Saturday, March 24, 2012

As One Thing Leads to Another...

A very quiet day, spent mostly waiting for the rain.  Which seems to be taking its sweet time getting here.  And me with a lawn full of grass seed and fertilizer...

I've been quite unproductive today, really.  All I managed to do was to finish my submission for a writing challenge that John pointed out to me recently.  The parameters: the judges have provided an opening sentence, which must be used verbatim in all entries.  And no entry can exceed 600 words in length.  The opening words (eating up 17 of the scant 600 allowed): She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door.

I tend to love things like this, for some reason.  Maybe it's the puzzle aspect of it.  And the competition too.  But mostly, an exercise like this makes me think of site-specific sculpture -- something that is made for a particular place, and no other. 

I've done a number of such works -- either for exhibits which allowed me the latitude to install wherever I needed to, or for shows in galleries with odd, non-negotiable architectural challenges.  In Rochester, years ago, I was in a themed show 'Gravity', and chose to make a work that wrapped itself around a narrow, dry-wall encased steel support beam in the middle of the room.  I made a vertical construction out of the top of an old restaurant coat rack, filled it with five plastic 'cushions', and then totally encased everything in another zippered plastic shroud.  There was a small black fixture that attached up near the ceiling, around the corner from this large, dead-looking contraption, and connected to it with an ugly-looking length of black wiring.  I was careful to make this thing look as integrated as possible into the space, and was delighted to learn, late in the run of the exhibit, that a viewing couple had been overheard arguing about whether they were 'supposed' to look at this thing or not.  He felt sure that it was sculpture, while she was equally certain that it was just part of the air conditioning system with the cover off.  Ah, success.

I also built a site-specific work, for my part of a group show at the Firehouse Gallery, in Burlington VT, some time ago.  (Well, at least it was in this century...) The curators were kind enough to send me floor plans of the space, and indicated where they thought my work might fit best.  I chose a short wall, opposite the entry door, and constructed three 13' tall copper towers, with slanted shelves bearing paired glass 'pods', joined together by heavy tubing, and held in place on the towers only tentatively.  I backed this floor-to-ceiling installation with a big piece of drop-cloth plastic, was stained with paint and shellac from building everything in the first place.  Finally, I used three galvanized welder's shields -- small, hinged three-sided screens I bought at a salvage yard years ago.  These sat on the floor, one in front of each tower, as though protecting either the viewer or whatever it was they were looking at, or both.  Again, my goal was to so inhabit the space, that people coming in might think that a wall had been temporarily removed, and the inner workings of the building had been revealed, to be covered over again as soon as possible.  My favorite reported response to this work, though, was from a group of six-year-olds, who were in the building for a regular after-school art program.  On seeing what I'd displayed, one boy loudly expressed his admiration for the big collection of 'dinosaur brains'.  Out of the mouths of babes, indeed.

(A wry aside about this exhibit: while gathering prospective artists for this show, the curators meant to look up work by Walter Lieberman, noted for painting on glass, and Jeff Zimmerman, whose blown glass work is decidedly cleaner and more 'scientific' than my own.  But in a glass-centric Spoonerism, they ended up contacting... me!  When I heard about this conflation of identities, I was so amazed that I insisted that the curators -- both charming, intelligent women, by the way -- repeat this at least three times, in front of witnesses.  Another amazing coincidence in this opportunity, was that, next to my installed work, was a set of wall-mounted cast glass and steel pieces by Pamina Traylor, who was the other half of our graduating 1994 MFA class in glassblowing, from RIT.  Small world alert!)

But, back to the story, and that lead-in sentence.  At first, I got a distinct mental picture, of a woman in Elizabethan dress, walking through the door, and hearing the muffled exhalation of a roomful of courtiers bowing all at once at her approach.  A sea of lush, black-clad backs before her, with here and there, in the back, the curious upturned face of one of the lesser nobles, daring to get a first glimpse of the new Majesty.  After an hour of ceremony and petition, the Queen signals that she is ready to leave.  As she reaches the door, she murmurs to the two guards posted there, "Kill them.  All."  And in the anteroom, leaning on the table, and gripping that book, she listens to the cries of horror and pleading, until there is only the sound of a few footfalls, and one or two gasps.  A guard knocks, then enters, spattered with gore.  "It is finished, Majesty."
"Very good," she says, seemingly startled at the amount of blood, and then looking down at the book again.  "Now, here is what you will do next."
 The next day but one, that great hall was hung, floor to ceiling, with the unwashed garments of those who had died there.  All royal business is done in their presence.  On the anniversary of the slaughter, the windows were blackened, and the Queen sat in the room alone, fasting. 

Blah blah blah.  Then some stuff about how she falls in love, but something stupid happens.  Unrequited/power struggle/the usual.  Blah blah blah.  (Or as much blahing as 600 words will allow)

Then, she's dying, and without issue.   A distant cousin has been sent for, as next in succession.  She is certain she won't live to see him arrive.  Propped up in her bed, she calls for the book, and pen and ink.  Unsteadily, she opens the volume, and feels a lurch at seeing her beloved father's handwriting again. Turning to his last entry, she pauses, then dips her pen into the well.  She crosses out one word, with a single pen stroke, and writes in another.  She surveys her work.  'Trust no one' now reads 'Trust some one.'  She leans back against the pillows.  They make the muffled exhalation of a roomful of courtiers, bowing...

Anyway, that's what I first thought of, but it seemed so very Bette Davis/Errol Flynn that I couldn't seriously consider it as an entry.  So, I picked another scenario.  It has blood in it too.

If anything comes of it, I'll let you know.  I may even add it here, once the official deadline is past, and stuff.  Sometimes I think I'm the stupidest person alive.

©    2012             Walter Zimmerman        

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