This is the story of a 100-year old “Living Room” in Williamsburg. An old lady used to live in the apartment but one day, the landlord got the place back, still filled with objects left behind, after life had moved on. Quite good timing for Mr. Landlord, for he had issues at a nearby property he leased to artist Miriam Cabessa.
Miriam’s studio was plagued with leaks, requiring more than quick fixing. The landlord suggested she moved temporarily into this nearby apartment so that a plumbing overhaul could be done at her studio. What could have been a big hassle for Miriam turned into an immersive exploration of her art practice.
I say practice in the same way one talks of practicing yoga or meditation. Because yoga and meditation are so much more than an exercise class you go to.
Miriam settled in her new abode, unpacked her black paint and brushes. Then she paused.
She breathed in all the visible remnants from the former tenant: a vintage suitcase, an armchair, a serving tray.
Miriam paused, full of breath and started cleaning and tidying, yet unable to erase or let go.
So she started to paint over it all, slowly, for her practice follows each of her inhale and each of her exhale. She painted for 8 days.
Her monochrome art conjures up the strata of geological landscapes, the texture of tree barks, or at times the warp and weft of textile weaving…but each line, each striation, each of them marks her slow, her attentive and performative breath.
As she immersed herself in her new space, she painted one gradated line at a time in her unique signature style: “slow-motion action painting”.
She painted the walls, but not quite to the top because the chair she used never allowed her to reach the top, or the ceiling.
I told her this made total sense, for we all need some breathing space. Painted to the very top, this room would make me feel submerged and choking for air. This site specific experience would turn oppressive rather than immersive.
Instead, I settled in with Miriam that morning, sipping our coffee…and a little more air to fill our lungs according to the patterns of her art.
The fireplace, a small table, a leather armchair, the floor, Miriam painted them all.
One breath at a time. Inhale. Exhale.
There is such poetry in Miriam’s process, if you take a breath or two to think about it.
Black is the absence of colors; white is all spectral colors combined. Yet as Miriam’s breath empties, doesn’t she drain black of its emptiness? Isn’t she filling its darkness with all the invisible colors of the air we breathe, the very same we too rarely appreciate but certainly cannot survive without?
The rhythmic variation of Miriam’s lines endlessly betrays this human limitation of ours, this air we must constantly recapture to keep living.
That air is there, in the artist’s gesture, the trembling hand, the human hesitation, the perseverance, and at time also the surrender. Likened to seismographs, Miriam’s act of “painting is conceived as an act that expands the present moment and disrupts the fabric of time”. Similar marks of an altered breath are sometimes visible in Agnes Martin’s otherwise precise graphite lines. And I like to think that breath is palpable at the fuzzy, pulsating edges of Rothko’s color stained blocks.
This is slow art by definition. The kind you have to experience and lose yourself into. So that it can be conjured back to mind when breathing becomes too shallow. When you suddenly realize you’ve been in sleep or screen apnea for dangerously too long.
I feel so privileged to have spent the time with Miriam, on this icy cold morning in Brooklyn.
Inside, it was warm and cosy. I felt “hugged” by Miriam’s monochrome lines, as if she’d woven them all over me.
Miriam’s canvases on the walls fully integrated themselves within the surrounding painted walls, now turned architectural frames. These artworks were not small windows onto the illusion of another world – like art usually is. They were a continuation of Miriam’s world and of my reality at that very moment.
Instead, it was the outside reality going on about its day that had such illusionistic quality: the two windows onto this Brooklyn street were the art bought cheaply to decorate an empty white wall.
Inhale. Exhale. “Be still my beating heart”.
Miriam Cabessa spends her time between Brooklyn and Tel Aviv where she is widely held in museums and private collections.
She was awarded the Gottesdiener Foundation Prize for Young Israeli Artist in 1996. In 1997, Cabessa was chosen to represent Israel at the Israeli pavilion of the Venice Biennale, together with Israeli artists Sigalit Landau and Yossi Berger.
