Space Between Places – An Interview With Artist Morleigh Steinberg

“I kind of pushed him to do it.”

Morleigh Steinberg is in the midst of producing the first public showing of her husband’s series of desert photographs. “I just said to him, ‘You really gotta do something with this. People should see this. I think it’s important. And with the closure of the tour, now is the time to do it.’”

Preparation for the opening of “The Joshua Tree – Photographs by The Edge” at Arcane Space in Venice, California. Image originally posted by @arcane.space on Instagram used by permission. © 2017 Arcane Space, all rights reserved.

Perhaps I should mention that Morleigh’s husband is The Edge, U2’s revered lead guitarist and atmospheric sound architect.

Back in 1986, when the Irish rock band visited California’s Death Valley and Mojave Desert to shoot images for the cover of their upcoming album, The Joshua Tree, U2 photographer, Anton Corbjin, wasn’t the only one taking pictures. The Edge took up his own camera to capture the desert as he saw it.

“I think he’s got a really good eye.”

With a quiet enthusiasm that projects genuine confidence in her family’s artistic competence, Morleigh also can’t help but sound like her husband’s biggest fan.

“I think he’s got a really good eye. And it’s photography, so I said, ‘Let’s just do this.’”

Arcane Space in Venice, California. © 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.

Morleigh is co-owner of Arcane Space (along with singer & artist Frally Hynes), a bodega studio a couple blocks from Venice Beach in Venice, California. When we first met, I asked her about her “gallery” and she politely corrected me.

“It’s not so much a gallery as it is a space,” she mused.

That caught my attention. As a spatial storyteller with Storyland Studios, I’m fascinated by the ways people use space to express something of meaning or significance. Whether in cathedrals, office cubicles, or amusement parks, creative people are able to transform space to express something about themselves and the way they see the world. So I had to go see Arcane Space for myself.

“I think a gallery is very defined,” Morleigh later explained. “There’s a certain structure that a gallery has to set up to present artists. But we’re still trying to find out what this is and how it’s gonna work. And it feels so free. Space can be so many things.”

Arcane Space in Venice, California. Image originally posted by @arcane.space on Instagram used by permission. © 2017 Arcane Space, all rights reserved.

The entire gallery… er, space is surprisingly small and painted stark white, from the floor to the ceiling. It gives one the impression of a blank page or canvas to be used freely for artistic expression.

“We want it to be a place where we can share,” Morleigh said, “that we can express what’s going on in our lives and what’s going on in other artists’ lives. And give them an opportunity to present work, or make work, or explore work, or push work, but not in a defined gallery. But just in the space.”

Opening of Arcane Space in Venice, California. Image originally posted by @cyanmogi on Instagram used by permission. © 2017 Morleigh Steinberg, all rights reserved.

Like a brand new journal or drawing pad, starting with a blank space fills a creative heart like Morleigh’s with a churning sense of potential and curiosity.

“How do you occupy space? How do you change space? And how does that make you feel? And how does it make other people feel? That’s more my curiosity. So that’s where Arcane Space came from.”

Lines In The Sky

Power lines in Venice Beach. Image originally posted by @cyanmogi on Instagram used by permission. © 2017 Morleigh Steinberg, all rights reserved.

Arcane Space’s first installation was a collection of Morleigh’s own photographs entitled “LA Sky Lines.”

Each piece featured the blue, California sky criss-crossed with telephone wires and poles, double-exposed for a disorienting kaleidoscopic effect. In most shots, the illusion confuses the eye with lines that converge in reflective patterns and unnatural vanishing points.

Some look like reflections on water, and others recall the arches and gables of a transparent greenhouse roof.

LA powerlines and palm trees. Image originally posted by @cyanmogi on Instagram used by permission. © 2017 Morleigh Steinberg, all rights reserved.

“I’ve always been fascinated by the connections that these wires make above our heads. We live in this very detached society. There’s something so tangible and so real about these wires going from pole to pole to pole to pole.”

And person to person.

“I’ve always been fascinated by the connections that these wires make above our heads.”

As I viewed the pieces myself, I recalled a childhood memory. Riding in the backseat of my parents’ car as we travelled through the San Joaquin Valley, I watched the wires and poles pass by in rhythmic waves. I remember being enchanted by the idea that there are people on either end of these wires, with miles of space between them, and they’re talking to one another.

