Transfourming Sorrows that Bind Us, to Transferences that Give Us New Life
LITCHFIELD, Conn.—Transfourming Sorrow – a multi-sensory installation by Kardash Onnig – is a celebration of transferences which occur when two “others” cross cultural borders to converge, find common ground, and arrive at a new way of seeing. The installation explores the wondrous possibilities of such convergences. The exhibition’s official opening is on May 20, from 3-7 p.m., at the Wisdom House Chapel, in Litchfield, Connecticut, and will run through July 29.
Vahe Vahian, a genocide survivor, was one of Kardash’s teachers in elementary school. In A Monument to My Son, his critically acclaimed book of poems, Vahe Vahian laments the devastation wreaked by racial hatred and war, and mourns the death of his son in a car accident. In the end, what lends Monument its enduring beauty is the author’s aching desire to transcend his grief by “adopting” all victims as his own children.
At the Transfourming Sorrow installation, poet Vahe Vahian’s lamentation is voiced in the “Womb of Sorrow,” an acoustic sanctuary featuring original music and voice that emanate from speakers handcrafted by Kardash. The speakers rest on a quaternary-motif kilim, woven and brought from Anatolia, Turkey, by the artist’s grandmother.
Kardash Onnig was born in Zahleh, Lebanon. He adopted the name Kardash (“brother” in Turkish) to honor the Turks who saved his grandmother during the Armenian Genocide.
He was named for his step-grandfather’s son; his mother had died during childbirth, and the namesake Onnig survived just nine months thereafter. Many years later, the widower would marry Kardash Onnig’s grandmother, and the couple entreated Kardash’s mother to give them her forthcoming second child to adopt. His mother was unable to give him up, and this this second “loss” rekindled the grief of her step-father.
This installation speaks of the many examples, including his name and near adoption, of transferences of grief that have been channeled to Kardash and have transformed him and the other.
Now based in Hudson Valley, New York, Kardash – a sculptor, inventor, toymaker, author, and activist – has worked in the community and exhibited worldwide for over 45 years. He has spent years investigating “transferences of energy” in the pursuit of developing universal, three-dimensional “tools” for communication. In terms of conviction and design alike, the “tools” created by the artist aim to transcend cultural boundaries and the rigid two-dimensionality of national alphabets and cultural barriers, in an overarching effort to help foster transferences between two “others.”
The land that Kardash lives on was gifted to him by his lawyer, whose son had committed suicide. Just as Vahe Vahian had embraced universal grief, this gift represented this father’s way to transcend his grief by adopting and shepherding Kardash.
Kardash Onnig’s personal transfourmation of sorrow is the result of his interaction with others who have suffered unspeakable losses. Each combination of Kardash’s elemental forms represents the convergence of his four with an “other”’s four, resulting in transferences of immense grief: the death of a child, a suicide, genocide, holocaust, and ethnic cleansing, as well as a keen awareness of the limitations of his culture’s written heritage – at the heart of which is an alphabet that, despite having been invented by the synergy of two luminaries from warring cultures 16 centuries ago, is seen as woefully two-dimensional by the artist.
It was the longing to break free of the two-dimensional, thereby to embrace the universal, that has propelled Kardash to spend a lifetime creating tools for transference, a new sensory language.
“In this installation, I share my transfourmation from the grief of having voluntarily abandoned my mother tongue’s alphabet, and all alphabets as tools for communication, being two dimensional thus linear in their historiography,” says Kardash Onnig. “I had to invent three dimensional universal tools to express my transfourmations.”
Kardash has studied numerous cultures across the globe, in search of commonalities in their symbologies and creation myths. He has discovered that a core symbol shared by all cultures and mythologies is the quaternary – the four elements as manifested in our existence: water, earth, air and fire; birth, growth, reproduction, and death; philosophy, spirituality, science, and the arts. His work deals with how these four elements (or lifelines) interact, influence one another, intersect, and synergize. It is based on this premise that he has adopted the principle of the four, as a cornerstone of universal consciousness.
His body of work manifests these transferences in the “Field of Transfourmation”. The quaternary – also known as the gammadion cross or tetraskelion – is a symbol that dates back 4,000 years to ancient India, and has been found throughout the architecture and artisanry of numerous ancient cultures including the Greek and Armenian. The quaternary has been known to represent the revolving sun, infinity, or continuing creation; the masculine and feminine; the four directions of the world; the four seasons; and the four aspects of nature: the sun, wind, water, soil. In visiting the Western Armenian city of Ani, Kardash Onnig discovered the quaternary at the entrance of the main gate of the city. The quilt in the Transfourming Sorrow installation has 130 quaternaries, each representing a transference.
The Transfourming Sorrow installation will also comprise a parallel exhibition of Kardash’s sculptural works, in the art gallery of Wisdom House Chapel. The works featured at this exhibition consist of 110 Talismans, and four fertility pieces celebrating his grandson’s growth in the womb.
The Talismans are made with clay dug from a plot of land in Stanfordville, where Kardash lives and works. Each Talisman represents a transference with an “other,” formed by the synergy of a set of four “tools.”
Following the construction process, the Talismans were wrapped in natural materials obtained from the land and subsequently pit-fired, with wood that was likewise obtained from the land – a ritual of connecting with the four elements.
The Talismans are set on a Quaternary quilt that was sewn by Kardash’s mother using scraps from his father’s tailor shop.
The installation takes place on both levels of The Wisdom Chapel. The “Womb of Sorrow” will be on the main floor; “The Field of Transfourmation” will be on the second floor.
The Transfourming Sorrow installation and adjacent exhibitions, curated by Tony Carretta, will open on May 20 and runs through July 29, at the Wisdom House Chapel in Litchfield, Connecticut. For more information about the exhibit, visit wisdomhouse.org or call (860) 567-3163. For more information about Kardash Onnig, visit kardashonnig.com.