What oft is thought but n’er well expressed
Alice in Wonderland, The Mona Lisa, Carmen, the Polio Vaccine – those remarkable stories, paintings, musical compositions, scientific breakthroughs, those extraordinary creative ideas, where did they originate? What kind of people brought them to completion? What compelled Lewis Carol, Leonardo Da Vinci, Tchaikovsky, Salk, not to leave an idea alone? What drove Thomas Houlon and Patty Barnes to establish and continue to nurture their brain-child SPIRIT OF THE SENSES? What drives you to explore a particular idea? I know that when I feel an idea might have potential, I can never leave it alone… I have to find a home for it.
Culture Impresarios Thomas Houlon and Patty Barnes established that home in Spirit of the Senses – a one-of-a-kind organization exploring a vast range of ever-evolving ideas through informal gatherings – salons. Since its founding, now, almost 35 years later, Spirit of the Senses has been recognized as a Phoenix treasure and is widely known throughout the USA as a mobile meeting arena for cultural exchange: a Social Experience of Arts, Science and Culture for Curious Minds. This is indeed a seminal ongoing cultural collaborative production. I interviewed Thomas and Patty recently about Spirit of the Senses, an organization of which I have been a member for a number of years. This is indeed a remarkable, interactive, dynamic forum for an impressive array of thinkers, creators, and for the perennially curious minds of the organization’s members:
Ellen: The Spirit of the Senses continues to this day to be a full-time job – a labor of love, really, for you both. Thirty-five years later, it is firmly rooted in the Phoenix cultural scene, a production of a unique, ever-evolving collaboration between you both and the speakers and members who value this organization and all that it offers. Each salon, hosted in different informal settings, open the curtains widely to past and new energetic ideas.
Thomas: The best is always yet to come. The salons inspire new ideas and new salons. Spirit of the Senses is a collaboration of many people’s passions, curiosity, and quest for knowledge.
Patty: It is truly a labor of love. But more than that, it’s an exploration. Two important questions that drive my exploration are “Who am I?” and “Where do I find myself?” Spirit of the Senses made me start to think more about those questions and I began to use Spirit of the Senses to help me in my quest. It became a rabbit hole and has led me to meet the most fascinating people along the way. The salons are really this quest for me and I think for Thomas too.
In the early 2000’s, I began to do much more research than I had ever previously taken on, reading at least a book a week. That continues to this day. I’m never at a loss for a good book and a good topic for salons!
Ellen: Private homes are generally your settings – intimate backdrops for your theaters of the mind!
Thomas: Hosting salons at homes, makes Spirit of the Senses special. The entire city becomes a stage. The city also becomes your neighborhood.
Patty: The settings are very important. Homes and unique settings create a comfortable environment for people to interact with the presenters and with the other members … a safe space for intimate conversation and performance.
What fun it would be if Thomas and Patty could pop over here to the Amphitheatre for one of their ‘Spirit of the senses’ salons! What an evening we’d have exploring ‘the Arts, Science and Culture’ interfaces. On second thoughts, let’s rather make it a week-long salon! Pretoria, South Africa, is a bit further afield than New York one must admit; but it is perfectly accessible these days.
We biologists, geologists, palaeontologists, anthropologists, archaeologists peer at the world through our particular windows: our sites and our collections. It’s not the world exactly as it was, it’s our best approximation, with varying degrees of distortion. It’s not that unlike Patty’s intriguing piece of Dali-esque art, ‘South Window 8.204’–hinting at the variously distorted views she might chance to see through her window at home. So much to explore, as artist and as scientist! So many bridges to build towards a fuller, friendlier life for all–over 7 billion sapiens, and perhaps 10 million other species!
Creating alone and together; so absolutely true, locally and globally! The microcosm and the macrocosm!
Thanks John for your interest and comments about Spirit of the Senses, Patty’s art, and being an inspiring part of Ellen’s project! Your invitation to have salons in South Africa is intriguing though unlikely for us! We feel fortunate to have been included in Ellen’s project and to have been exposed to people like you. We enjoy participating in conversations on creativity.
The “microcosm and the macrocosm” indeed John as we create alone and together and share what we do. Together, we celebrate the wonders of our precious planet cognizant always, of how much it needs our protection. The work you do, John, (now largely from your Amphitheatre in Pretoria, South Africa) is an example of how one individual alone and together with your fellow scientists, can educate others while, at the same time, focus with grave attention, on the present and impending problems that our planet faces. Thomas and Patty’s one-of-a-kind organization, THE SPIRIT OF THE SENSES, educates us too, as they consistently explore and share through the wide-ranging cultural exchanges they create, so much that alone, we might have missed. As an artist, Patty Barnes will, as you say, “peer at the world through her particular window” and as a Cultural Impresario, she invites us to peer into her cultural probings as well. Thomas Houlon , you, and all the other “palaeobotanists, biologists, geologists, anthropologists” invite us generously into their work and worlds – and now a compelling (imaginative or otherwise) invitation to a cultural exploration at your AMPHITHEATRE! Thank you!