Arts | Morning Altars
Remembering an Unlived Memory | Featured Artist Profile
“That’s what I am trying to do here. Really acknowledging that we had something whole, and that I have not lived,” says Day Schildkret as he overlooks the green rolling hills of Wild Cat Canyon in Richmond, California. “It’s important to remember now, because it’s broken, it’s divided in pieces.” Day is on a quest and it is no simple task. He has been called to find redemption and reconciliation. What does it mean to be the descendant of ancestors who picked up their lives and moved to this country only a few generations ago and how does this inform our collective relationship to the land we inhabit?
His notion of a memory yet unlived is powerful, it connects to ancient ways which a lot of us have lost unless we have lived in relationship with a particular land for many generations. The general cultural discourse today is a taking for granted of the view that the land we inhabit is a resource for us to use. The word “use” is key in this construct, because it is meant much in the same way as a person using another person, or even abusing another person. Using the land and its resources for self generated needs means taking without any consideration of the land. That’s akin to an abusive relationship in which one person—consciously or not—is driven to fulfill only their own desires and in the process uses, abuses, and inflicts pain on their partner to the point of trauma, violence, and even death.
The concept of private property to which we have grown so accustomed—it is second nature to the point that many quite literally see it as the natural order of things without any consideration—is merely a few centuries old and arose out of feudalism as we moved into a capitalist system. What Day is doing then is really to pause, take a moment, and think about what it means to be in a relationship with the place in which we live. He asks himself, “How can we be with this place instead, and give to it, and feed it? For me it is beauty and food; the animals eat what I collect. I give to the land rather than use. I give to the land in this practice.”
The Morning Altars are one way to explore and meditate on our relationship with the earth. By foraging that which exists in nature and rearranging colorful and textured objects into beautiful images, he circumvents language created by humans to convey a feeling, information, or a sentiment as a whole, as opposed to a sequential arrangement of symbols. This form speaks to our right brain hemisphere, which—according to late surgeon and author Leonard Shlain (The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image , Leonardo’s rain , et al.)—tends to process images, concepts, and meaning as a whole and is often associated with the female and queer, whereas the left brain hemisphere structures information by scanning sequentially—as in reading for example—and especially relates to the straight male within our cultural context. The Internet and other technological advancements have created a cultural mode of operation in which we are being tugged into all sorts of directions, allowing for little time to deeply consider every new piece of information. The Morning Altars are an image of beauty and a wholesome and vastly complex expression. Though contemplatable, it speaks to our emotions in a way that can immediately be understood through feeling, even when we cannot express this meaning in the limiting logical construct of spoken or written language; a refreshing experience in a world where magic is a superstition of the past while a misconstrued sense of logic often becomes the golden calf disguised as science.
Day grew up in the suburbs of New York City in a Jewish middle class family. There wasn’t a sense of relationship with place, and it wasn’t something he had been taught by his family. “They understand the beauty of it. That’s easily digestible for people. My art is not just on the canvas. I’m not just an artist, my path is beauty: How I conduct myself, how I dress, how I speak; hopefully with some eloquence.” His great grandfather was a furrier, his grandfather and grandmother were clothing buyers, his other grandmother owned a clothing store, and his brother started his own scarf business (Late Sunday Afternoon), so he says that the way in which they relate to his practice is through beauty, which they understand from the craft of fashion.
“I’m never gonna get ‘there.’ It’ll take more than a generation to get more there. We are all looking to get more here,” Day says and compares our current situation to a story he heard from Joanna Macy–a general systems theorist and deep ecologist–about a mother whose child has cancer. “She can turn away because it’s too painful or she can…” Day’s dog starts barking and interrupts him for a second, “… look at the child and… basically… breathe. In the same way we are the mother, and the earth is the child. How can we look at her and not turn, even though it is painful.” The struggle is a necessary part of the attempt at being here, precisely because it deals with the ramifications of the narrative of growth, achieving, and the American Dream, to which he says “the whole thing is falling apart.”