This Progress

I went to see an exhibit on Valentine’s Day (yesterday) at the behest of my sister, who was in town and wanted to go to this exhibit at the Guggenheim. I knew pretty much zero about it when I arrived to find a long line winding down Central Park West between 89th and 88th. My sister Delacey and her friends, a coworker and his partner, arrived and we waited in the line (I guess I should say “on” line, since it was in New York. I just can’t bring myself to do it…!). Delacey said it was somewhat…strange, but that it was perhaps better that I didn’t know what to expect. An older woman came out while we were waiting “on” line and said we would be disappointed because “There’s nothing in the rotunda. It’s an experience, but disappointing.” Wellll, let me just say, in some delicious irony, this piece has been put on my short list of life-changing art. I haven’t really discussed it in any tangible way up unto this point, but now’s as good a time as any, no? I would write more about the piece(s), This Progress and The Kiss, but there is plenty written about the actual pieces, which I’ll link to. Alas, this is MY blog. So it’s personal, but disappointed is not what I’d say. Hardly.

The End of the Weekend” by Anthony Hecht This is a poem that my High School Senior English teacher gave us to read. The whole year was actually pretty influential for me in terms of actually appreciating literature, but this poem has stuck with me, even six years later. I’m not sure exactly what it was about the poem–it’s a fairly simple poem. I think it really was the way my teacher had us examine the symbolism. I suppose I should explain that until this point, I was extremely cynical about interpretation in literature or poetry–I just thought people wrote things and that it was sort of bullshit to read into them. But this poem is beautiful and haunting, both in its surface reading, and also when dissected a bit. The words Hecht chooses are clearly well-thought out. Intentional. For the first time in my life, I began to believe that some symbolism was truly well-designed and deliberate. I realized that more than anything, the reason I did not believe this about poetry previously was because I hadn’t had the right coaching, and wasn’t reading the right poems. I still think a lot of reading into things is useless, but this was step one in appreciating those pieces that are really meant to be pulled apart and enjoyed like a some kind of very messy, juicy fruit instead of sterile in a glass.

Singer by Jump, Little ChildrenĀ This song is amazing. Raw, beautiful, sexy, dark. Jump, Little Children, for those who know me well, is a group who I feel sort of defines who I am. If you like their music, I’ll probably like you. At least kind of. But this song, more than any of the others, I find enchanting. It’s really sad, and about impermanence, more than anything. Savoring each moment. And while their music and concerts have filled a part of my emotional life that has inspired me to liken them to my “religion” on quite a few occasions, this song is one meant to be listened to, felt. Meant to be present to. Their other music can be background music, but Singer is an experience. The last line is “This song will be over and so will you and me/this song will be over and so will you and me/this song–” and then the music just ends. Powerful.

Tristes Tropiques by Claude Levi-Strauss I read this book as a part of a class Senior year of undergrad called Rituals and Rhetoric by the previous dean of the Religious Studies Department, who was a funny and delightful gentleman, Ruel Tyson. Like that English class in high school with the End of the Weekend, I do give quite a bit of credit to the manner in which this incredible book was taught. Still, it was an experience to read this book, much unlike any other I’ve had reading a book. It’s basically an account by Claude Levi-Strauss, one of the pioneering anthropologists in the Twentieth Century, of his journey to Brazil, the Caribbean and India. But it is not primarily about the places, but rather his internal struggle over how to be an anthropologist, and what that means. He was way before his time in terms of thinking of culture as a construct, not something definitive. And part of what struck me about the book (which I don’t even think I’ve read all of–we just read excerpts for class) was how it defied categorization. Though it is “about” his travels, there is an entire chapter about the difficulty of capturing a sunset, which serves as a fantastic metaphor for anthropology. I still intend to read the whole thing from start to finish, but even having only read what I have, it just struck me as so true.

And now we have come to my most recent discovery of brilliance. Tino Sehgal. I’ve read a few of the articles about his philosophy on art since going to the exhibit. Basically, he feels like there’s enough stuff in the world, and he wants to create pieces that are impermanent. Which is, more than anything, honest. The reality is, going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and looking at the pots and statues and rugs and etcetera is only seeing it in its context, at the time. The color is maybe a little different than when people were actually using these items. Paintings are different when they are all together. Context and time are inescapable. Sehgal just admits that, and doesn’t try to run away from it, even embracing it. Some of it is that experiencing the exhibit kind of caught me off guard. I was going to it like any other exhibit I’d been to–like I went to the Tim Burton exhibit at MoMA (which is cool, just not mind-blowing or even really particularly thought-provoking). But it was much more impactful than that.

What these things have in common is, I think, pushing me to realize the capabilities of each medium–poetry, songs, books, art. They are all capable of achieving this connection, this rare moment of truth. And I have seen so many other poems, songs, books or art exhibits that have been cool, interesting, maybe even made me think a bit. But these are the ones that stick with me. The ones where I feel a real connection with the person who created each piece of art, like we’re sharing a deep level of understanding and reality, just for a moment. And one thing said in one of the articles by Sehgal about what his point was, more or less, is taking a world that is full of STUFF, which is what artwork generally is, and bringing it back to being about relationships.

Real, raw, haunting, inescapable, enchanting truth.

Making Art Out of An Encounter [New York Times]
You Can’t Hold It, But You Can Own It [New York Times]
In the Naked Museum: Talking, Thinking, Encountering [New York Times]
Art World Drama! Tino Sehgal Calls the New York Times “Crass” [W Magazine]
Tino Sehgal [W Magazine]
How I Made an Artwork Cry [New York Magazine]