Silent retreat leads to spiritual exploration of 'High Heat, Low Pressure'

Andy Downing
"Length" by Kate Morgan

Abigail Hartung, executive director of 934 Gallery, had long considered creating a show centered on the theme of spirituality — an idea that cemented itself during a 10-day silent retreat Hartung participated in earlier this year in Kolkata, India.

“One of the themes of the course was how change is ever-present and things are always moving and shifting in our lives, and how we can only control our own reactions to things. … Not, ‘What can I change in others?’ But, ‘What can I change about how I’m reacting and the energy I’m bringing into this situation?’” Hartung said of the Vipassana meditation retreat. “There was very minimal speaking, only for talking to the staff members if you had any questions about the teaching or if there were any housekeeping concerns — things like that. But by and large it was silence, and very introspective, so it was a rather spiritual experience for me, and it had me thinking of the natural connection between these artists I had encountered over the years.”

The resulting exhibit, “High Heat, Low Pressure,” which was curated by Hartung and opens at 934 Gallery on Friday, Aug. 2, features three artists, who, despite divergent backgrounds, have common threads running through their work: Sudanese American painter Mohamed Hamid, collage artist Jason Mann and painter Kate Morgan. (Both Hamid and Morgan live in Columbus; Mann is based in Falmouth, Kentucky.

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From a technical standpoint, all three incorporate unexpected textures or collage into their two-dimensional pieces. Hartung noted that one of Hamid’s paintings incorporates sand, Morgan paints atop old, handwritten letters and pages of sheet music, and Mann’s collages include everything from newspaper clippings to archival material passed down within his family. Some of Hamid’s works are deeply layered, with treatments making parts of the painting look aged, as though the viewer is “looking through a veil of time,” Hartung said.

But more importantly, from a conceptual perspective, the three all bring a bit of mystery to their artwork, which invites viewers to linger in an effort to decode the larger meaning within a piece.

“I would say in most cases their works are open-ended. They draw you in, and they might hint in a certain direction, but they’re not necessarily a final answer or edict or statement,” Hartung said. “It’s more presenting this stage for the viewer to enter into. And in my mind it brought up … questions like, ‘Why do we exist? What lies beyond?’”

The word spirituality can conjure different emotions within people, an idea Hartung references in the name of the exhibit, which plays off the fact that it can be an intense, deeply moving sensation (High Heat) or a subtle, even silent chill, as with mediation (Low Pressure). Hartung was careful, however, to keep the theme removed from the concept of religion, which carries an entirely different weight.

“To me, those words ‘spirituality’ and ‘religion’ have distinct, different definitions,” Hartung said. “Vipassana, the course I attended, is a practice that is very specifically nonsectarian. … It does originate from the teachings of Buddha, but it's not Buddhist in nature. It’s open to one who practices any religion, or one who practices no religion.”

It does tend to draw those who want to spend time pondering some of life’s unanswerable mysteries, though, much like the artwork collected in “High Heat, Low Pressure.” 

934 Gallery

Reception 7-10 p.m. Friday, Aug. 2

934 Cleveland Ave., Milo-Grogan

"High Heat, Low Pressure"