Sunday, April 12, 2020

Pale Blue Dot | Weave: Kim Lieberman

by Pamela Allara and Mark Auslander

Day 17 of South Africa's The Lockdown Collection presents  "Pale Blue Dot | Weave" (2020)  by Kim Lieberman. Silk thread and pencil on paper connect fragments from the following international banknotes:  Australian Dollar, Argentine Peso, Botswana Pula, Brazilian Real, Chinese Renminbi, Egyptian Pound, English Pound Sterling, Ethiopian Birr, Euro, Ghanaian Cedi, Hong Kong Dollar, Indian Rupee, Israeli Shekel, Japanese Yen, Kenyan Shilling, Malagasy Ariary, Moroccan Dirham, Myanmar Burmese Kyat, Nigerian Nai, Portugese Escudo, Romanian Leu, Russian Rouble, Rwandan Franc, Singapore Dollar, South African Rand, Spanish Peseta, Swazi Lilangeni, Swedish Krona, Tanzanian Shilling, Thai Baht, Turkish Lira, United Arab Emirates Dirham, United States Dollar, Zimbabwe Dollar.

The artist's statement: The Coronavirus has shown us that we are inextricably woven together.

To disrupt the flow of our human weave is almost impossible. Over the last centuries all of human movement, our constant progress forward, has been toward global interconnection. We travel, we track information, we trade, without ceasing. To stop and carve ourselves away from the economic edifice that we know and understand, finds us unprepared.

This work uses banknotes, currency, from 34 countries. It has touched places far from our own lives. In the small segments it shows images that various nations consider significant enough to print on their money. Leaders, icons, artists, writers, as well as depictions of education, architecture, plants, animals, water, travel are all considered, acknowledged, accounted for, on this agreement of paper money.

The silk thread that sews them together crosses and converts that which seems separate, into one flow of being.

This contagion, like the thread, draws our pattern and shows up our invisible fabric.

Additional Artist's Commentary:  The Pale Blue Dot series comes under the broader body of work Territories. Lieberman uses paper currency in these works as a device that is a mapping of sorts.

These works refer to different kind of territories - be they the usual that exist on maps - political, geographic, economic, and they also investigate territories of emotion, wisdom, sense.
Territories are a human construct. They imply an edge, a space where you cross a border to get into another space.

The title Pale Blue Dot comes from Carl Sagan's book on our planet with reference to the Solar System, the essence gleaned out of the Sagan's words is the vision, perspective, and understanding that earth is a pale blue dot, Sagan's reference comes from the furthest photo taken of Earth.

The money is an association with geography. But of course not only that, money is loaded, yet it takes on a different format of references when the actual currency of different countries are placed into a small space, into an artwork. Generally, different monies inhabit different geographical places. Places with borders, with language, with their own brand of politics and political icons (who sometimes land up on the money), with race issues, with actual daily human interaction (which is usually completely different from an outsider's perspective of the place). These works are map-like in their source and intention, mapping out the human borders, rules, and external presentation, yet referring to a more subtle, less obvious, actual human experience.

In these works Lieberman mixes two mediums, thread and money, that she has worked with for years, separately. They are both antique mediums, both use the human hand over and over.

Physical currency is passed from hand to hand throughout a country, with no heed to status or class, a language that is understood. Thread is used in numerous crafts, and weaving is used throughout time, and place, for all manner of reasons that support human convenience and comfort.

Lieberman interest in geography and history, and the human content that goes with that, pivots on the concept of 'how we can influence, and impact, each other from far afield, and through time. 

Kim Lieberman, Pale Blue Dot. 2020.
Pamela Allara: From a distance, Lieberman’s elegant collage, Pale Blue Dot, appears to be a trellis, with leaves of varying sizes and shapes climbing gracefully up a wall. But on closer inspection, the leaves are bank notes, which cancel out any notion that the artwork refers to nature. However, in the end, nature and culture are inexorably bound together: the decisions made by those involved in global trade affect the environment, often negatively.  A closer look at the bank notes reveals faces of men, among whom those (presumably, though this is left ambiguous), who control the planet’s future.

Lieberman’s work is involved with connectedness, as exemplified by the intimate process of making lace or the technical challenges involved in casting large scale public sculpture. In examining the ‘cross culture of culture,’ she has commented that “Money…is hand to hand passing, weaving its way from person to person, picking up their dirt and carrying that residue with it.” (Kim
Such direct passing of dirt/germs has its own dangers during the pandemic, but greater dangers loom from the invisible digital transfers of global finance, activities having huge implications about the future of the planet over which the average citizen has no control. A hand-out from the government in a time of massive unemployment may provide temporary assistance, but does not impede the process of the obliteration of the environment, or of a pandemic. The green of money is the new nature.

