programs here at the MCA. In this episode, "TV for Spiritual Beings," we’ll look at art throughout the museum that connects to the spiritual in us, around us, in spite of us.

The art you’ll see in this video is contemporary art. Saying that art is "contemporary" just means that it was made recently, in our time. Old, historical art is special and important because through it we can learn about the past.

But the art of our time is just as important because it can help us to see the present in new ways. One of the early patrons of this museum, Gerald S. Elliot, said of contemporary art, "What attracts me is a certain awesomeness and presence which relates to the spirit of our time to the human condition— the ups, the downs, the disruption, the chaos, the ambivalence."

We’ll be approaching art in that way, not by trying to dig into the history or the biography of artists. Instead, we’ll look for ways the art can inspire us to engage with ourselves, one another, and the world we share. We’ll look at a handful of artworks in two exhibitions in order to try and catch a glimpse of some deep spiritual truths about the world. Can art help us to change our way of being? We’ll think about art beyond the visible and beyond the rational to connect with the spiritual.

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Some of the activities we’ll be inviting you to do will take more time than we’ll provide. Feel free to pause the video or revisit them later. I also invited some friends to join us and share their thoughts and ideas. Some are going to call in throughout the tour. At the end of the tour, I’m going to meet up with apprentices from the Teen Creative Agency, Hisham and Vivian, to hear what they think.

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This is an assemblage by Rhonda Wheatley. An assemblage is like a sculpture. But instead of being one object an artist makes, it’s many different objects they have assembled together. This one has a great title. It’s titled "Energy grid for grounding into one’s intuition and authentic self. Quells catastrophizing and perpetual fight-or-flight response. Soothes downward spiraling into self-doubt magnified by isolation. May induce fleeting glimpses into the eternal now. Activate re-calibrating energies by gazing into crystals and vessels. Must be 100% voluntary."

Can I just say I’m really grateful for this? These days, I’m always feeling so unstable. I really need to take more time more often to ground myself. Before we really begin this tour, let’s recalibrate together.

As you gaze into these crystals and vessels, breathe and allow them to soothe and quell any catastrophizing or self-doubt you may be feeling. Remember, breathing and looking are physiological actions, actions that are in our biology. But they can also be spiritual exercises, actions that are affected by and impact other beings and energies that are connected to us.

[BREATHING DEEPLY]

[MUSIC PLAYING]

What do you ordinarily do to help yourself calm down, check in with your intuition, and remember who you are? Some people like to listen to certain albums, hold crystals, or take a hot shower. I like to go for long, quiet walks. It helps me think. Talk with a friend or a family member. Share that with one another. Share some practices or processes you use to realign. Who knows? Maybe it could help them with their malaise.

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We’re now in a gallery full of artworks by an artist named Carolina Caycedo. To get inspiration for this artwork, Carolina conducts what she calls spiritual fieldwork. And she regards natural forces like rivers as spiritual entities. I’m not really sure what she means by that but—

[PHONE RINGING]

CARLA ACEVEDO-YATES: Hey, Jeremy. This is Carla. So when Carolina uses the word "spiritual," she is referencing both a way of working and a worldview. For Carolina, as well as many ancestral cultures, the natural world, including rivers, fish, and even rocks, are spiritual beings that possess social and political agency. In this way, she doesn’t make distinctions between human and nonhuman entities.

That said, the spiritual is also a way of working that she defines as spiritual fieldwork, which is the establishment of ongoing, caring relationships with communities and her collaborators built on trust and empathy. And I have to say from personal experience that this extends to curators and museum staff. I hope this information is helpful. Bye.

JEREMY KREUSCH: Wow. That was so helpful. Thanks, Carla. So a spiritual worldview is a way of looking at the world, in this case, recognizing that humans aren’t the only entities with the power to act. In a spiritual practice, we’re called to act in a certain way. We must build ongoing, caring relationships with trust and empathy. I’ve been feeling more disconnected than that.