“It’s really about the infrastructure between the sky and all these lines and wires that are connected above our heads,” she said. “I find it really delightful and very reassuring.”

True to her intention to allow the space to guide the work created there, the photographs weren’t hung on the walls. They were on the floor, leaned against the wall to create a sort of blue baseboard that follows the walls’ hard angles wherever they may lead.

“I was really looking at the whole space, and my images, and how I would use them, and that was the way they ended up. On the floor.”

Morleigh Steinberg making use of space at Arcane Space in Venice Beach, California. Image originally posted by @cyanmogi on Instagram used by permission. Copyright © 2017 Morleigh Steinberg, all rights reserved.

This unusual arrangement allowed visitors to view the images, not as individual pieces, but as part of a larger complete work. The space itself had become the work of art.

“There’s purity in putting a picture on the wall. But you never just put a picture on a wall, do you? You always put a picture up in the relationship it has to the rest of the space.”

The Space Between Places

Sculpture at LACMA in Los Angeles. Image originally posted by @skipperfreddy on Instagram. Copyright © 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.

Morleigh’s perspective on space and our relationship with it springs from a lifetime of movement. As a lifelong dancer and choreographer, movement within space is what defines the artform she loves most.

She also grew up in Los Angeles, which, due to its never-ending sprawl connected like power lines through its notorious freeway system, forces its inhabitants to leave one defined space and move to another if they want to experience everything the city has to offer.

“There are several places in LA that are so unique, but you’re going to have to drive to them. You’re going to have to get in the car to go to them.”

Circle walk at Dos Lagos in Corona, California. Image originally posted by @skipperfreddy on Instagram. Copyright © 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.

Morleigh’s parents were people on the move with a passion for exposing their kids to experiences througout the city. Morleigh developed a keen interest in both the destination and the space between places.

“And I got it. I didn’t mind going from place to place to discover.”

“I lived in New York for a time and there you don’t have to drive to experience a lot of different things. Here there’s always somewhere to go. That comforts me more than having the same places within reach all the time.”

“I think how we make space and interact with space has an effect on our positivity, on our outlook, on the whole human experience.”

New Orleans Square at Disneyland in Anaheim, California. Image originally posted by @skipperfreddy on Instagram. Copyright © 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.

One Southern California place she rediscovered for herself recently was Disneyland. Walt Disney’s cartoon kingdom in Anaheim might not be the first place an artist thinks of when seeking authenticity and genuine inspiration, but Morleigh went into the experience with eyes wide open.

“I was so impressed by it. I was really impressed by the landscaping, all California drought tolerant. But then in Tomorrowland, the landscaping was all vegetables, like kale, and chard, and herbs and it was quite remarkable and I was like, ‘Right on!’”

“Then, going into the haunted house, all the things that held the chains they were all these beautiful kind of patinaed bats. And they were real! They weren’t like plastic fake stuff. They were real materials.”

Brass bat stanchion in Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion. Photo provided courtesy of Todd Young Photography ©2017 Todd Young Photography, all rights reserved.

While Morleigh seemed genuinely surprised at the authenticity achieved in Disneyland’s fantasy worlds, she agreed wholeheartedly with the premise that creating space for people to respond to produces genuine emotional results.

“I think how we make space and interact with space has an effect on our positivity, on our outlook, on the whole human experience.”

Outside, It’s America

Flyer for “The Joshua Tree – Photographs by The Edge” taken from arcanespacela.com, used with permission. Copyright © 2017 Arcane Space, all rights reserved.

At the time of this writing, Morleigh is putting the finishing touches on Arcane Space’s newest installation; The Joshua Tree – Photographs by The Edge.

To music fans around the world, the photography for U2’s fifth studio album, The Joshua Tree, is widely considered the most iconic and beautifully integrated album art of all time. In many ways the photographs on the record sleeve created a unique space for the music to inhabit.

“The desert was immensely inspirational to us as a mental image for this record,” U2 bassist, Adam Clayton, told Hot Press magazine at the time of the album’s release. “Most people would take the desert on face value and think it’s some kind of barren place, which of course is true. But, in the right frame of mind it’s also a very positive image, because you can actually do something with a blank canvas, which is effectively what the desert is.”

“So let’s kind of catch the end of this magnificent tour and commemoration to that album, which meant a lot to a lot of people.”

