In Ahavani Mullen’s studio, humble materials of pigment, metal, limestone, and resin transform into spiritual relics. She enters into the act of creation in silence from which paintings, sculptures, and installations evolve and become artifacts of human consciousness. In connecting the seen to the unseen, her objects hold memories of time, space, and sound, referencing the very turning of the earth with its movements and vibrations.
Having long engaged in daily meditation, Mullen is keenly aware of consciousness and the effect of sound on the body. Her contemplative and studio practices inform one another as she bridges the inner and outer worlds. Reflecting that duality, she often couples artificial colors and materials with forms abstract yet reminiscent of the natural world. Resonant hues atop polystyrene juxtapose visions of geological strata as in Mining for the Source.
Within her mediation practice, Mullen centers the Vedas and Upanishads texts, drawing upon their reverence for stillness rooted in the earth. To invite this wisdom into the studio, Mullen developed a process that combined these ancient bodies of earthly knowledge with the earth itself. The landscape became Mullen’s collaborator during her residency at the Tusen Takk Foundation; situated in the dunes of Lake Michigan, she invited nature’s consciousness–its gentle rocking and soft breezes–to imprint her canvases.
The artist set up outdoor pools of pigment and water into which she directed select audio of ancient chants and mantras interpreted by her long-time spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy. Exposed to the elements, much was dictated by nature’s forces. The resulting works are imbued with both the sounds that infused her raw materials and with the landscape–its air, sounds, and textures. On view in her solo exhibition Across Centuries and the Earth at the Dennos Museum, Aum No 4 was seeped in the sounds of Chinmoy’s chanting of AUM. This sacred Sanskrit syllable is thought to be the sound from which all other sounds originated, a fitting way to open the show and to introduce the other works on view charged with mantras from the Vedas and Upanishads.
While the four paintings in the exhibition feature Mullen’s signature abstraction in vibrant hues, distinct shapes emerge through the color fields. Like the waves lapping upon the nearby Lake Michigan shoreline, the undulation of pigmented water in the outdoor pools gave form to recognizable figures—from rising suns in Aum No 4, to heart-shaped imprints in Lead me from the Unreal to the Real. Flat planes become multidimensional as layers of pigments and marks in graphite swirl across the canvas. Their scale immerses the viewer, echoing the enveloping power of sound. And yet, charged with chants that connect the personal to the universal, this body of work transcends an intimate encounter with a sound or with a painting. They draw us together, across centuries and the earth.
About the Artist: Ahavani Mullen is a visual artist whose paintings, sculptures and installations are engaged with consciousness and materiality. She has been awarded fellowships and residencies from the Tusen Takk Foundation, the Macedonia Institute, Vermont Studio Center and Hypatia Trust. Other honors include awards from James Rondeau, Director of the Art Institute of Chicago, and grants from 3Arts, the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, the Illinois Arts Council Agency, and the New York Foundation for the Arts. Her current exhibition at the Dennos Museum in Traverse City, MI is on view through May 14. Born in Minneapolis, MN, she received a B.A. from Macalester College in St. Paul, MN in 1996. Ahavani lives and works in Chicago, IL. Her work can be viewed at: www.ahavani.com.
About the Writer: Maggie Pavao is an arts administrator and writer based between New York City and Traverse City, MI. Invested in organizations that offer artists long-term, sustainable support, she is currently Assistant Director at the Tusen Takk Foundation in Northwest Michigan and Events & Communications Manager at Smack Mellon in Brooklyn, NY, with previous positions in artistic programs at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (LMCC). She presented at the 2022 College Art Association’s Services for Artists panel, and her writing has appeared in Art Spiel and Execute Magazine. Maggie maintains a textile arts practice in weaving and earned a BA in Art History and MA in Museum Studies from New York University.
Ahavani Mullen: Across Centuries and the Earth Dennos Museum Center, Traverse City, MI
February 22–May 14, 2023