Cancer Diagnosis Opens Door to Spiritual Womb

There’s a spiritual womb pulsing on artist Diane Hause’s property off Hwy. 210 near the farming community of Ivanhoe, N.C.

The womb, an art installation titled “Eyeing the Cosmos While Astride the Abyss,” is meant to be a transformative space, a place of reversion.

It’s best viewed at twilight, itself a transforming time, when the purple fog settles just licking the tips of the summer corn in fields surrounding the studio. There are totems painted on the long leaf pine trees on the drive up to her modern art space, remnants of a previous exhibit at 210 Hause Studio.

It is in this place, where herds of deer cross her yard; with stars so bright they remind you of hanging fruit, that Hause decided to recreate a spiritual experience she had following her diagnosis two years ago with stage 4 breast cancer.

She had just finished building her house across the road when her doctors discovered the cancer. She had recently moved from Atlanta’s bustling art district to be closer to her mother and father, a Wilmington Methodist minister. In a long life of art exhibitions and teaching, Hause helped create an anti-graffiti mural program for children in Tampa, Fla., and an art district in Atlanta that the New York Times once called “the SOHO of the South.” She hosted a benefit with Vagina Monologues’ creator Eve Ensler for the lost boys of Sudan and another for the women of Afghanistan. A spiritual current runs through her portfolio with exhibits titled: “The Presence of Absence,” “A Soul Unfurled,” “A Convergence of Faiths” and “Spirit Weave.”

But after the cancer diagnosis, “I was thinking oh, let me live in that house for a week. I accepted it at that moment, even though I was stunned, I wasn’t feeling anything, which I think is grace,” she said. “But at 3 a.m., it hit me and I panicked. This was in me, and I was not getting away from this.”

She wrapped herself in a prayer shawl her mother had given her and instantly felt calmer.

“I felt like I needed to be contained, and I slid to the floor in the bathroom,” she said. “And I noticed the stars through the window in there, and they were calling me. I went outside, and it was pitch black, but it was spectacular.”

Hause said while she was stargazing, she “was seeing out and I was astounded at how far I could see out. And then I went somewhere (in a vision) and when I returned two hours had passed, and I was calm, at peace. It was a solid feeling of peace, that I was OK. That I was alright.”

‘Fear, aloneness, facing oneself’
Because creating art is her spiritual space, Hause wanted to find a way to artistically offer others the transformation she felt at that moment. While painting is her main medium, Hause had to branch into new territory to express this experience with this installation.

“I wanted a space where people would get a sense of that fear, aloneness, facing oneself and belief and nonbelief and then move through it to the deepest, closest place in themselves,” she said.

And since “Eyeing the Cosmos” opened in mid-June, people have traveled the remote 45 minutes outside of Wilmington, making appointments to experience it. Some of her friends from New York and Atlanta’s art scenes traveled the distance for it.

‘Time’s running out’
Hause flips a five-minute hourglass timer and jokingly says: “Times running out,” as you shed your shoes to enter the space. In a dark blue-lit space of white floors with paths lit by electric candles, you wander from room to room.

Hause wrote to Yoko Ono, whom she’s followed and corresponded with since John Lennon’s death, for permission to use an otherworldly remix of one of her songs for the exhibit.

Entering a narrow hallway has a mirror upon mirror effect as you ring a gong and pass meshy veils and into an anteroom with a white palapa. Hanging from its ceiling are 60 paper cut birds, to honor Hause’s years on Earth. A leather Book of Remembrance on an altar table there invites visitors to leave names of people they wish to remember.

A table just outside the palapa invites you to leave something of yours and take a Chinese coin. The words “Give and Receive” form a ring on the floor around the table.

Another room offers a Wall of Wishes where people added their deepest hopes. And just beyond that wall is the enclosed womb. At first, it’s like entering a dark space ship without all the metal.

Every surface is perfumed, pillow soft, warm and totally dark. You lose track of time and your sense of the horizon. Hause added a recording of a double heartbeat of a pregnant woman and her baby to the space. It’s just you, floating in darkness, all heartbeats, a rushing sound of blood, a place of letting go.

‘We are one’
The artist said she told people they could stay in the space and take time to reflect before exiting into the cool air of her backyard.

It’s that moment when people reenter the world that Hause enjoys watching. Some exit with their eyes blank like wide buttons, speechless. One woman left crying. A man was worried someone would jump out at him in there. Another exclaimed: “Oh, it’s heaven!”

On the opening night of the exhibit, people chattered waiting for their turn to enter, but when it was their time, each person tensed and “suddenly there was this panic, kind of like you’re getting ready to jump into a pool,” she said. “I like watching their backs enter and their faces when they come out.”

The artist is grappling now with the anticipated grief of taking the exhibit down by the end of July. She knows it has to be impermanent, but Hause is planning to have a closing ceremony to end it.

Following her spiritual experience with the cosmos, Hause is matter-of-fact about her cancer now.

“I can’t be cured. It’s over. I’ve tried to manage it. I’ve gotten two years I didn’t know I was getting, two years out of the house, enough time to watch a lightning storm and lose a toaster,” she said with a chuckle. “I didn’t want this to be who I am. I don’t want to be the cancer person, blah, blah, blah. To me, it’s about the reality of the reality. We’re all on this conveyer belt, and we all drop off at different points.”

And then this:

“When we get down to it, we are all one from the smallest body to the next breath. We are one,” she said. “People have asked me, is this it? Is this the last exhibition? But stay tuned, this is just a piece along the way.”

— Amanda Greene for
June 26, 2013

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