The Edge in the California desert pictured on the 12″ single for “With Or Without You” from the album “The Joshua Tree” by U2. Copyright © 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.

Morleigh recognized that an opportunity to display never-before-seen images of the same brilliant landscapes captured by of one of the band members would be unique and intriguing for many people. And the timing isn’t bad either. The band just finished a worldwide tour celebrating the album’s 30th anniversary.

Co-owners of Arcane Space, Morleigh Steinberg and Frally Hynes, at the opening of The Joshua Tree – Photos by The Edge. Photo courtesy of Scott Fifer, Founder of the Go Campaign, used with permission. © 2017 Scott Fifer, all rights reserved.

“It doesn’t make sense to do it 6 months from now,” said Morleigh. “That would feel like going back, you know? So let’s kind of catch the end of this magnificent tour and commemoration to that album, which meant a lot to a lot of people.”

With the confidence of a woman at the vanguard of creative exploration for her family, Morleigh convinced her husband to do the unexpected, to use the space to explore and share his own story. ”Let’s not make this about the band. Let’s make it about the landscape. And the landscape that you saw at that time.”

The Joshua Tree – Photographs by The Edge runs from November 22-December 17, 2017. 100% of the proceeds from sales supports the Go Campaign, which funds grass roots organizations that serve children and youth around the world.

Arcane Space is the collaborative effort of Morleigh Steinberg and singer/artist Frally Hynes.

Visit ArcaneSpaceLA.com for more information.

 

The author and his daughter taken by Morleigh Steinberg in Arcane Space in Venice, California. Image originally posted by @skipperfreddy on Instagram. Copyright © 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.

 

 

Acrobat – A Homily For Hypocrites

In honor of the 26th anniversary of U2’s brand-bending album, Achtung Baby,  let’s review the record’s most gut-wrenching song. This line-by-line deconstruction of Acrobat explores the spiritual wirewalk many Christians experience as they attempt to be who they claim to be. 

When I was a kid, my Dad had the odd responsibility (either self or externally imposed) to be happy and hopeful all the time. I think he believed that part of his job as a pastor was to match up his demeanor with others’ expectations. It didn’t matter if he was facing financial trouble, marital disunity, illness, or a crummy day, he needed to arrive at church with a smile on his face and a kind word on his lips. In other words, he needed to wear a mask.

The unfortunate side effect of my father’s pretense was the occasional avalanche of pent-up anger, which would fall squarely onto his unsuspecting little family. I remember riding in the car on some Sunday mornings. My brother and sister and I could sense his mounting anger rising up in the front seat. Then some straw would break his camel’s back and for the next few miles we would receive the brunt of his frustration. Then, we arrived at church.

When he climbed out of the car, a miracle happened. He instantly became a different man. Gone were the scowls and furious words. All smiles and handshakes now, his mask was back in place.

Looking back today I feel sorry for the man. I know he didn’t want to act that way. He loved us. I have no doubt. He hated himself for talking love and peace to his flock while giving rage and turmoil to the sheep he loved the most, his wife and kids. When he reads this, I’m sure the old sting of this will prick him again (not my intention Dad). The sad irony of this story is that the mask he wore was a burden even Jesus did not have to bear.

In the song Acrobat, from U2’s 1991 album Achtung Baby, Bono laments the same balancing act that my father was forced to perform: “I must be an acrobat to talk like this and act like that.” Niall Stokes, the legendary Irish rock champion and Hot Press editor, wrote of the song, “Not for the first time on the record, Bono acknowledges his own weakness and inadequacy. He is more conscious now than ever before of the contradictions in his own position.”

If you are being honest, Bono’s words are your words as well. You have your beliefs and convictions. Your beliefs define you. You are red or blue, anti or pro, Jacob or Edward. In today’s wacky world of pundits and provokers, with comment boxes under everything you read or watch, you have the opportunity to shout your privately held beliefs loudly and viciously at whomever you want. But does what you say you believe match up with what you do?

I doubt it. If you happen to be a human being, duplicity is your nature.

New years resolutions fail because of this. We know we should stop smoking or drinking. We should eat better and exercise. We should be more committed in our job or school or marriage. We should make things right with our parents or siblings. We should stop abusing our spouse or our kids and making them feel small. We should stop stealing, having emotional affairs, and sneaking copious bytes of porn into our homes via fiber pipelines. We say we believe one thing, but when it comes to living what we believe, we most often do something quite different.

