Courtesy of Josh Blumental

“Let us just take a moment to arrive.” 

So began Beth Krensky in her remarks on the opening day of “Between Spirit and Matter,” the Yale Institute of Sacred Music’s latest exhibition. 

The multimedia exhibition, co-curated by Krensky and Maddie Blonquist Shrum DIV ’22, opened on Wednesday at Miller Hall. “Between Spirit and Matter” is an exploration of the relationship between the sacred and the mundane and features works by Krensky, an American artist who works with a variety of mediums. 

Krensky described her own artistic inspiration arriving as early as infancy. 

“At age two, I spent most of my days painting for hours and seeing wonder all around me,” Krensky recalled. “By age three, I had a recurring dream of an Alberto Giacometti sculpture that had come to life. I did not realize what it was until I saw Giacometti’s work for the first time at age 19.” 

Whether by premonition or coincidence, Krensky’s artistic sensibility continued past her early years and through to the present. 

“You cannot understand the art if you do not understand the artist. This is especially the case with Beth Krensky,” Blonquist Shrum said. “She can’t simply be reduced to an artist or an educator or an academic or an activist, or even categorized generally as a person of faith.”

Regardless, Krensky’s work in “Between Spirit and Matter” has a distinctly spiritual feel. Her work often blends the natural and the surreal, taking worldly objects and elevating them through performance, text or other means of alteration.

The physical exhibit itself occupies the entirety of Yale’s Miller Hall with intention behind the placement of each piece. A bronze cast of a foot adorned with roots lies directly across from the front door, greeting visitors with a reminder of their connection to the material world. 

Disembodied wings made of wood, religious folk charms, bells and feathers hang above the ground floor, ushering viewers to ascend the staircase. The staircase is liminal in both a physical and artistic sense, providing a path for attendees to move between ground and sky, while simultaneously lifting the art.

Prayer Shawl (Courtesy of Josh Blumental)

At the top of the staircase, onlookers reach a seminal work –– “Prayer Shawl.” This piece is strikingly positioned at the top of the airy staircase, spanning several feet wide. The shawl is modeled after a traditional Jewish tallit, or prayer shawl, but is fashioned out of baby clothing. With shiny brass bells in place of tzitzit, or fringes, the piece emanates a distinctly mystical aura.

However, “Prayer Shawl” carries a deeper and more tragic meaning: the jagged and unevenly stitched clothing is meant to represent the countless children who have lost their lives in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Maeera Shreiber, a member of a panel that spoke at the exhibition’s opening, noted the significance of imperfection in Krensky’s shawl.

“The pieces [of cloth] are mismatched, with a gaping hole towards the left side,” Shreiber said. “Cracks, edges, and spaces in-between: this is where the sacred is to be found in our broken but precious world.” 

This sense of political activism is felt throughout Krensky’s works. One piece of performance art, “Make Me a Sanctuary,” uses film, symbols and movement to connect the static to the mobile and call attention to current issues surrounding displaced peoples. 

“I performed this piece as a directive to construct a sanctuary or tabernacle for the divine … for immigrants and refugees in our communities and across the globe. And also a sanctuary for each of us, that we may have a place of refuge,” Krensky said.

As an artist, Krensky looks for inspiration in ambiguous spaces. Her art is never conclusive –– the placards beside her pieces ask questions rather than describe works. 

“What’s keeping you rooted here at the moment?” one placard asks. “What’s pulling you away?” 

In everything from the title to the works of her most recent exhibit, “Between Spirit and Matter,” Krensky’s interest in duality fully takes form.

“Between Spirit and Matter” will close on Dec. 10.