This summer I joined a small group of Southern born/based artists in residence at Elsewhere Living Museum in Greensboro, NC (not far from the original Black Mountain College site in Asheville or Nashville, TN, where I am from). Having incorporated the Haint Blue ritual in past work, I found the context of our Southern Constellations fellowship fitting for a revisit to these concepts. During our month in residence, I maintained a daily ritual that began with private rooftop movement and meditation on a blue blanket positioned just above a haunted space called “The Ghost Room”. This was followed by paint mixing rituals performed in the kitchen and garden. Working from traditional milk and lime recipes, each fresh batch produced a brilliant blue variant and was applied to the transoms of the second floor doorways. While keeping a record of mixture outcomes on loose bricks from the garden, I accumulated collection objects throughout the museum that demonstrated analogous blues. These small items, meant to absorb energy that might disturb the environment, were installed as protective charms in each doorframe of Elsewhere. Finally, the four Ghost Room windows seen from the facade of the building were given a makeover in four custom colors which were also applied to exposed areas of the ceiling in curls and arcs derived from the peeling wallpaper design. This project took to heart the nature of the living museum and considers the building itself as part of a non-static collection of contextual objects, experiences, and energies. Audiences are not only resident artists, colleagues and visitors, but the company of spirits who are invited to navigate such channels in peaceful cohabitation.
Below is an essay I wrote about ongoing "Haint Blue" projects (also referred to as Revolving Spectrumfor my Southern Constellations fellowship). The essay and accompanying writings appear in print for Binder Magazine's second issue. Binder is printed by Super Hit Press out of Galveston, Texas.
Revolving Spectrum: The Art of Spiritual Cohabitation
Haint is a southern dialectical derivative of Haunt, referring to a ghost or spirit trapped between the world of the living and the dead. References to Haints are found in literature such as To Kill a Mocking Bird and the folkloric Mountain Ghost Stories and Curious Tales of North Carolina. Haint Blue is a color selection one may find in industrial paint catalogues or shabby-chic issues of Southern Living today. But historically it was prepared by hand, combining household ingredients such as milk, lime, and indigo pigments, ubiquitous among South Carolina plantations. Haint Blue is never still and may be positioned on the spectrum from a chalky cool pastel to a vibrant turquoise. Traditional superstition trusts this mixed hue to ward off malign spectra when applied to household entryways. Usually found as a painted wash on porch ceilings, windows, doorways and other thresholds,these motifs are found throughout the Southeastern United States. Some trace the practice back to descendants of enslaved Gullah peoples and Hoodoo spiritualism adapted from West Africa.
African American essayist, poet, activist, and teacher Ishmael Reed explores such channels of influence in his poems Neo-HooDoo Manifesto and Neo-HooDoo Aesthetic (1970). Curator Franklin Sirmans used Reed’s work as inspiration for Neo-HooDoo: Art For The Forgotten Faith, an exhibition that opened in 2008 at Houston’s Menil Collection, just north of Galveston, TX. In the exhibition catalogue Sirmans interviews Reed who explains the notion of a loa or spirit that has the power to enter and take control of the body. Conversely, he adds that a loa may manifest as an inner sainthood. Both iterations point to a state of possession or conflicted cohabitation. Reed elaborates that “While Vodun could be a positive, regenerative force in other countries, [Hoodoo became] an instrument of revenge… a system that had to be hidden because it was a force that united African captives.” Coded language developed in response to a climate of oppression, phrasing such as “Holy Ghost entering a room” or “Jesus is buried in my soul” draped subversive Christian cloaking over this spirit.
Reed later recounts a parable in which “a traveler visits a strange country and can’t trust his loas.” He continues, “He can only depend on his mind. His mind is the loa.” Interpreters of dreams hold that a house is representative of the mind or self. Under these auspices, cultural trauma might then saturate architectural bodies as much as corporeal bodies and be stored there. These energies will have amassed like tumors, inhabiting homes throughout the South and into the gulf, inflicted historic districts of Hoodoo or Voodoo government teeming with ghosts ensnared.
Galveston Island is known to suffer a similar rash of architectural possession. The island once enjoyed a wealth and stature similar to southern kingdoms like Savannah and Charleston, yet it fell prey to the Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900, the deadliest natural disaster to ever strike the United States. Killing between 6,000-12,000 people, stories describe flooded buildings whose victims were trapped near the ceiling and drowned. There are water level markers fastened to city structures and a lingering spirit culture likened to that of Salem, Massachusetts. It’s among the most haunted cities in the country with sites calling desperately for methods of mediation.
These methods should be taught and shared, but in a manner that shifts the focus away from spiritual extermination. Stigmatization and suppression of multiple metaphysical layers are projected onto spaces of collective recollection that many stave off or dismiss. Superstition and ritual, rebranded as quaint, charming or old-world, have survived into the present sub-and-popular cultures. The Haint Blue gesture is therefore an olive branch to build trust between the new inhabitants of such bodies and their ghosts, but not a practice to be exploited or applied frivolously. Ghosts are said to perceive such fields of blue as celestial openings, that they may escape through, or bodies of water, which they are afraid to cross. Whether a liminal release or barrier for protection, Haint Blue is never a static or standardized device but a resilience process that determines its composition and intention each instance it’s crafted. One may envision Haint Blue as a chromatic system of adaptable chutes and ladders that channel energy through a space with cautious care and buoyancy that transforms trauma and transcends fear.
THE ART OF CHROMATIC COHABITATION
In Interaction of Color Josef Albers demonstrated that color is never fixed. It is instead responsive, even deceptive. Its presentation and power are contextually adaptive to its neighboring hues. When Albers relocated to Black Mountain college from the Bauhaus, he devoted much of his work and pedagogy to expanding these ideas. Though it wasn’t so much an ideology as a practice of trial and error. Invited to replicate various open-source exercises, such as the well-known Homage to the Square series, students didn’t have to believe. They could simply perform guided experiments and see for themselves.
Past projects of Maria's that incorporate Haint Blue includeMa Maison Bleuein Quebec, Canada and Hungry Ghostat Montserrat College of Art