Saturday, July 11, 2009

Wo der Unbekannte thronet

I've been thinking about Andy Goldsworthy today. It started when I admired my friend Aleph's pants and we started talking about outlet malls that we have known and loved. You see? The banal has its place. When I sang my paean to the Woodberry outlet mall in New York and said we used to stop there on the way back from Storm King, I then had to explain Storm King, which led to pulling up a picture of one of the coolest things I have ever seen: Andy's wall. I explained that it was dry-stone masonry, and so not only is it visually and compositionally spectacular, but a technical masterpiece as well.

Looking at the picture, Aleph said: "It's funny to think that if people two hundred years ago saw this thing, they'd be baffled that someone would build something so pointless." I looked again and tried to figure out what I wanted to say. I told Aleph that... I THINK that anyone looking at that wall - from space, from history, from childhood, from a position of utter ignorance about art - IF they understood that it was made by the hand of man (and the Goldsworthy stuff does have kind of an unfortunate possibly-constructed-by-fairies thing to it), that viewer would understand that the person who built that wall wanted to see a stone wall snaking through the woods and disappearing into the pond, and there was no stone wall snaking through the woods and disappearing into the pond, and so that person built that stone wall. So that he could see it.

I've been in a position to explain art too many times. (Not that Aleph needed me to explain anything - no. It's just that it's so difficult to do, I have to start from scratch and explain art to myself every now and then.) I don't like trying to explain art, because I have very little faith in my ability to do it, and because it's likely that I am wrong. But sometimes it's unavoidable. Sometimes I have to review a book about art for kids, and I have to compare the author's explanation to the way I understand art. Makes my head hurt.

Or sometimes somebody will ask something like, "Magdalena Abakanowicz what? How Magdalena Abakanowicz? And why?" and I kind of get sucked into answering. I'm a librarian - we answer questions. And I really do understand not understanding. Like, it took me a while to understand the composition of music. In fact, it basically took Immortal Beloved for me to understand the composition of music. I never understood that these crazy music-writing fuckers hear music in their heads, and would like to hear that music with their ears, so they write the music. Philip Glass also helped me understand that. You never heard anything like Philip Glass before Philip Glass started writing music, and apparently Philip Glass never did either, and he wanted to. And Koyaanisqatsi. Watching that movie, you can imagine the filmmaker looking at traffic and imagining what it would look like sped up, slowed down, pulsed, given rhythm and meaning. So then he did it. So that he could see it.

In other examples: Frank Miller and Geof Darrow wanted to see a picture of a man stopping a car with his foot:

This guy wanted to see a woman's head turned into a flower:

Yinka Shonibare needs to see Africa's relationship to European culture expressed through the medium of my dining room curtains. I love Yinka Shonibare.

How to Blow up Two Heads at Once (Ladies), 2006

Here's another one, because I love Yinka Shonibare so much:

Three Graces, 2001

But I would really like to meet the person who needed to see this chair:

I would like to kick him in the shin.