For Christians, this self-imposed dualism is particularly painful to live with. We desire to be like Christ, but we are drawn to sin like moths to flame. As the hymn-writer said, we are prone to wander, and wander far. And we hate it.

In Acrobat, Bono paints his own picture of this hated wandering. The singer sings something of a rotating monologue to three distinct characters: to his younger self when he was an enthusiastic Christ following idealist, to his disenchanted present self, “the acrobat” who feels distant from his faith, and finally to Jesus circa Revelation 3.

When I first met you girl*

You had fire in your soul

What happened your face

Of melting in snow

Now it looks like this

His young self, was once transformed by his faith, happily drawn into a burning light that thawed a frozen heart. The singer sees in him the strength of character needed to resist temptation and to do only good. He begs the boy he was to hold fast to the faith that sustained him, to stand firm in his convictions.

I’d join the movement

If there was one I could believe in

Yeah I’d break bread and wine

If there was a church I could receive in

’cause I need it now

To take the cup

To fill it up

To drink it slow

I can’t let you go

The singer’s present self stands in disbelief that what was once so clear and motivating now seems so distant. He mourns his loss of passion for the things of God and shouts his need to be welcomed at the table of communion. But he cannot drink the cup or eat the bread. Like so many Christians before him, he stands at the table wanting to receive, but knows painfully well that his actions do not match up with his beliefs. Because of his duplicity, he believes his place at the table is forfeit.

The acrobat… er, Apostle Paul wrote about his own struggle with this wire-walk in his letter to the first-century church in Rome. “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” In a particularly transparent moment, Paul shares his exasperation with himself for believing one thing and doing another. “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” Isn’t that the truth? Of course Paul points the finger at the root of this duplicity, his own sinful nature. “Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.” And it is this sinful nature that the singer, the acrobat, can’t seem to abandon.

And you can swallow

Or you can spit

You can throw it up

Or choke on it

Most frightening to the singer, and any Christian who has faced his double, are Jesus’ words to the church of Laodicea found in Revelation 3. Here, Jesus rebukes this particular church (considered to be the prophetic embodiment of the modern church) for their lack of passion for Himself. Because they have lost their original heat, their passion for the things that once drew them close to Christ, He threatens to abandon them to their own self absorption. Jesus says, “because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” My paraphrase goes like this; Jesus cursed them saying, “You make me puke!” I can’t imagine any more frightful words for a Christian who thought he had his religion wired.

And the singer takes this curse on himself. He realizes that what was once a fire in his soul, is now a cold ember hidden beneath an empty façade of contentment and false spirituality. The acrobat walks on a wire of compromise, balancing his talk of doing good to others while his heart is far from the faith that would cause him to do so. He says he loves his neighbor as himself, but the truth is, he loves himself and desires only that which will bring him happiness.

The song ends with the singer emboldening himself to claw his way out of his duplicity and sin, and grasp onto the love for God and people he once held so tightly.

And you can dream

So dream out loud

And you can find

Your own way out

You can build

And I can will

And you can call

I can’t wait until

You can stash

And you can seize

In dreams begin

Responsibilities

And I can love

And I can love

And I know that the tide is turning ’round

So here he stands looking into the mirror. The singer is unsatisfied with what he sees. He doesn’t want to be an acrobat any longer. He’s getting back onto the path he desires to walk, and cheering himself for the journey ahead.

It won’t be easy. In his book Crazy Love, Francis Chan said, “we have to believe it (the Gospel) enough that it changes how we live.” It’s one thing to say that. It’s another more excruciating thing to do it. But we have to do it. Christians have to believe the Gospel enough that, through the Spirit, our actions match up with our beliefs. Then, and only then, will the wire-walking end.

And all the acrobats of the world say, “amen.”

Reader Resources: The Song, The Video (unofficial), The Lyrics

 

*I believe “girl” is used here as a way to make the characters distinct. It’s also common throughout Achtung Baby for Bono to sexy-up the songs with words like ‘baby’, ‘girl’, ‘honey child’ despite the deeply spiritual and personal nature of the content.

 

This post originally appeared in 2011 on my now defunct blog “isbonoachristian.blogspot.com,” an exploration of the faith and spiritual truth sometimes found in U2 lyrics.