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Back to Reviews 96

Burning Bush, 1995

maja lisa 
at dca 

by Robert Mahoney

Maja Lisa Engelhardt's "Burning Bush" 
series involves two traditions of religious 
painting. First, she tries to visualize a 
difficult Biblical passage--Moses goes up 
Mt. Horeb and finds "the bush was blazing, 
yet it was not consumed." Like a 
Renaissance painter, Engelhardt struggles 
to convert a literary trope into an image. 
The big challenge is how to paint a fire 
that does not consume (most viewers will 
know only Cecile B. DeMille's 
visualization in "The Ten Commandments"). 
In her "Burning Bush" paintings Engelhardt
shifts from fiery to ethereal, from 
consuming to veiled. Though the series as 
a whole has a sort of Monet-with-his-
haystacks seriality to it, in truth it is 
the struggle on a level beyond visual 
impression which gives each painting 
depth. The second tradition Engelhardt 
deals with is the Romantic tradition of 
the Natural Supernatural, where trees 
and mountains became the evidence of 
God's work. In diary entries included 
in the dazzling catalogue that 
accompanies the exhibition, Engelhardt 
makes Thoreau-like notes of Nature in 
Denmark, and twice records the 
"transillumination" of trees or bushes 
by the sun. Several personal photographs 
of stray trees crowned with blinding 
sunlight shows Engelhardt grasping at 
the original miracle through suggestive 
occurrences in nature. Which brings to 
mind the aesthetic of reliquaries. Do 
you remember in "La Dolce Vita" the two 
children who claimed to see the Virgin 
in a tree, rushing around confused in 
the rain? Obviously, Fellini debunking 
the hysteria of miracle worshippers. 
And yet the most touching scene: 
afterwards the crowd rushes the tiny 
tree and strips it of its leaves 
desparate for any souvenir and keepsake 
of divine energy. A "cultus," servicing 
and maintaining a miracle energy as 
linked to a specific incident, is thus 
born. Maja Lisa Englehardt's work is 
most impressive when thought of in the 
context of a "cultus" attempting to 
keep the energy of the original Burning 
Bush in the modern world.