Q&A: Maureen Drdak
The Ardmore-based artist shares her experience-of-a-lifetime.
Ardmore-based artist Maureen Drdak spent a month in Nepal—half of it trekking to the remote Kingdom of Lo in Upper Mustang—researching Windhorse (Lung-ta), her collaborative effort with composer Andrea Clearfield and choreographer Manfred Fischbeck. Debuting March 6 at the University of the Arts, the performance is part of the Philadelphia-based Network for New Music’s 2008-09 season, dubbed MIX, which celebrates the ties between music and visual arts. Drdak created three paintings that will hang above the Group Motion Dance Company while NNM composers perform a 24-minute chamber piece written by Clearfield.
MLT: What is Lung-ta?
MD: It translates into “wind horse,” a mythical Tibetan creature that symbolizes the inner air or wind of the body and related aspects of the Buddhist path. Lung-ta is also commonly known as the Tibetan or Buddhist Prayer Flag, a square of cloth imprinted with the image of the Celestial Horse carrying the Flaming Jewels of the Dharma. The scripture of Buddhist prayers surrounds this image. As it flies, it continually sanctifies the air by carrying the blessings of the Dharma heavenward and, snapping in the wind, evokes the sound of horses’ hooves.
MLT: How did you become involved with this project?
MD: In the fall of 2007, the three of us were invited to lunch by Network for New Music’s Linda Reichert to discuss a mystery topic that would explore the relationship between the visual arts and music. I’d traveled to the region of Lo in 2006 and was deeply moved by that journey and culture, so I suggested Lung-ta. Linda thought it would be great if I could return [to Lo], taking Andrea with me to experience anew that remote and majestic place—and to gather research for the collaboration. I was fortunate in receiving the generous support of Gerry Lenfest and Eugene V. Thaw for my travel, and the creative time necessary to execute the paintings.
MLT: What were the highlights of the trip?
MD: For me, some of the most supreme moments were spent in the saddle negotiating 12-inch paths with 2,000-foot drop-offs, and the state of concentrated awareness it produced—not only of death, but its infinitely close proximity to life itself.
MLT: How about the highlights of the creative process with Andrea Clearfield?
MD: Collaborative projects can be like arranged marriages—you gain new insights into yourself, as well as your partner. Experiencing each other in prolonged close contact, in often-perilous situations, was an accelerated growth. Watching Andrea experience and absorb all of the incredible gifts of Nepal—especially the Himalayas, truly the altar of the Earth—was a great pleasure for me. The blessings of these mountains were indeed manifest in the very real and rare collaborative synergy I experienced with Andrea in our creative work together.
MLT: What about the exhibit?
MD: The best way to describe it is a combination of dance, music and visual art displayed—or performed—simultaneously. All your senses will be beckoned—not only by the art, but also by the innate beauty in the space where the performance is going to be held.
MLT: How has your view of the relationship between music and visual art been altered by your work with Clearfield?
MD: I’ve always felt a very close relationship between the two creative forms, and I work virtually always with selected music playing. When listening to music, my inner visual field is flooded with fragments and glimpses of physical form. Music also strengthens the particular emotional force that I’m riding when executing a visual work. I don’t think this view has been altered working with Andrea, but it has absolutely been strengthened and expanded. We both shared a mutual appreciation for the building of the work. It was like building a magnificent dwelling together—one containing the voice of the soul and the senses.
MLT: With all the financial and social turmoil in the world right now, why is this project important?
MD: Lung-ta is essentially a benediction in concept. Its essence is a celebration of the unity of existence—the complete interconnectedness of all the Earth and its inhabitants, and a call for its preservation. At a time when we’re experiencing the damage—and often-willful destruction—of those connections, we need to reinvigorate our awareness of their fundamental importance, and our need for renewed reverence and action on their behalf.
MLT: How did the Nepal trip rate on your “life experiences” meter?
MD: At the summit. For me, any great personal evolution contains aspects of the unification of opposites. So many aspects of the inner and outer worlds were in constant dialog for me. Constant challenges—physical, psychological and emotional—continually met and reintegrated. And all these experiences were set against a culture and terrain that was heavily invested in the reality of the spiritual life. It was an invaluable reprieve from the manic and increasingly destructive materialism of our culture, and a profound reminder of mortality—that deep appreciation for the impermanence of life and our responsibility for its care.
MLT: What is the most important thing you took away from Windhorse?
MD: The joy of the collaboration with Andrea. Our artistic relationship has continued long after our return. When working, she and I seemed to drop into an extraordinary space where we seemed synchronized in vision. Communication was virtually effortless, and conceptual progress was swift. I’m still amazed when I recall our working sessions. It was a life-changing experience.