Monday, April 09, 2018

Found Installation 1: I Heard the Voices of the Angels

I decided to view the world as a great living art gallery, and things that caught my eye could considered intentional "found art" (l'arte trouvee) of the early 20th century. It is a wonderful way to view the world -- suddenly everything has more significance, and it becomes expressionist, postmodernist, conceptual art.

In 1967, earthworks artist and photographer Robert Smithson put together a series of photos which he called "A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey," in which he imagined the crumbling factories of New Jersey to be monuments. He was clearly making a critique of consumer culture, modernity, and environmentally damaging industrialization (and its aftermath in decaying obsolescence).  I have admired that work, but what I decided to do was to take it even further and include different types of accompaniments (experiential as well as critical).  It is fun to do, and I would like to encourage everyone to give it a try. This is my first.

Here's my first "found installation," which I call "I Heard the Voices of the Angels" 

Narrative Accompanying the Installation: The Homeless Passerby
And then they lifted me up.

I was seated in a chair nicely placed in the shallows of the Arkansas River, near the 11th Street Bridge in Tulsa, Oklahoma where I was fishing for catfish and the souls of the pioneers (they're hard to catch) when the trumpets sounded, the angels sang (or better yet, roared), and my hard-won body ("hard-won" because it's hard to make one's way into an incarnation of any kind, especially that of a human being, and to finally have my consciousness housed in a skin-and-bone bag has been a tremendous relief) flew out of my hands like a helium balloon caught on the heels of a late-March 55-mile-per-hour gust front.

Photo taken of the Arkansas River in Tulsa, OK near the 11th Street Bridge / photo credit: susan smith nash

I was shocked but not disappointed.

This incarnation has not been easy. To all those who see me, I'm a homeless Native American veteran who lives in basement of the burned-out synagogue near Cheyenne Street, who brings bags of Friskies cat food to the feral cats and kittens who live under the 11th Street Bridge. I'm missing quite a few teeth, and people think I'm addicted to meth, but I'm not. I never do drugs. But, I do hear the angels and I do see messages in the clouds, the wind, the currents in the river, and in the song of the Channel Cat, that great, 40-pound bottom-dwelling riparian saint, whose body takes on the plastics, heavy metal, chicken farm excrement, and fertilizer run-off of the upper Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri watershed.

Note the ridge of resistant sandstone. photo: susan smith nash
The chair warmed up in the light of the Sun. The chair suggests what was there before, but now is gone.

But once the initial intrigue has passed, and you're no longer envisioning what was in the chair and why it was there, your focus directs itself to the platform (the riverbed) and to the water's qualities -- its clarity, its current, its surface expression, with ripples, splashes, and deviations around brush, trash, and trees.

The Arkansas River levels fluctuate based on Keystone Dam flood control activity / photo credit: susan smith nash
Narrative Accompanying the Installation: The Observer
What is foregrounded is the notion of what is relatively permanent -- what stays, what persists, what lives on -- when the body that was in the chair flies up and is potentially lifted up to meet its maker (the Rapture is one possible explanatory framework). What lives on after we are gone? And, what were we in the first place anyway?  The body is the wrapper around a mind that imagines itself to be a self; a package for consciousness.

But perhaps the consciousness is not really confined to that wrapper or package (or human body).

What is also foregrounded is the notion of the edge. Notice how the chair is at the edge of a ridge of a rock formation that constitutes part of the riverbed. The riverbed consists of layers of sediment and rock formations of variable resistance to erosion. The harder layers resist erosion. The softer layers are worn away and their grains are deposited in sand bars, points, and little mid-stream islands.

A Navajo sand painter is usually a medicine man of high rank and respectability in his community. The sand painting is a work of beauty, but that’s just part of the story. The purpose of it is to train the mind and to heal the body by means of aligning energies and pleasing the gods. The different worlds are represented, including the underworld, and the notions of past, present, and future come together. The flowing water, the eroding rock, the sand grains that flow down the river to deposit themselves here, and then redeposit themselves there, are very much a living sand painting, and if we sit in the chair so close to the rock and we let ourselves become one of those sand grains, we can find ourselves taken to where Nature wants us to go. We travel. We flow. We pause to nourish ourselves while we listen, sleep, and consider what we understand as reality in our small nook of the world.

Polysemous Interpretation from the Medieval Cleric
Literal / Historical: We see the literal presence of the chair sitting in the middle of the Arkansas River in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Tropological / Metaphorical: We see the metaphorical implications, and the tension between the permanent and the ephemeral.

Allegorical: There are the existential implications, and the issues of our fundamental ontological insecurity, which has to do with how we see beingness, becomingness, and what it takes to be real.

Anagogical: Then there are the anagogical interpretations, the ones having to do with the individual's progress toward salvation (using a model from the Medieval times, the Scholastics' mindset). The afterlife is at issue here, and yet, instead of coming to this interpretation last, as one would normally do, the "I Heard the Angels" refers to the Rapture, and thus the anagogical interpretation is the first one.