Why is that there and what is it supposed to be?

22 09 2011

As per an earlier post, these are just two of the questions we heard a lot from passing students, community members and others as Tiller was being constructed. These are certainly legitimate questions and ones that are often the first reaction to a lot of art. A common topic that a lot of artists and students here grapple with is what is an appropriate response when you are asked these questions about your work, is it helpful or good to give viewers with words and explanations, and if so, how much of an explanation? Is it prudent to give just enough to create a deeper exploration and engagement with the work? Is it about viewer interpretation or the artist’s intention? Certainly every piece has a story and a process and it is often a delicate and difficult dance to decide what to reveal about that story and what not to reveal. One of the books used here in the Art Department and I’m sure many others nationwide, is John Berger’s Ways of Seeing (based off a BBC four part TV  series). I know that for me, and many of our students, this is a critical read in challenging our approach to images (and objects) and our way of thinking and looking at them and we highly recommend it. Anyways … all this to say, Roger Feldman has written a statement for us and our community about Tiller and we’d like to share it, hoping it provides a starting point, a dialogue and a desire to engage the piece, explore it and maybe even sit inside it for a little while.


Tiller originated from being in Indonesia with other artists who are Christians and realizing that within the context of competing world religions, the question was, “who is in charge.”  The cultural context for this experience helped define the need for a larger view.  Economics, religion, politics, historical memory and cultural clashes all contributed to the make-up of this piece.  The tensions or “Pivot Points” embodied in this piece point to a larger reality, where an unseen hand is at work. 

The color scheme was developed as a result of conversations with our Asian colleagues.  The colors associated with each of the major world religions were as follows:

Buddhism = Orange/saffron

Hinduism = Black and White

Islam = Kelly Green

Christianity = White (Protestant) to Purple (Catholic)

While in Indonesia, I observed a color palate different than what I imagined before going.  The textured blues and greens allude to natural forms (plant forms) but change to more organic treatment as one goes inside the first vestibule.  Pure, vibrant, full intensity colors, are juxtaposed with a more organic palette.

The idea of an entrance that requires a person to duck down or humble themselves is alluding to the fact that when westerners visit other cultures, humility will bring them to a place of understanding more quickly than arrogance.  A second even shorter passage way echoes this concept and humbly brings the viewer to a platform with clouds.  By stepping onto the platform, the viewer is confronted by three things: a tilting wall, a huge wood handle that cuts through the space, and a sail mounted to a grid of poles.  Each of these components has symbolic value.  The translucence and temporal nature of the sail, the fact that the viewer is standing on clouds, the dynamic handle, and the wall that seems to fall away all point to a larger reality, a spiritual reality. 

There are four poles holding up a falling wall near then entrance.  Each pole represents one of the four major world religions contributing to “holding things together.” Within the Indonesian context, the four major religions had to peacefully coexist for the economics of the country to be successful.  While there were religious tensions, economics and national unity took priority over religious exclusion.  Tiller, then, is a response to this pivotal tension with a view to a larger reality that intersected with these four world religions.  From a Christian vantage point, it all made sense.


Roger Feldman

September 2011




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