BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
Who could resist the invitation from a famed Chicago artist to be part of a global work of art simply by sending in a positive thought?
“In these disorienting times, how can we utilize positive and contemplative intention to affect energy in the world?” asks the project’s creator, Paula Crown. “By engaging with affirmative ideas, I invite the viewer to add their positive emanation as an act of unity via collective activation: solo together. We are receiving messages in many languages from around the world.”
Crown has passed the pandemic transforming an empty retail space in Palm Desert into EMANARE, designed for a global audience. The project was part of the recent Intersect 21, a virtual art fair in the desert that Crown has called home over these last months. Taken from the Latin word for emanate, she blends the haptic or 3D touch and the virtual, creating an interactive experience in EMANARE. Layers of messages scroll against a backdrop of morphing colors, fabulously lit, from Crown’s paintings and local skyscapes. Over time, new messages—all anonymous—are added, accumulating and transforming the work as each new wish appears.
I couldn’t wait to try it—and found joy in joining.
Crown, also leading a philanthropist and businesswoman, believes in the power of positive intentions: she is known for asking, “What’s not wrong today?” She shared with us her odyssey this past year: “When the pandemic started, I was in Palm Desert with my family, but without my art supplies. All I had were pencils, markers, and copy paper and wanted to translate my drawings into larger pieces. I had no idea where I was headed. Michael Corliss said that a former Escada store with 40,000 square feet was available. I knew that I wanted to take it out of the realm of retail. There were mannequins when I moved in and more space than I needed. It has two large vitrine windows and it was a challenge to know how to work with that.”
She continues, “The idea of ancient Tibetan prayer scrolls came into my mind and I went down that rabbit hole of research. The wheels were driven by the wind. The scrolls are rolled upright and rotate, with prayers and wishes put into the top. As they rotate, it is as if the wishes are sent up to the heavens.”
The transparent columns, which are shown on two LED screens, reveal the messages 24 hours daily. These positive intentions are all user-submitted messages and can be dropped in person by scanning a QR code at the window or via the virtual installation or her website. The intentions do not appear right away as a text message might but capture the feeling of instant messaging for the contributor.
“What I want people to do is to pause and think: Do I have an intention that you would like to post in a positive way?” Crown explains. “That is the action, not so much that your message shows up, but that you have taken time in this very difficult world right now to think that good things can happen. And that starts with our thinking that it is not just my feelings at this solitary time, but it is all of us together.”
I talked with Crown on the anniversary of the date in March 2020 when the people left what they were doing and just went home. She told us: “Every day has its nights and we are all standing in the wind now. We have to realize that there are wonderful support systems out there.”
Crown shared a family powerful intention, speaking to that very sense of seeking support and learning to adjust. Her daughter Tory and son-in-law Matthew were to be married last May in Hawaii. When the pandemic stopped the music, a ten-person family wedding was held outdoors in the desert instead. “Tory wore my veil and sandals and our daughter Summer got the license online and performed the ceremony,” she shares. “Why do we have to layer so much on, when the essentials are just right? Tory just gave birth to a little boy, what joy.”
As she was able to move beyond her copy paper and pencils, Crown’s work has thrived through the pandemic. She has finished a large bronze solo cup similar to the red solo cup she calls JOKESTER that has been shown in Milwaukee and Aspen. “It is wonderful that the first one has caught on and is used as an advocacy against plastics. The bronze is a bit more bruised and crushed just as we all are in the pandemic,” she shares.
The Chicagoan points to her current desert surroundings as a great inspiration, saying she is nurtured by the surrounding mountains and has always yearned for the warmth of the desert: “I am outside every day and feel the power of gratefulness.”
When we first interviewed Crown in 2015 in her Michigan Avenue studio, designed by her close friend and collaborator architect Jeanne Gang, she was also reacting to nature. She told us that day: “I have realized that in life often the sacred ground is right in front of you. Instead of looking way out yonder for inspiration, you see something, how the light breaks on it. You take this and see where it leads you.”
And sometimes you bring the yonder right to you. One of Crown’s first interactive works, titled Have a Fall, invited its Miami audience to experience a season not typically experienced there. High school students from a local design school helped her scatter thousands of real Midwestern oak leaves, with their colors preserved by glycerin.
A graduate of the School of the Art Institute in 2012, she says that she has always known that she wanted to be an artist. “When I was very young, I took a record player needle and scratched it across my father’s favorite Beethoven record to create a design. I imagine he wasn’t too pleased,” she recalls. “By the time I was eight or nine, they knew I had to get an art studio.”
Crown uses her interest in geometry and science, particularly fractals and the patterns they can create, in her work. She explains that she’s always had a bit of a dichotomy to her brain, a linear and part, which usually operate independently.
Although she took time off for 20 years to concentrate on raising her four children and for corporate and community work related to the Crown family’s worldwide philanthropic efforts, she has spent the past two decades developing her art and contributing her expertise to the field, including serving on the board of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. President Barack Obama appointed her to the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities.
For Crown, EMANARE is her wish to the world right now: “I love receiving the messages and want to keep it going and going.”