See article published on NYTimes.com
On Saturday night in Prospect Heights, the artist Elaine Su-Hui hosted “In the Seed We Have the Universe,” the first figure drawing event at Inner Fields, a new shoebox-sized art space she designed to give people a place to connect with nature. Most of the 10 who came had no formal drawing training, but they all plopped down on cushions to silently draw portraits of the “plant spirit”: the classically trained ballet dancer Leah Mulartrick, who expressed the plant’s life cycle with sprightly dance moves.
To interpret the fleeting life of plants, Mulartrick hugged her knees on the hardwood floor like a seed, then twisted up to greet the sunshine like a blossoming flower, and finally wilted and collapsed, to the breathy tune of James Blake’s “Lindisfarne.” She went from constantly shifting to holding her poses so that participants could capture it all in colored pencil — but they weren’t supposed to do anything as basic and uninspired as draw what she actually looked like. “It doesn’t matter what anything looks like. It’s the acute looking and the presence of mind that’s important. It’s searching, not definite,” Su-Hui explained. To that end, everyone reimagined the performance differently, with free-form sketches in green and blue. One participant drew blooms sprouting from the dancer’s outstretched arms; another sketched out the path of the dancer’s head with little strokes.
All around the room, there were seven bamboo wind chimes, 23 bouquets of hanging flowers, 43 silvery paper squares (which are Malaysian Taoist funeral symbols) and enough Australian eucalyptus to cure a serious case of SAD. Before Mulartrick entered, dressed in a voluminous white dress with pink fabric flowers dangling from her hair, and got down to crouching seedling-style, everyone settled in along the walls. Hui led the meditation, which brought them all down to a reflective level, and then they each drew a bunch of dead flowers for practice.
“Try not to look at your paper,” Su-Hui told them, and in 10 minutes, the time it takes to thumb through 100 braggy flower pictures on Instagram, everyone studied a single natural object as they filled their pages. “It’s more about the process and the value in creatively expressing yourself than the finished product,” Su-Hui said.
Su-Hui, who studied fine-art printmaking, opened Inner Fields in the apartment next to hers last fall in an effort to escape the commerce-fueled art world. “It gave me total creative freedom. I don’t have to fawn over anyone or apply to a gallery,” she said. “It just keeps the joy in it and allows me to do these wacky ideas with a lot of components.” This weekend marked the first time photography was allowed in the space during an event, because her philosophy entails experiencing moments that never leave the incense-flavored room. “I wanted to create something that you couldn’t keep,” Su-Hui said. “It was a mini act of rebellion of the whole idea of acquisition.”
In March, she plans to have 25 people draw plants as they decay for five days straight. “It’s about being in the world and being aware that you’re just a living thing like the trillions of other insignificant things,” she mused, “but it’s meaningful.”