Monday, December 18, 2017

There Are Stars


I don't like writing about art, visual art. Or film, or poetry, or prose, really. Yet I've done all of the above, and have learned of great works by others who have done the same. Still, what I find on my own is always what I favor most. Much of the magic is in the finding, and then watching the formerly unknown film or painting or poem or novel as it opens up to me.

I'll return to the best work again and again, if I can find it, but I wonder if my returns are less about the great works themselves and more about attempting to reclaim the magic that was in my initial moment of discovery, and how my first experience with the work changed me. But can these things be separated? Isn't it all intertwined—the work, the discovery of the work, the way the work changes the viewer? Doesn't it all combine and add another layer to each person who sees the work? 

Part of me wants to tell everyone I know to get to the seventh floor of SFMOMA before January 1st, when the exhibition that holds the work I discovered Friday, stayed with for over an hour, and then returned to with someone special on Saturday for closer to two hours, and share this experience with me, but I hesitate. 

I know my telling will subtract something from all the work can be, and I even worry that the someone special I introduced to the work on Saturday was unable to feel what I felt on Friday, when I walked into a particular room on the seventh floor of the museum, without a single preconceived notion, and felt myself begin to change.

“There are stars exploding around you
And there is nothing, nothing you can do”

Lyrics in this work I reference, such as the above, are drawn from parts of Ásdís Sif Gunnarsdóttir’s poem, "Feminine Ways."

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Joan Didion on The Rock

Imagining Alcatraz, 2017

I moved to San Francisco seventeen years ago, yet I've never visited Alcatraz. I haven't had the desire, with the exception of contemplating seeing Ai Weiwei's artwork there. Missing that exhibition was probably a mistake. Yes, it was a mistake. I meant to go, but then kept thinking later, later, then it was gone. But the idea of boarding a crowded ferry and being part of a large group of tourists shown around the island by a guide... Nope, not appealing.  Not at all.

I've been thinking about Joan Didion lately, she never leaves my mind for very long. I decided to dip back into Slouching Towards Bethlehem. The first thing I turned to was her 1967 essay, "Rock of Ages." The place she describes, and its three inhabitants, is enticing in a strange fairy tale sort of way.

In her first paragraph she begins to describe her attraction to this former prison:

"It is not an unpleasant place to be, out there on Alcatraz with only the flowers and the wind and a bell buoy moaning and the tide surging through the Golden Gate, but to like a place like that you have to want a moat."

And she continues in the next paragraph:

"I sometimes do, which is what I am talking about here."

Later in the essay she explains how she "tried dutifully to summon up some distaste, some night terror of the doors locking and the boat pulling away."

And then she closes:

"But the fact of it was that I liked it out there, a ruin devoid of human vanities, clean of human illusions, an empty place reclaimed by the weather where a woman plays an organ to stop the wind's whining and an old man plays ball with a dog named Duke. I could tell you that I came back because I had promises to keep, but maybe it was because nobody asked me to stay."

I finish reading and I'm left wishing someone actually did ask her to stay, and that I could somehow travel back to 1967 and find a way to become inhabitant number five, at least for a little while.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion