Program notes for I want to unfold (2017), by Jay Derderian

To stare in the face of expectation, only to have it stare back at you as an empty, hollow face, surrounded by lush ashen-blond hair, supported by hands bound by ragged teathers, is quite striking. This is what it’s like to stare into Podpomogov’s idea of expectation, in a painting by the same name. Podpomogov, an early 20th century Armenian painter, was born nine years after the genocide carried out by the Ottoman Empire. Each of his works, as he states, “…are first of all dedicated to the rebirth of Armenian people from the death of the Genocide…” It is an optimistic statement, given his portrayal of expectation. Podpomogov’s painting stuck with me for quite a while in a way that is hard for me to articulate. Beauty (an ideal?) bound by it’s own immobility becomes empty in the face of expectation, of change. Podpomogov strongly identified with the Armenian half of his hertitage, a heritage marked by the decimation of a nation’s worth of lineages. Can a people destroyed by war find a way to recover, to heal, to forgive?

Rilke’s haunting I am much too alone in this world, yet not alone, from The Book of Hours, to me, suggests a yearning to understand one’s self and the other. The translation used here doesn’t seem to be the standard, yet it really resonated in a way I’m not entirely sure I can describe (again, my deficiency comes into play). So much about it suggests (to me) a struggle to articulate, to feel a sense of not only communication, but communion. It’s the empty space in Podpomogov’s ashen-haired face.

I am much too alone in this world, yet not alone

Rainer Maria Rilke, from The Book of Hours
Translated by Anita Barrows & Joanna Macy

I’m too alone in the world, yet not alone enough
to make each hour holy
I’m too small in the world, yet not small enough
to be simply in your presence, like a thing—
just as it is.

I want to know my own will
and to move with it.
And I want, in the hushed moments
when the nameless draws near,
to be among the wise ones—
or alone.

I want to mirror your immensity.
I want never to be too weak or too old
to bear the heavy lurching image of you.

I want to unfold.
Let no place in me hold itself closed,
for where I am closed, I am false.
I want to stay clear in your sight.

I would describe myself like a landscape I’ve studied
at length, in detail;
like a word I’m coming to understand;
like a pitcher I pour from at mealtimes;

like my mother’s face;
like a ship that carried me
when the waters raged.