Spinning in circles with C. G. Jung and Kimia Ferdowsi Kline

What if balance is not a scale? Meditations on a shape

At some point, C. G. Jung started drawing circles every morning after waking up. He was undergoing a midlife crisis, a term we now use jokingly and profanely, but which, in Jung's understanding, is a profound crisis of the ego that is trying to evolve and get closer in a process of individuation to what he termed the Self. According to him, the ego is at the centre of human identity and consciousness, while the Self is more all-encompassing. What he was drawing weren't just plain old circles, they were mandalas and each of them was an expression of the psychoanalyst's inner universe. It was a playful exercise of order, of expansion through organization. Within a mandala's union of a circle and a square, Jung saw a symbol of the psyche itself and its connection to everything else.

There is an interlude on Solange's When I Come Home album, where a sampled voice of a woman repeats: “Do nothing without intention. Do nothing without intention.” I have been nothing short of hypnotized by this sentence. Something broke down, time perhaps. The pandemic happened, and so on and so on. Purposeful directing of one's energy and efforts now seems a good way to go. “Do nothing without intention” is an objection to waste (of time and energy) and calls for planning and decision making. Jung's own life-long struggle and one of his biggest contributions to psychology was the idea that we are made out of opposing forces and our psyche is always striving for balance. He went as far as to term his own opposing forces Personality No. 1 and Personality No. 2. The midlife crisis, in Jung's understanding, is the psyche's realization that without integrating the opposing force(s), there is no going forward if one intends to live fully. In his case, the personality No. 1 is the one repeating “Do nothing without intention.” No. 1 loves planning, is superbly rational and logical. (No. 1 most likely assigns names 1 and 2 to his internal states as well.) No. 2 is the intuitive, mandala-drawing mystic who spent hours conversing with characters he encountered in his wildly imaginative daydreams, and essentially the side of work Jung became renowned for. 

I can see where he was coming from and how life seems like a never ending quest for balance. The more hypnotized I am by the phrase “do nothing without intention” and the more I try to apply it practically, the more inexplicably drawn I am to automatic, dreamy, spontaneous states where I let myself be governed by something equally inside and outside of myself. A letting go, an improvisation of sorts. Jung would say that this is the pendulum of the psyche swinging in between the opposite directions, searching for equilibrium. I see this in writing. Regardless of how much I plan and how much routine I impose on the process, there is an element of wild and blind trust that is absolutely necessary. A simple trust that something will happen (hopefully something good), through the mere action of sitting down and doing the writing. It's letting oneself play, even if you might fail (and you will). I don't know how to pin this down. It's a fleeting and fickle force, something outside of my capabilities and faculties. Perhaps writing happens as a result of balance. The opposing forces are united.

I've been mulling over this precarious balance with one of Kimia Ferdowsi Kline's recent paintings in mind. She says that working from a place of concept “murders” her “sense of joy” and “sense of intuition.” I love the unfettered brutality of the verb she used. In her interview with The Creative Independent she stresses the importance of “not having a concept” before she gets started on a painting. Contemporary art education is heavily focused on theory and conceptual way of working. What this results in is often stifled creativity. Many artists end up worrying about having a gallery representation, or great PR lined up before even putting in any solid work. It's a fear of making a mess, of exploring and perhaps failing. It's easier to worry about how many people will come to your exhibition, before you even do the work.

'Mother Tongue' is the visual representation of this complexity of the opposing forces to me. Symbolically it resembles a mandala. The figure in the middle, with all four limbs symmetrically touching and being close to their head, is encircled by a host of faces. The figure is lying on their belly in a playful, languishing pose. They are an acrobat of sorts, devoid of any supporting background and suspended in the air, limbs at work. I can't help but feel as if what this person would say to me is “Which mask will I choose today to face the world?” We are moving from the centre of intuition and play outwards to the circular border of logic, rationality, and intention. Ferdowsi Kline also mentions this in her interview: it's important to her to shut down the analytical brain regularly and work “from the gut.” Creating first before objectifying your own work. This 'mandala' speaks to that tension between the opposing forces Jung spent his whole life working on. He says that the goal of psychic development is the process of individuation, aiming towards the Self in the centre, the sort of higher consciousness. Crucially, this process is not linear; it involves circumambulation, walking around oneself. Balance, in that respect, is perhaps not an image of a scale, but rather walking around in circles. Forever spinning, as if achieving it is a never ending work of a lifetime. 

Kimia Ferdowsi Kline's solo exhibition 'Mother Tongue' is currently open in Marrow Gallery in San Francisco.