Into the Wilderness: A meditation

Photo: Daniele Molajoli. Art: Mark Leckey.

While I look to images made in fourteenth century Italy, it would be a mistake, to think that the desire to depart, to withdraw is relegated to the past. While on fellowship at the American Academy in 2023 , I was able to explore Mark Leckey’s multi-media installation, “Carry Me Into the Wilderness.” In his exhibition, Leckey presents his take on thirteenth century Sienese painting—the first painting a cityscape of Siena, the second and third paintings a move into the deserted, barren landscape of the wilderness with their gold, dematerialized backgrounds, and the fourth image capturing the epiphanic dimensions of wilderness and cave. In the exhibition materials, Leckey writes that at the end of lockdown in 2020, after months looking through portals—as we all did—he became interested in the iconography of saints dwelling in caves. “All of this was in my head—part of my internal landscape—when one day, once restrictions were lifted, I went walking in Alexandra Park close to my house. AirPods in, listening to Jude Sills, the sun broke through the trees and I was suddenly completely overcome with the abundance of everything-all-at-once, so great it seemed to surpass my senses.” Today’s city-dwellers, like those in fourteenth-century Italy, are finding ways to experience the spiritual rewards of withdrawal even as they live surrounded by other people. The desire, the urge to withdraw from urbanity and connect with that which is greater than us—is still with us.

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