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Oct 5, 2009

Beauty in the War Zone (an excerpt)

...Taking the bus out of town the next pre-dawn we met a pilgrim, an Italian woman who had been converted at the site and experienced an amazing transformation, pulling her out of a drug-fed wild life into the life of a mystic.  She was really an inspiration to me.  We spent the whole day with her before she flew to London.  I left her with a deeper realization of some spiritual issues, things that I have known, but not through my body, as happens when you meet someone who actually embodies a principle.  Her greatest dream is to serve the poor.  She is a hairdresser by trade but for several years has gone to Calcutta to work with Mother Teresa's gang saving poor street people from terrible lonely deaths on the streets.  (And not just doing their hair).  It is her passion and a wonderful example of living fully and joyfully. 

On the way to Dubrovnik we passed through Mostar, one of the cities involved in the war, where we saw some modern glass and steel buildings shattered and still uninhabited.  Really creepy!  Later we spoke with a woman who was 7 years old there during the war, watching her mother leave to work at the hospital every day, not knowing if she would come home.  She, like everybody, doesn't like to think about it.  She saw horrible things- like men throwing people in dumpsters and lighting them on fire.  I felt bad asking her questions, which she answered quietly.  Really humbling.  One thing that shocked and frightened me was hearing from some of the children who were in the bomb shelters, who don't remember so much of the horror as they were always playing when they could, and not really thinking or talking about the situation.  Still some of the children's hair turned gray from the stress, (though it of course didn't stay that way.)  I didn't know it was possible!

Croatia- Beauty in the War Zone (full entry)

Just back from a trip to Croatia and even Montenegro, a nation I never thought of, let alone thought of visiting!  Our target was Medrugorje, a new pilgrimage site and a weird and wondrous place.  There, in June, 1981 (at about the time I moved from London to Helena), 6 teenagers in this tiny rural town saw the Virgin Mary appear on a hillside.  She returned for several days before they had the courage to go up the hill where she beckoned and talk to her.  They were still afraid to talk to anyone about it as in communist Yugoslavia religious activity was still frowned upon.  But by the end of the 5th day 15,000 people had flocked to the site.  Now the village is visited by millions.  The “visionaries”, the original 6 kids (one of whom was an agnostic) are younger than me and still receive regular visits from the Blessed Virgin.  We followed the pilgrims' trail up two mountains over very sharp, rugged stones, now polished with the thousands of feet that daily tread these paths. 

There is a simple church in the middle of the town, built in the 30's way too big for the community of 5 poor farming villages, but now far too small for the pilgrims.  It is now surrounded by a huge amphitheater with thousands of seats. When we arrived at dawn it was empty and seemed like overkill on a grand scale.  But that night we came to the amphitheater and there were the thousands attending an elaborate mass, as happens several times per day.  It is truly astounding.  The village has been overrun by hotels, many dozens of souvenir shops and all the urbanization that millions of tourists attract.

Dubrovnik is at the tail end of Croatia.  It was the closest big town where I thought the bus might come when planning our trip.  Little was I prepared for what a treasure we were to discover there!  It is a medieval stone town with one of the largest city walls in the world. The town is a World Heritage Site.  During the Balkan war in 1991 it was ruthlessly bombed by the Serbians.  Much of it was shattered and burned.  But now, remarkably, all is restored.  Astonishing.  Just 18 years later you would never know.  In fact it looks like a brand new medieval relic!  We just happened to be there on the anniversary of the beginning of the bombing so there was a huge outdoor display of the war damage. We were able to talk to several people who had been through that period and hear their experiences. 

I had never been so close to a war zone before.  I have seen war photos all my life and felt the fear and strange gruesome attraction they exude.  But it really is something else to see war photos of places you KNOW.  (Like one photo I recognized as being at the end of the street we stayed on).  When Croatia was attacked it had no military force to defend it.  On display in the town is the “first Croatian battleship”- a speedboat quickly covered in steel and painted blue- a pathetic thing.  Again, there is a way that no matter how much you learn about this kind of thing there is another knowledge that you experience with your body that cannot come through your head.  I am both grateful and crushed by the experience.  War is so terrible! 

Unfortunately the consensus seems to be that nothing was resolved in the war.  The Serbian aggressors were stopped but much of the tension still fumes under the surface.  Astonishingly, I learned that the leadership from the soviet era is still in power in Croatia!  There is a new system, but the same guys still run the country.  One fellow said that it was actually better in the late 80's because then at least the factory owners had to take some responsibility.  If their industry failed they went to jail.  Now they face no consequences.  The rich bastards can screw the people by running a company into the ground and get rich doing it- just like Wall Street!  It feels to me as though much of the ethnic hatred is perpetuated by the older generation and the young people are more tolerant, but this might just be a reflection of the people I happened to meet.

But I left Croatia with an amazing proof that violence really is impotent!  Not only Dubrovnik, but almost the whole country has been repaired and seems to be doing better than ever.  Violence is powerful and fast- very impressive in the short run. But it fades quickly. It can make no permanent change. Only love and cooperation really changes a society deeply.  Those are the changes that are permanent and remake a people anew.  This is the forward direction of history!
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I'm a sculptor/filmmaker living in Montana, USA. I am using art to move the evolution of humanity forward into an increasingly responsive, inclusive and interactive culture. As globalization flattens peoples into a capitalist monoculture I hope to use my art to celebrate historical cultural differences and imagine how we can co-create a rich future together.

I see myself as an artist/philosopher laboring deep in the mines of joy. I've had a good long career of exhibiting work around the world and working on international outreach projects, most notably being the first American to be invited to present a one-person exhibit in the Hermitage Museum. Recently I have turned my attention from simply making metal sculpture to creating films and workshops for engaging communities directly, tinkering with the very ideas and mechanisms behind cultural transformation. I feel that as we face tragic world crises, if the human species favors our imaginative and creative capacities we can cultivate a rich world to enjoy.

For me the deepest satisfaction in making art comes in engaging people's real life concerns rather than providing simple entertainment or decoration. Areas of conflict or tension are particularly ripe for the kind of transformative power that art uniquely carries. I invite any kind of challenge that serves people on a deep level.