Reliquary Makes Art From Animal Bones

Marcia Lynn

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Image Courtesy of prattmuseum.org

     Jo Going is a self-described Renaissance woman—artist, writer, dancer, poet and spiritual healer. Her art installation, Reliquary, is a mixed-media presentation centered on the bones of wild animals collected from the arctic tundra of Interior Alaska over the past 30 years. She defines Reliquary as a “container for the bones of saints.”

     “It’s usually people saints, but in this instance it is the bones of wild arctic animals and it’s not specifically Christian, for instance there are Buddhist reliquaries all over the Buddhist world," says Going. "But it’s the same concern—what do you do to honor the remains of those people who achieved a high degree of spiritual realization,  and in my sensibility animals carry that level of divine wisdom.”  

     When Going first came to Alaska she lived on a homestead in the Interior and was fascinated by the pure clear quality of the Arctic light, colorful auroras and the animals she encountered on the tundra.

     "Which was actually the motivating force for me moving to Alaska in the first place so that I could live a life in intimate contact with wild animals,” says Going. 

     She immediately started collecting the many bones strewn across the tundra which she says pulsed with the energy of live animals. Her vision of this exhibit came while hiking on the tundra one calm day when she knelt down beside a whole caribou skeleton.

     “A wind blew through out of the West, came across where I was kneeling, and went up and disappeared into the distance and everything else was still," says Going. "And at that moment I really connected with the deep spirituality of the bones of the animals as sainted objects. Right then and there I knew someday I would do an entire installation dedicated specifically to the bones of the animals.” 

     Going has taken part in art residencies around the world and visited reliquaries in many of those places. A photo montage of her watercolor paintings done out on the tundra is displayed on the back wall.

     “What they’re doing here is number one referencing the tundra but number two giving a splash of stained glass light because the entire exhibit I’m trying to create a cathedral like atmosphere,” says Going.

     An original sound track assembled by Museum Curator Scott Bartlett accompanies the exhibit. 

     “A sound design based on field recordings from the tundra and then intermixed with these excerpts of Gregorian chant which are referential to the sacred overtones of the exhibit, especially Jo’s influences in Italy and those very explicitly Catholic Church reliquaries,” says Bartlett.

     He suggested using a soundscape to help immerse visitors in the Arctic environment, and got permission to use the field recordings of anthropologist Dr. John Tyman.

     “There’s probably a dozen different audio clips," says Bartlett. "There’s some gentle creek sounds, there’s some spring morning, some afternoon, there’s a section that’s very windy--it’s a big variety. And I didn’t realize when I suggested this, I didn’t know about Jo’s musical background and that she was very familiar with classical music and with Gregorian chant in particular so she actually pointed to the Pange Lingua which is the piece that’s mixed throughout this.”

     Color, shine and glitter are abundant in Going’s artwork, personality and the way she dresses. That’s one reason she connects with lynx, an animal found abundant on the tundra.

     “The lynx is really attracted to all things that glitter and shine, and I too love things that glitter—sequins and beads and tinsel,” says Going.

     One of the 25 plus art pieces that make up Reliquary is about the lynx. The base is an abstract watercolor image of a lynx.  Other components include caribou ribs, a lynx skull and jawbone, and a hare’s foot—part of an animal that’s one of the lynx’s favorite foods.  Going says the sculpture embodies her close relationship with the lynx.

     “The top of the statue is an abstracted woman interfacing with a lynx which is a portrait of myself in abstraction, and there’s beads and there’s glitter and there’s angel hair," says Going. "So I’m expecting a lynx to come into the museum any day now.”

     Visitors too can come into the Pratt Museum’s Special Exhibits Gallery and enjoy Reliquary through September 21. 

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