Breathtaking and horrifying, Hurricane Sandy's devastating aftermath left many speechless and others still talking. "Go Home Sandy," "Boo! Go Away Sandy We Want Candy," "Better Safe than Sandy," and a slew of other witty taunts graffitied onto boarded windows and doors tried to disguise mass fear. Hundreds of 3x3 white hate-notes with brief messages to Sandy veiled shop windows in New York City. Written in different languages, the sentiment was the same. The superstormdid not discriminate, decimating already poverty-stricken and economically challenged islands including Cuba and Haiti but also sweeping away multi-million dollar homes along the gold coast of New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut.
Restless winds and waves ravaged seashores, uprooted massive trees, embroiled electrical wires, and ripped up rooftops, leaving millions of people in a cold, dark, empty shell, watching, wondering, waiting to breathe again. Alone in her lower Manhattan studio, self-taught artist Ula Einstein kept on working furiously through the storm until shadows had consumed every bit of natural light. Resuming pieces of her collection, Stop Holding Your Breath, which she had begun in 2010 after the economic collapse, Ula felt a connection between the nervous atmosphere of the day and a few years back. Intuiting the strong and subtle anxiety vibrations from the recession allowed Ula to create at the opposite energy level, somewhere from a place of peace, external and internal.
With a background in the performing arts, Ula was very adept at hearing and projecting external sounds and connecting to an audience. When she started working as a visual artist, her work had turned internal and needed to communicate in a way that was simultaneously listening and speaking in a social and cultural context. Thus Stop Holding Your Breath was born. Marrying both these concepts of visual and audio communication, Ula created a series of affirmations, or "stimulants," as she prefers to call them, with hopes of stimulating creativity, stimulating thinking, stimulating economy, stimulating hope during a time when everything seemed to stop. The pieces in Stop Holding Your Breath are works on paper in which Ula threads text messages and then burns, cuts, or colors the background, like a modern day embroidery sampler. The messages are snippets of what she feels but also what she hears from others. They are clever and comforting, humorous, serious, and mischievous, and meant to spark an instant connection. "We are not alone," "Don't block the light," "Clarity is the new sexy," and "Don't downsize the Divine" are a few of the sayings that Ula exhales into these pieces.
The works in Stop Holding Your Breath have an air of fragility; they are temporal but at the same time question something bigger than the here and now. In today's texting culture, ideas come fast, instantly, and are then lost. Some are even impersonal, leaving us wondering who is this coming from and if it was a wrong number -- so different from needlework samplers that were passed down from generation to generation so women could learn different stitching techniques.
Ula plays into this paradox of internal and external, listening and speaking, by being a messenger herself. She recalls waking up the morning after Sandy and having no power, no light, no reception. She walked outside, up a few blocks, and found a line of people at the corner checking their phones and realized this must be a spot for cell phone reception. She noticed strangers striking up conversation with each other, asking for help, access, connection. When she turned her phone back on, two messages came through from her brother across the country: "R u there?" "R u alive?" - Michelina Docimo
The smallest works on paper from Stop Holding Your Breath are available at: http://www.etsy.com/shop/UlaEinstein
There will be an open art studio on Saturday and Sunday, December 1-2, 1-5 PM, at 184 Second Avenue #1b between 11th & 12th St. NYC.
Ms. Docimo is a certified sustainable building adviser and writer. Her focus is on sustainable architecture, art, and design. Her writings have appeared inARTES, D'Art International, and other venues.