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Nov 12, 2010

Savages and Child Sacrifice

Assimilation is the word we whites have historically used for making the native pretend to value our culture. If you can imagine that in reverse it would feel like losing what is sacred in the service of some false God. And if there were no community of support for an isolated native– like Ishi, last of the Yana people– that individual would feel like he was going crazy! Like he'd had a wonderful dream that terrified those around him and that he had best keep quiet for his own safety. 
"Rescuing Angel"

Fully half of the world's cultures have become extinct in our lifetimes.  The incessant, deadly march of consumerist monoculture across the globe is wiping out indigenous cultures with the speed and finality of a line of bulldozers (like in Avatar, only planet-wide and centuries-long). Every one of these rich and wonderful cultures that are being lost forever every day features a whole phalanx of unique ideas that have been refined by intelligent, creative humans over millennia. They are necessarily different than ours, which makes them curious and beautiful.  But we will also necessarily find in them all kinds of violations of our own codes!

Morality is just a cultural viewpoint. We reject other cultural values not because they don't work but because they seem 'wrong' to us. Forcing youth to go through painful initiation rites, sacrificing goats, walking people across coals; all these seem disrespectful or wrong morally. Sure we can justify our views by citing our superior religion or ethical code, but it's still a cultural code backed by a religious viewpoint. God is honored through worship; which can only be served by a real sacrifice, which is painful. How to separate a valid sacrifice from pointless abuse? I say it's a religious question from a relative cultural viewpoint with no absolute answer! An indigenous person (a “savage”, in our cultural view) looks at our nature-slaughtering lifestyle and its supporting religion with absolute horror!  By destroying the environment are we not in fact killing our progeny, or in other words– practicing child sacrifice? Who is the savage now?

We don't get to be the arbiters of moral history. What we do get to do is choose how to imagine our future. That consists partly of embracing new ideas that have not yet been lived. This feels like what I am doing in my studio- trying to preserve a lost culture, but one from the future! And of course it is full of violations of current standard practice. That is alarming, yes, and threatening to our way of life. But is it really a bad idea, or just a new one that just might prove a lifesaver for our children?  Art is a struggle to peer into the murky depths of the possible but the yet unrealized.  It's dangerous work, but safety is no virtue here.  Safety too is relative. 


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Tim Holmes Studio

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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.