Grateful to my friend Lauren Powell for making my meeting Miriam possible.
© 2019 Ingrid Westlake
All pictures by Ingrid Westlake, unless otherwise stated.
Such a great piece of work Ingrid, it was very interesting to read and some great photography. You did combine Art and Life most admirably!
Thank you, dear Charmaine! This is what my blog always strives for as I must admit to not being able to see any boundaries between art and life😉 I am so glad you liked Miriam’s art, now woven into the fabric of that old apartment. As for the photographs, always mine, art through my eyes…and here I have to say they cannot do justice to Miriam’s complex patterns. Thank you for reading😘
I have just read your article. Interesting and I could almost feel the calm energy breaking through the brush strokes.
Dear Anke, I am so glad I managed to somewhat convey Miriam’s infinite talent. She truly infused this room with air, brushstroke after brushstroke. Thank you so much for reading!
in fact, the more I look and the less I see the “dark side” !! the ceiling remained white helps me to find a breath very useful in this setting
your photos are superb and I feel the cozy atmosphere of this apartment beautifully highlighted ! (mis en valeur)
Dear Marie-Annick, I am so happy you liked this beautiful and meaningful space. Thank you for the compliment on my photographs, even though they truly don’t do full justice to the mesmerizing art of Miriam’s🙏🏼
Excellent posting Ingrid. Beautiful photography and words about this stunning work. Inspiring.
Thank you so much, dear Carmen! I am so happy to have experienced Miriam’s meditative art and to be able to share it all with you🙏🏼
Excellent posting Ingrid. Beautiful images and words about a stunning work. Inspirational.
Les descriptions et les explications sur l’Art de Myriam Cabessa sont interessantes car ce que je ressens en premier dans cette pièce c’est l’impression de suffoquer.Pour moi c’est triste de ne pas utiliser de couleurs…et pourtant j’aime les vieilles photographies en N&B…J’imagine le temps passé!! dans les 2 sens, passé à peindre et passé parce que c’est Yesterday!
Oui, je ressens bien ce côté sépia du temps passé aussi. Belle observation! J’ai été tout aussi étonnée de mon ressenti et affinité avec l’art de Miriam car je suis d’ordinaire moi aussi beaucoup plus couleurs que monochrome. Mais il y a une âme dans cette salle, et elle m’a émue et renversée🙏🏼
Ingrid, it was so relaxing to read your piece! Wonderfully written. At first I had my reservations about the idea of living in a B&W space, but you convinced me otherwise. Absolutely wonderful. Chapeau!
Merci! It is an incredible space I wish I could have a piece of in my own house, like a little cleansing space, meditative panel to reset mind and body… and breath! I can’t believe it will be all destroyed when the apartment gets vacated!
😍Ooooo – your photographs of Miriam Cabessa’s studio/installation are so texturey and rhythmic….it also looks meditative and like something you could “read.” I’m sure, however, that being in its midst conjures a pretty different energy. Thank you, Ingrid! I really must visit your blog more often; there is so much inspiration here.
Your comments made me so happy, dear Leslie! As you know, it can be so hard to find the dedication to write and post. I have struggled to find the time lately, although inspiration is never an issue. Miriam’s art is definitely an experience, a pause, a conscious breath, something indispensable🙏🏼
Beautiful photography. Thanks so much for posting.
Thank you so much for reading🙏🏼 The art of Miriam Cabessa is so stunning and meditative when seen in person. I feel so fortunate to have experienced Living Room, being able to interact and photograph it was a definite highlight this year. I know she is working on beautiful projects in NYC and Tel Aviv so stay tuned.
I had this email of yours for some time in my inbox folder.
Just now had the time to open it.
What an incredible work of Miriam Cabessa. Thanks for sharing.
So glad you liked it, Becky! Miriam is incredibly talented!🙏🏼
Must have been amazing to experience. I wonder how she painted the masks, I really like them monochrome like this.
Incredible artist indeed! She uses a variety of rags and tools which allow her to work on varied surfaces🙏🏼