Anyways, keep that in mind as we watch an excerpt from Carolina Caycedo’s video Spaniards Named her Magdalena, But Natives call her Yuma. I’m going to show you about three minutes of the video. It doesn’t sound like it, but that can feel like a long time to watch something in the midst of a tour.

Trust me. I want us to really be here for this. You’re going to hear a whispering voice telling you a story in both Spanish and English. That’s Carolina Caycedo, the artist. Think about the words she’s using and the images she’s showing you. While you’re watching and listening, try and let go of ways of thinking that lead you to separate the human world from the natural world. Try and witness that spiritual worldview as Carolina reveals it to you.

[VIDEO PLAYBACK]

(WHISPERING) My fondest memory of Yuma is when I first swam across her. I was twelve years old. And I wanted to cross the river in a straight line. But I was afraid that the current would drag me away. I was standing, hesitant on the shore, when my father’s father dived into the river and started swimming, gently floating to the other shore. He crossed the river by letting the current pleasantly drag him.

[RIVER RUNNING]

Lo seguí y llegué al otro lado siendo una con el río. Ese día Yuma y mi abuelo Miguel me hicieron ver que las líneas rectas son construcciones mentales y que puedes nadar y dejar que la corriente te arrastre al mismo tiempo.

I followed him and arrived to the other shore, being one with the river. That day, Yuma and my grandfather Miguel showed me that straight lines are mental constructions and that you can swim and let yourself be dragged by the current at the same time.

[RIVER RUNNING]

Volviendo a esa historia he podido entender que el territorio no es ajeno a mí, sino es mi propio cuerpo, mi historia, mi política, mi sexualidad y mi espiritualidad.

Looking back at this memory, I understand that the territory is not just something outside me, but it is my own body, my history, my politics, my sexuality, and my spirituality.

[END PLAYBACK]

JEREMY KREUSCH: All I can think about is how when humans try to impose order on the world— carving lines, cutting through, policing bodies, blocking flows— we’re performing a kind of ignorant violence. But that story illustrates such a profound realization. How do you come to feel spiritually connected to the natural world?

[PHONE RINGING]

ELVIS FERNANDEZ: Hi, this is Elvis Fernandez. And a time I felt spiritually connected to nature was when I visited my grandmother for the first time in five years, or the third time I had in my life. I remember we were driving down the path to my grandmother’s house. And it just started downpouring really intensely. And it was really cold.

But there was this really nice calm, and really pleasant feel getting there, especially being in an unfamiliar environment. And once I actually arrived there, the rain stopped, and the sun came out. And it was just a really nice surprise. It just happened really well. I felt really connected with nature because I felt like it was done at the right time. So I’ll never forget that.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

JEREMY KREUSCH: Take a look at this artwork called Ms. Colombia by Nereida Patricia. Using glass beads, glass dust, glitter, and paint, Nereida depicts a sacred scene. Ms. Colombia was a prominent trans elder in Jackson Heights, Queens. She was found dead mysteriously in the New York Bay in 2018. Here her body transforms, and her spirit ascends.

Spiritual traditions often have revered people whose life or practices are an example— gods, ancestors, mentors, saints. Discovering and communing with those spiritual beings is a way to honor them and guide yourself. For many cultures all throughout history, this was a fundamental reason people made art objects, to depict and evoke the presence of spiritual beings. Some are bedazzled and enshrined. Some are more humble. Some focus exactly on this moment of transformation.

[PHONE RINGING]

DANIELA LOZA: Hey, it’s Niela. So, one of the altars that I have in my room that reminds me of a spiritual being is for my neighbor. And I have some of the things that she gave me, like this teapot. And I also have some comics, because she used to give to me and my siblings comics from the newspaper, and some also like little toys because she was really into cartoons. Thank you for listening. Bye.

JEREMY KREUSCH: That’s a really great point. This kind of practice can be more personal. Looking at art can be a way of simply being reminded of the presence of those spiritually capable of inspiring us to a better way.

