Lia Chavez's performance work has a bare and austere quality that is underlined by the careful appropriation of cross-cultural contemplative disciplines that aid in achieving natural and sustainable expansions of perception.
Her most substantial performance work to date is True Light, a 90-day endurance performance which took place from September 1st through December 1st in 2012. For True Light, Chavez plunged into what she calls “the science of art.” Chavez believes the question “Where does creativity come from?” to be one of the most pertinent question facing artists today. In an act of extreme surrender to this inquiry, she embarked on the True Light performance which involved a 90-day fast, while incorporating 30 days of prayer, followed by 30 days of meditation, followed by 30 days of silence as methods for researching the inspirational root of the creative process. Of her process, she states, “When synthesized within my being, these various modalities form the basis of embodied research into the experiential phenomenon of artistic inspiration.”
Relating to Chavez's ongoing preoccupation with themes of illumination and the behavior of light within the physical universe, the performance’s title derives from an inscription on the world's first Gothic architectural masterpiece, St. Denis in Paris, made by the father of Gothic art and architecture:
Bright is the noble work; but, being nobly bright, the work should brighten the minds, so that they may travel, through the true lights, to the True Light...The dull mind rises to truth through that which is material and, in seeing this light, is resurrected from its former submersion. — Abbot Suger
Throughout True Light, Chavez experienced a variety of realizations and visions resulting from the natural opening of her perception, as well as a radical refinement of her creative process. The extensive body of art works generated over the course of True Light includes paintings, drawings, sculptures, photographic works, written works, live performances, and a documentary film (forthcoming).
TRUE LIGHT | Form of the Infinite
The first of these, the live performance Form of the Infinite was a piece created in response to Chavez's monthlong vow of silence and inspired by the theoretics of String Theory and cymatics.
Form of the Infinite investigates how sonic resonance and vibrations alter and reorganize matter. By using a specially created device she designed to translate vocal frequencies into a visual experience, Chavez utilizes her voice to choreograph the movement of primal materials, such as sand and salt, into a fluctuating dance of complex geometric forms. Part song and part dance, Form of the Infinite explores our most basic elements in an attempt to understand the infinite. Author Carey Wallace observes,
In Form of the Infinite...Chavez conjures both the mystic daring and raw power of early punk... (She) makes the moment of conception that gives birth to all art her whole project. Her use of relentlessly ordinary materials — salt, water, light, sound — insists that inspiration alone gives art value, and argues that not only can inspiration instill ordinary things with great value, but that inspiration reveals the great value of all things. But her ultimate project is even more ambitious: to reach through the world’s simple elements in search of the sound that animates them. The final aim of Chavez’s work is not just to reshape salt with sound or glass with fire. It is to reveal the hidden source of all art.
TRUE LIGHT | HEAL US / HEAL U.S.
Other performance work which sprung from the soil of True Light includes HEAL US / HEAL U.S. Taking the specific historical event of September 11th as her point of departure, she conveys the lingering burdens and conflicts associated with the day of remembrance. This work deals with both personal and collective ritual and memories, especially as they relate to the evolving status of holistic reintegration and the collective experience of trauma and catastrophe. HEAL US / HEAL U.S. was performed across the street from the former World Trade Center site on the eleventh anniversary of September 11th. The date of this performance coincided with the eleventh day of True Light, during the portion of the performance which was devoted to the art form of prayer.
Her materials are simple everyday objects, but also powerfully conjure ritual, psychogeographic complexities, and feminist critique. Using her household mop and a bucket filled with geranium oil-infused soapy water, Chavez scrubbed the words “HEAL US” onto a stone pedestrian sidewalk. The pavement was hot from the summer sun and the words quickly evaporated. This led to a repetition of the action, which she continued for over eight hours. The pavement beneath the letters gradually became washed and brightened. The aroma of geranium essential oil, an oil valued for promoting cellular regeneration and the release of negative memories, filled the air. In The Huffington Post, she recounts:
As I scrubbed the phrase into the stone one last time, a man dressed in a three-piece suit and built like a linebacker approached and introduced himself. "My name is Chris. I've worked in this neighborhood for many years. I realized last night that I am finally ready to face the pain of what I experienced here during 9/11. But I was surprised to find that I am still holding on to so much anger.' He began to weep and then said, "As I came out of the office this evening, I saw these words and they really helped me. Thank you." We shared a few tears and words of reflection on finding the strength and the courage to heal and then hugged before parting ways. I wandered home with my mop and bucket in hand, completely astonished.