Counterparts, You, Me
Come on, let‘s drive around the streets a bit longer. —An acquaintance of mine, who was already a bit older and no longer able to walk very well, loved sitting next to her husband in the car and looking out of the darkness at the houses of the city and their brightly lit windows. Every now and then, she would ask for this little tour through the streets. I can understand her desire well. The sight of light in the windows of strangers has an attraction that goes beyond mere observations in passing. The light squares are like small stages upon which everyday life is acted out; a candle on a window- sill; an open sliding door, granting a view into an adjacent room; the drawn curtains of a room in which a child may be sleeping. Looking up at these windows always gives me a pleasant feeling of security. I see something familiar and recognize myself in it. Or, as the poet Sarah Kirsch wrote in her prose miniature Lichtzeichen (Light Signal) about a nocturnal walk: We returned home, and behind the illuminated window saw ourselves sitting at the wooden table. 1 At the same time, my gaze is also engaged in a searching movement, driven by a diffuse melancholy that can never be shaken off. If I tried to interpret this melancholy, I would describe it as an insatiable longing for being connected; a connection with what, with whom? With my environment, with other people, with an imaginary counterpart.
What makes me think of the light in the windows of strangers, when contemplating the paintings of Miwa Ogasawara? It has something to do with those searching movements. For me, Miwa Ogasawara‘s works are extensive narrative spaces in which my quest for being connected continues and is condensed. Her paintings speak to me about the multi-layered feelings that culminate in a fleeting moment. Moments that seem to revolve around the big picture, around our existence, around all of us who love and are loved, who feel protected or lonely. Walls, upon which the light gently falls. Open doors lea- ding into further luminous rooms. Rain drops in which a glint of light is caught. A view into a cloudy, turbulent sky; birds, some almost losing themselves in the grayness. A blurred landscape, seen through the window of a moving train; the sun low in the sky. Although no people are visible in these paintings, I can sense their presence.
The question around which my work as a a writer revolves, even if it doesn‘t constantly occupy my mind is: how do you find expression for a present time that is also invariably interwoven with thoughts and memories, hopes, and wishes, a sense of loss and of transience? As far as literature is concerned, one the most brilliant examples for me is Mrs. Dalloway walking through the streets of London, where Virginia Woolf superbly expresses how abundantly condensed, multilayered, and full of contradictions one single moment of perception can be. In people’s eyes, in the swing, tramp, and trudge; in the bellow and the uproar; the carriages, motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging; brass bands; barrel organs; in the triumph and the jingle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; [...]; this moment of June. 2 —Only to lose the feeling of belonging again the next moment: She felt very young; at the same time unspeakably aged. She sliced like a knife through everything; at the same time was outside, looking on. She had a perpetual sense, as she watched the taxi cabs, of being out, out, far out to sea and alone [...].3
Miwa Ogasawara‘s paintings have a special silence. They capture moments of contemplation and pause, simultaneously bringing to life the countless ephemeral impressions, sensations, and thoughts of which the immediate present is constituted. Even the merciless tempo in which the pace of our contemporary world beats its rhythm becomes palpable. I regard the painting of a landscape, which moves past me with the fine contours of trees and the faint light of a winter-weary sun between masses of clouds, and recognize both in these: the speed of a highly-technologized world, and the calmly flowing, inwardly oriented perception, for which a train journey provides the space. The notion of a waking dream enters my mind for that which defines our existence, the confusing interplay of being both in the center of action and yet outside of it.
The American philosopher and psychologist William James stated that it is essential to all of us that in our existence we receive resonance. Just like we need the air to breathe or water to quench our thirst, we need someone to see, hear, and recognize us. James referred to our social ties, but, as we all know, the idea of resonance particularly applies to painting, music, literature, and to all forms of art. Thus, as readers bring a novel to life through their perception, which is made up of feelings, memories, and expectations, the viewers also awaken a painting to life. And, vice versa, the painting touches something within us that has been hidden or dormant. I can feel seen and comforted not only by another person, but also by a work of art.
When regarding Miwa Ogasawara‘s series Weltbild (Image of the World) and looking into the vastness of the universe that is replete with lights and stars, shimmering and unreachable, I feel reminded of the insurmountable isolation that each of us carries within ourselves. A form of loneliness that begins in the first months of life in the seclusion of the amniotic sac, and that ends in the relentlessly narrowing sphere of action that accompanies aging and dying. I regard the blurred lights and realize that we ourselves are like these lights, in close proximity to each other, circling around one another, while still, each for ourselves, being alone. Miwa Ogasawara‘s paintings make the space that lies between two people visible; the space between you and me.
As Sarah Kirsch remarked: The reason why I write, why I exist, indeed all falls together. Because I want to find out what my purpose here is. On this strange planet. 4 What is it that sustains us, that keeps us moving? Perhaps it is this constant search and longing for interconnection, or, as William James might say, the need for resonance. And, as I would add, the inexhaustible hope for resonance. A hope that can fulfill itself again and again through many different influences. Through the people we love, through the language of a poet who makes something resonate within us, through a painting created by Miwa Ogasawara that captures the brittle, oscillating present moment, the beauty and fragility of our existence.
The painting itself is my counterpart.
1: Sarah Kirsch, Kommt der Schnee im Sturm geflogen, Munich: DVA 2005, p. 12. 2: Cited after: Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway, first published in London: Hogarth Press, 1925 (web edition published by: eBooks@Adelaide, The University of Adelaide Library, University of Adelaide, South Australia 5005: https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/w/woolf/virginia/w91md/). 3: Ibid., p. 12. 4: Kirsch 2005, p. 14.