The Kos Project:
Healing Art for Humanity
This art project presents the notion of healing dreams through paintings and performance. The personal dream is connected to the social dream and to spiritual dream, and all are symbolically present in the gallery space.
Art has many purposes—expressive, transformative, political, entertainment, educational, healing, and community-forming. The Kos Project proposes to engage all of them through the presentation of an installation, with paintings, soundscape, film projection, text, and performance.
The name “Kos” refers directly to the island of Kos in Greece, associated with Asclepius, the god of healing, the healing temples connected to him, and to Hippocrates, also associated with the island. As well, there is recognition of Apollo the god of healing and art, and to Hygieia, daughter of Asclepius and goddess of hygiene and healing herbs.
The project is conceived as something that can be created in a gallery space or equivalent, although its ideal setting is on the Island of Kos on the site of the temple ruins.
It is my intention, however, to create this piece so that it is not limited to Kos. Indeed, the longing for the ideal setting is part of the intellectual and emotional context, in the sense that longing for a physical “ideal” place is also a longing for a spiritual home. It is arguable whether such a home can ever be inhabited on this earth for any length of time—examples of which include the story of Odysseus.
The impetus for the art project is based on the rationale that we are in dire need of healing in the world, and, simultaneously, that crisis sometimes evokes the presence of the gods (as we see in classical Greek theatre and art). On all levels—political, social, ecological, physical, psychological, and spiritual—the world is fragmented, degenerated, suffering. The overwhelming nature of the suffering and the deficit of harmony do not exclude the truth that change and healing always begin with the individual. The world is changed as individual after individual is moved to change. Accordingly, the Kos Project addresses itself to the individual. At the gallery, every spectator will also have the possibility of being a participant. Much of the participation will be an emotional opening and a shift in understanding.
The history of modern art provides us with important predecessors. Marina Abramovic creates “rice-counting rituals” as ways of slowing down and harmonizing. Joseph Beuys and his performances addressed themselves to healing. Nathan Oliveira produced paintings and prints that were designed to bring the viewer into deep meditative spaces. Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings were influenced by Navajo sand paintings as healing ceremonies. Mark Rothko created abstract paintings that would have the force of religious icons. And there are many more examples.
An important context to the Kos Project is the historical evidence of dream temples on the island. Patients would come to the temple for healing of physical and psychological conditions. After fasting and meditation, they were taken by priests to look at and even touch the sacred images and statuary associated with Asclepius, Apollo, and Hygieia. Finally, patients were taken into an incubation room where they were instructed to sleep and dream. The dreams that came were seen as visitations by Asclepius, and he would either heal the patient directly or provide instructions, symbolically, of how healing might occur.
As human beings and mammals we share the experience of sleep and dreams. The Kos Project invites us to get in touch with the fundamental reality of our body and our being and to offer our best wishes for ourselves and for the world. As the artist, I will offer a significant dream to the Divine, recorded on ordinary paper, here represented by Asclepius, asking for healing for myself and my community. Paper will be provided for anyone wishing to participate. The dream may simply be referenced by a phrase, or, it can be fully described. Only the writer will ever read it, and only the participant’s unconscious will understand it. These papers will be placed into a burning cauldron. I will do this once a day every day of the exhibition. Anyone unable to come but who is aware of the project can write out a significant dream and dispose of it privately. Fire is not necessary. The important common elements are the openness and the sincerity.
During the performance, we evoke the figure of Hippocrates (believed to have been born on the island) and the idea of his Hippocratic Oath: I will promise to do my best to do no violence to other beings nor to air, water, earth, and fire, except for the needs of survival. Each person will then be invited to make the same promise (silently) and thereby become a symbolic healer. The declaration becomes the New Asclepian Oath, available to all human beings.
WHAT WE SEE AND HEAR
What do we see when we enter the exhibition space? The plan is to show 12 to 16 paintings, semi-abstract, on the theme of dreams and healing; a table of artist-created texts on the exhibition as well as blank paper and pens; a separate room or subdivided enclosed space for film projections of the Asclepian ruins.
A running tape of artist-created soundscape with sounds of water, wind, and human voices.
A cauldron of hot coals that will consume paper.
A basin of water, to be used during the performance.
A prominent display board at the entrance that describes the exhibit and provides the time of the daily performance, to take place somewhere in the main room.
THE EXPANSION OF THE KOS PROJECT EXPERIENCE
For the exhibition to have its maximum impact, participants/viewers will have to be able to continue the process of dream petitions after they leave the gallery space. For that reason each visitor will be given a small “omphalos” stone (symbolic of the connection to the realm of healing dreams) to take home. Then each visitor will ask to be given a healing dream for herself, for the world, and for the ecology. Inherent in this request is the promise to act responsibly from thereon. The omphalos stone connects to Apollo and to Delphi (the symbolic center of the world), and to Kos (Asclepius is the son of Apollo). By extension, each person with the stone becomes the center of the world and connects to the place of prophecy and healing within the Unconscious. Significant dreams can become generative, that is, their consequences can generate life changes. The intent of the Kos Project is to present a powerful visual experience and a mood of positivity and hope for the viewer.
SCIENCE SUPPORTS THE EFFICACY OF DREAMS
Medical scientists such as Ernest Hartmann, psychologists like Carl Jung, James Hillman, Arnold Mindell, and Stephen LaBerge, philosophers like Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Gaston Bachelard have all written about the healing power of dreams and the power of art. Dreams are truly both an individual and a global experience, though we do not fully understand them and so they are still associated with mystery.
Note 1: For those with a strong religious allegiance to Christianity, Islam, Judaism, or other religions, nothing in the ceremony should threaten those beliefs. Apollo and Asclepius predate Christianity and Islam, and much of Judaism, and are intended in this ceremony to represent only an aspect of the divine, ultimately universal and unknowable.
Note 2: A special challenge will be to avoid pretentiousness and solemnity. For this reason, I want to have a small activity corner for children (if practicable) where they can make a drawing of their wish for other people or for the world. These then can be posted on a bulletin board, and, possibly on a website of the exhibition. If such an activity corner is not possible, then another simple activity can be substituted.