Book Cover of Pale Blue Dot
by Carl Sagan
Cover art: Terra Nova
David A. Hardy/AstroArt
Mark Auslander:  As the artist notes, her title "Pale Blue Dot," inspired by Carl Sagan's book of the same name, references Planet Earth, our only home, seen from outer space. The interconnected pieces of currency evoke, as Lieberman implies, the global network of nations that must all unite if we are to survive this and future public health crises.  This is all the more true given the network of international air flights (on the order of 21,000 daily flights a day prior to the Lockdown), perhaps hinted at by Lieberman's threads, through which SARS-CoV-2 so rapidly spread across the globe from patient zero, presumably somewhere in Wuhan, China, perhaps signaled by Lieberman's inclusion of the Chinese Renminbi (in the upper right third of the image, just below and to the left of the American five dollar bill's portrait of Abraham Lincoln).

The image may also recall the human body's internal network of white blood cells and T-cells, which must coordinate to mount an effective immunological response to invading pathogens, including the thread-like RNA segments of the novel coronavirus. Whatever the referents, the overall effect of Lieberman's collage is a kind of beautiful climbing vine (or trellis, in Pam's terms), making its way towards the sun, evoking a sense of vitality and the enduring web of life.

Thread, sewing and weaving are among the oldest of human technologies, dating back at least to the Upper Paleolithic, and have for over one hundred millennia been essential to healing, clothing, and netting (foundational to gathering, fishing,  hunting, sailing). While these practices emulate some instinctual practices in the animal world, especially in spiders and birds, thread itself remains one of the few defining shared inheritances of humankind. Lieberman's work thus reminds us, at this time of vast global grief and self-isolation, of all that continues to a bind us together as a single, far flung species across the face of this pale blue dot. 

I am intrigued by the artist's choice of banknote fragments, as opposed to, say, flags, to signal the international family of nations. There is something beautifully whimsical about many nation's choices of images on currency, including flora, fauna, artists and poets. In depressing contrast, the US, at least until Harriet Tubman finally appears in her rightful place, only displays white male politicians on its banknotes. (An aside: As an American, I'm pleased Kim Lieberman has chosen the soulful visage of the martyred Abraham Lincoln, who sought to bind  the nation's wounds, to represent the US, although many of us harbor a fondness for the irascible Benjamin Franklin, who through the endlessly distributed and trafficked One Hundred Dollar bill serve as America's informal, if rather illicit, ambassador to the world!)

Money, as Georg Simmel reminds us,  is a fascinating symbolic form, in part because it is fungible, and inter-convertible, and while exchange rates fluctuate daily, their ultimate value is intimately bound to one another, blurring prior distinctions across distances and helping create new, standardized models of the person across geographical difference. At the same time, as Lieberman notes, the actual iconography of currency reflects a vast range of gendered, raced and historically-forged local peculiarities. Money is a signifier both of our specificities and our commonalities.

The value of money is anchored, as the artist notes, in a mutual arbitrary agreement--or even, some would argue, in a consensual hallucination. Collectively,  under admittedly unequal conditions of staggering inequality, we produce the shared "inter-subjective" reality of monetary value and of the global financial system, to whose fickle whims we are, in turn,  all subject.  In a comparable fashion, the solution  or failure to the worldwide pandemic emergency rests not merely on a panacea or vaccine, but on collective mentalities that are still in a state of becoming. We urgently need the  emergence of a shared global consciousness--of mutual care and mutual responsibility, to the Earth and all who dwell upon it. 

Hence, we might read this beautiful artwork as a woven prayer, on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, inspired, as it happens, by the famous Earthrise photograph taken from space, which so entranced Carl Sagan and millions of others: May Kim Lieberman's delicate, fragile threads continue to hold fast, in the face of the terror, greed, xenophobia, and demagoguery exacerbated by the pandemic--by all that threatens, each day, to tear us apart. May we embrace, in the face of our fear, the deeply woven web of relatedness, binding all human and organic life, across our imperiled, beloved "pale blue dot."

Addendum: Kim Lieberman, who is now reading Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot, writes to us that an account in the book (p. 128) alerts her that today, April 12, 2020, is, by coincidence, the 59th anniversary of the momentous day, on April 12, 1961, when aboard Vostok 1, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin became the first human being to fly into outer space, and became the first person to orbit our "pale blue dot."  

The artist also explains she was inspired to name the work by Wendy Oldfield’s song, “Pale Blue Dot,  (performed by Oldfield at: which was in turn inspired by Sagan’s book

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