Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting my friend Mara Baker to see her installations in a four-artist exhibition, Two Histories of the World. The show is within a decrepit former factory that is set to be demolished before the end of the year. The building once was a factory manufacturing wire; later it became a warehouse/production facility bottling lotions for Unilever (the drums of leftover lotions litter the back room and they are labeled with hazard markings — toxic waste all of it); later, after the building’s owner lost the Unilever contract, it became a warehouse for the movement of discarded and soon-to-be-scrapped goods, and now, after extensive damage from a freakish hailstorm in July that also nearly destroyed the turn-of-the-century Palm Room at the Garfield Park Conservatory, the property has been sold to Salvation Army, who is going to demolish it and build a new structure (evangelical center? shelter?) on the site. Water drips through broken windows and skylights; stacks of discarded goods sit in piles and corners everywhere. Men move the debris here and there, while the owner sits guard at the front entrance, gently welcoming anyone who comes to see the disaster/artwork inside. (more…)
I love Rosler’s photomontages and I’m inspired by them. I’m attracted to her subversion of commercial images, just as I’m attracted to the work of Wangechi Mutu, though Mutu’s work follows in the lineage of Hannah Hoch, centering the political out of the woman’s body, rather than the more overt social criticism of Rosler. I love that Rosler has been eager to share her work throughout her career in non-commercial venues and that she wants her viewers to see that they can make art too, as her methods are simple and accessible. There is something truly revolutionary about that idea.
Reading about the riots in England today (particularly this piece by Glenn Greenwald), reminded me of this 2006 article from the New York Times about juvenile elephants rampaging across continents, raping, murdering, and mourning. The story of the elephants affected me so deeply when I read it in 2006 that it ended up in one of my poems, “In Danger of Being Lost,” which was published in my chapbook, Dream of Water:
“murderers from the beginning,”
we understood the incessant noise of negative energy:
how whales were killed by sonar,
or the destructive power of the ocean’s dark sounds
the impossibility of crossing the horizon
was considered and rejected
the evidence was clear:
we were driving them mad across the sea-
like savannah, pachyderms raped and murdered,
stamped the earth with their massive
soles sending out word, burying the dead
marking the bones and standing ground,
(there was little time
for “normalizing” interactions)
we held together
false notions of domination and revenge
how could we reject
the intimations of the one, singular Belief?
(we lit offerings on fire, fanned the flames
with our naked hands)
we lost count of the days
we could no longer see
what we’d left behind
What I didn’t include in the poem (but will perhaps end up in another) was this striking image from the end of the article:
As Nelson Okello and I sat waiting for the matriarch and her calf to pass, he mentioned to me an odd little detail about the killing two months earlier of the man from the village of Katwe, something that, the more I thought about it, seemed to capture this particularly fraught moment we’ve arrived at with the elephants. Okello said that after the man’s killing, the elephant herd buried him as it would one of its own, carefully covering the body with earth and brush and then standing vigil over it.
Here were elephants, stripped of their community by human exploitation and intrusion, who had murdered a man and buried him as if he were one of their own murdered by us, mourning the dead even as they were the murderers. The profound sadness concerning the entire event is palpable. The sadness that led to the rampage and then the murder; the sadness of living with the murder; the sadness of mourning the dead (and the dead way of life that they’d suffered).
Earlier today I read a powerful personal essay by Scott Johnson, a war correspondent who has spent the past decade covering our wars (murders? rampages?) in Afghanistan and Iraq:
When the marines kill, they do so rigorously and their prey falls unceremoniously. They lie in the sewage-filled gutters that bisect the neighborhood in thin green canals. They fall in doorways and stay there, slumped like drunks. If they pop around a corner the marines mow them down. They lop them off, like buds. Now, there is a spatter of rifle fire, a madman banging two steel pans in another man’s ear. In the streets their comrades pull them back from the fire line, away from us. They vanish.
Underneath me the prospect of death is alive. It is a marine. I don’t know his name. His feet are smashed and broken. The other marines have taken off his boots. His teeth are broken and blood seeps from his lips.
The essay must be read in its entirety, as it outlines this man’s emotional fracturing in the face of so much death and fear of death. I can’t do the essay justice, but I can say that once we question what is motivating us to be angry or aggressive, it seems we often find fear and an overwhelming sense of loss. Perhaps this loss needs to be mourned and attended to.
In 2009, I exhibited an image/text piece called Thesaurus for Ceasing War at the Illinois State Museum, Chicago Gallery. The piece, a triptych of embroidered silk photographic panels and a 12-part poem, is now in the permanent collection of the USC Fisher Museum of Art. I write and make visual art simultaneously, though often I finish one or the other first (or last). Thesaurus involved months of embroidery — the panels measured seven feet by seven feet when hung and I embroidered silk thread across the top half of all three printed panels — which gave me months to think about and write the poem I wanted to accompany the panels. (more…)
“Poetic thinking, being mythical, does not distinguish or create antithesis: it goes on and on, linking analogy to analogy, identity to identity, and containing, without trying to refute, all oppositions and objections. This means, not that it is merely facile or liquid thinking without form, but that it is the dialectic of love: it treats whatever it encounters as another form of itself.”
I read this quote early in the morning in the introduction to Clayton Eshleman’s Juniper Fuse, a prose/poetry/drawing/photograph/research-laden hybrid book about cave paintings. The quote above is by Northrop Frye and is his definition of the “revolutionary Romantic imagination.” Eshleman includes the quote to talk about the “no ascendant/descendant duality” present in the “no background, no frame” images on the caves’ walls. Layered images, palimpsests made by humans and cave bears, each connected to the other over millennia, tied together by love as they are expressions of the inherent being (and co-being?) of the makers. Later in the day I found myself in the cavernous Chicago Ave. stop of the Red Line and saw this before me:
“…no background, no frame…”
A few months ago I read Lawrence Weschler’s Everything That Rises, a Book of Convergences. Here was one of many convergences, the art of the cave in the 21st century, a visual cue recognizable perhaps because of our generations of learning how to read (and create!) cave images.