Think about someone whose life, deeds, philosophy, or memory can serve as a personal reminder of your aspirations. Invite them into your everyday life by creating or placing a likeness of them in a special place. Treat that space with the kind of respect that you would offer that person. And they can help you to cultivate a more meaningful life.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

I want to share one last video with our viewers. It’s by Carolina Caycedo, and it’s called Apparitions. Apparitions are like spirits or ghosts. And in this video, dancers are sort of haunting an old classical library. You know the kind of place. It’s got old wooden furniture, busts of old white people, varnished oil paintings.

Hisham and Vivian, two of our apprentices from our Teen Creative Agency, have been embedded in the museum for two and a half years. And they have a lot of experience with art and museums and some of the themes in this video. I want to share an excerpt of this video and then hear what Hisham and Vivian have to say about it.

[WHISPERING]

[WIND BLOWING]

HISHAM KYSIA: The gaze of the dancers, the way it kind of draws you in, start to make me feel like a ghost, too, throughout the video. And it was impossible not to acknowledge the looks they were giving throughout the video. But still somehow acknowledging it wasn’t enough. And it reminds me of a quote that Caycedo said herself about the exhibit. Because she said the phantoms, the way they look at you, they ask for accountability, not acknowledgment from the viewer.

VIVIAN ZAMORA: Accountability is the willingness to take responsibility for your actions. In this case, Caycedo was referring to accountability in terms of practices of liberation. When I watch this video, I often think about who is representing me. How do I appear in these institutions? Where is my place?

HISHAM KYSIA: Institutions have definitely started making a push towards inclusion and diversity. But the groundwork has yet to be laid in the proper way. When I think about accountability, and when I was thinking about this exhibit in this video, I thought of the Fred Hampton quote. Fred Hampton, who was the chairman of the Black Panther Party, said not to fight fire with fire, but to fight it with water, or capitalism with Black capitalism, but to fight with socialism.

To me, in a odd way, Caycedo is demanding a similar thing where it’s asking us to expand the views of which we see art in the art world, to decolonize the way we see and interact with art, and to ask what stories are missing from these larger institutions.

VIVIAN ZAMORA: Yeah, when we think about that, we start to think, what’s the right step? Or how do we step in the right direction when referring to this conversation? And I think that Caycedo’s choice of including Black, Brown, and queer bodies haunting the Huntington, which is traditionally a Eurocentric space that’s filled with portraits of white people, how do we approach that?

When I think about missing stories from institutions like museums, which are cultural hubs that teach people about different cultures, I think about my own experience. I’m a Mexican-American woman in the United States trying to learn about my own culture. Throughout other institutions, like school, I wasn’t able to learn about my own culture and my own history. It usually had to be me searching for my own truths rather than it already being on the table for me.

In school, we’re usually taught Eurocentric stories, stories about founding fathers, things like that, but there’s more to it. There’s more stories behind that. And now that I’m in college, I have the privilege to kind of explore that on my own, but not everyone does. And that’s what Caycedo is pointing out is that not everyone has this experience. And not everyone will understand it. And that’s why it’s important to cleanse these spaces.

HISHAM KYSIA: For me, what stood out throughout Caycedo’s video the most was her use of intersectionality I suppose is a word to use here. Intertwining art and spirituality means a lot to me because my identity is very much an intersection. Even in communities I identify with, there’s a mold to take, this American preconceived notion of what that means. And breaking that is a really difficult thing to do for, I think, all BIPOC people, if not most.

So for me, what was really powerful was seeing Caycedo effortlessly blend her spirituality and her background into this art into such a Eurocentric space. And I feel like I have to do the same thing, because my identity, my spirituality, my art, is all an intersection.

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JEREMY KREUSCH: Thanks for watching "TV for Spiritual Beings" at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. I hope you found some inspiration and were able to connect to these works of art in new ways. I want to thank our Teen Creative Agency apprentices Hisham and Vivian for helping me make sense of things today, and to everyone who called in. The museum is always free for people 18 and under, students, and teachers. For more activities and experiences or for more information about our learning programs, just visit mcachicago.org/learn.

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Downloads

Want to learn more about the artworks, activities, and themes in this episode? Download the TV for Spiritual Beings Guide.