– by Kiko Denzer
I have a “thesis,” if you will, that natural building, and particularly earthen building, restores an important, practical relationship between beauty and utility: to be beautiful, life must be useful, and vice-versa. The combination of beauty and utility is our common, human art.
As such, being human requires an understanding for and appreciation of fundamental harmonies. All the parts must fit together well. If art is essentially about harmonious integration, then beauty is essentially how we qualify harmony; our knowledge of beauty is what allows us to determine the goodness or “rightness” of fit.
But our knowledge of beauty is limited when we lose touch, literally, with the world around us. If we don’t know the first thing about where we live, if we don’t know the soil, the plants, the animals, the stars, then how can we know harmony, or beauty? How can we make the right decisions? It’s difficult for many to even take the time to look — and I think knowledge of beauty requires time. One only knows beauty by direct contact; the more contact, the greater the knowledge — and vica-versa. I think artists in Western society have been given the reputation of being problematic, as individuals, partly because they may spend days or years in contemplation.
First, contemplation looks, from the outside, to be absolutely useless — it produces nothing! Except perhaps a painting, or a sculpture, or a poem, or a dance. What good is that if it won’t even put food on your table? But is there any such thing as an isolated, solitary action? Action is fundamentally a social phenomenon; it is the conscious practice of the butterfly effect. So even the apparently useless actions of a single dreaming human can be important to the life of the community. Second, contemplation is considered to be a solitary pursuit — because no more than one human is needed — but contemplation is how a single human can open herself to relationship with every one of innumerable members of creation!
The social status of “artists” aside, as living bodies that fit together well and work, individually and in groups, each of us has tremendous innate knowledge of our own beauty, our own relatedness to the beauties of the world. Even if we aren’t in direct contact with them through our hands and eyes, we’re all constantly in our own beautiful, useful bodies — and whether or not we’re mentally conscious of that, we are physically in contact with it.
What a surprise, then, to find that such a simple thing as shaping the mud under our feet can restore that contact and that confidence, that we are indeed beautiful, and that we can integrate beauty into our lives and our relationships. Plus, the “solitary” experience of making mud and sculpture almost immediately becomes the social experience of building something larger than all of ourselves, and we see the manifestation of our shared goodness, our common beauty. That experience confers authority, and authority inspires hope — for every individual, as well as for the community — in a context where our shared democracy is failing, our individual confidence is under siege, and the world seems to be falling in on us.