The Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions all contain an ancient story about a mystical white bread called “Manna.” Literally translated to mean “What is it?” the ancient Israelites asked this question of the small white substance that laced the desert floor “like frost” every morning. Sweet, like bread with honey, the story goes, the small grain-like element was miraculously provided by God every morning as food to sustain the tribe of people who were wandering the desert for 40 years. The people were only allowed to collect the amount needed for a single day (and double portion for Shabbat) reminding them of a certain kind of trust and dependence on this daily form of provision. If they did not trust the provision and collected more, the food would be rotten and full of maggots by morning, except for the seventh day of the week, when they were granted rest from their labor of gathering. At some point in those 40 years the Israelites complain about the monotony of the manna and lose sight of its miraculous sustenance.
Initially inspired by the description of a mysterious “frost on the desert floor,” this work was born from a daily meditative practice carried out over the last three years. The images originated simply by observing moments in both nature and daily living that visually resonated with this description of manna, and then eventually as the work progressed, metaphorically explored the ideas of provision, sustenance, appreciation, rest, and wonder. The work continues to explore the synergy as well as conundrum between Wonder and Knowledge. In wonder the camera beholds the microcosm of nature’s vast life-sustaining power. The lens studies in particular the capacity of incredibly small moments of wondering at nature as restorative and sustaining, even awe-inspiring, for the human souls. The work proposes that art, especially the recording of beauty, can seem a divine provision. Though there is certainly research that supports this theory, it is not just scientific knowledge for care or conservation of ourselves and our planet that produces action to do so. These images propose that wonder (perhaps in tandem, or even in lieu of knowledge) is an underutilized source of inspiration, encouragement, nourishment, and motivation for environmental and emotional conservation. This exhibition invites you to wander through and ponder what sort of environmental future, human caretaking, or even intuitive knowledge might be born, not necessarily from answering the question, but from taking time to look down, to experience awe, and most of all, to wonder “What is it?”
SARAH BERNHARDT is a St. Louis based artist, educator, and administrator exploring photography, video, installation, and social practice. She received her MFA from Washington University in St. Louis, taught at University of Missouri St. Louis, and currently teaches at St. Louis University. In 2013 Bernhardt founded Intersect Arts Center, an arts space focused on nurturing accessibility to the arts and relationship building across diverse communities. Bernhardt continues to direct the space developing exhibition and education programs, maker spaces, artist studio spaces, as well as community events and projects.