Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Who Cares?

Well, well, well...

I am surprised and amazed to say that, except for a bunch of non-essential detail-ish details, which I can work out on the spot tomorrow, I am finished with the new piece of sculpture, which I agreed to make for a show at the Wheaton Arts Museum of American Glass.  It's an exhibit of work by artists who have had residency fellowships with the Creative Glass Center of America, which operates on the same premises as Wheaton Village, and the show will be on display through the summer. And this is a Glass Weekend year, so lots of collectors and gallery owners and other artists will be around, for at least one long weekend in June.  I've titled my piece 'Best In Show'; I expect complaints and eyebrows raised so far, they go all the way down the back of the neck. 

But so what?  (I'm also planning to price the work at something like $516.27.  That should cover the material costs.  I think it might cost more to make replacement glass pieces.  I'll mull it over on the drive down tomorrow)  I'm in a kind of hopelessly reckless mood, when it comes to art and art-making -- or at least, my art and my art-making. 

Actually, I think the work has turned out better than I expected it would, although it's quite close to the mental image I'd been using as my guide.  At one point, earlier this afternoon, when the hanging glass pieces had all been installed, and tied up so they hang where they need to do, I stood back from the thing and started to cry.  That's never happened to me before, that I can remember, when I've been looking at my own work.  But the subject matter that was driving all the decisions is so bleak and profoundly sad -- and I was already kind of tired, with all the struggles I create for myself when I'm working -- that I guess it caught me by surprise, even though I've been thinking about these relationships throughout the entire assembly process.

The work started, as often happens for me, with a kind of serendipitous juxtaposition of objects.  I had two pink blown glass things, both of which had been blown into some flimsy copper restraints, and I needed to put them down someplace, for some reason, and it just so happened that there was a long low narrow metal shelf nearby, and when I lay the glass on that surface, the seeds of the work sort of automatically sprouted in my imagination.  When I got the request for something for the Wheaton show, this glass-on-a-shelf combination came to mind, and... voila!  Something horrid and unsaleable!  What's not to love?

What really sealed the deal, as it were, was discovering a long, low, rectangular plastic bin, which I'd apparently used to hold the watered-down paint with which I obsessively coat my work, so it will look old and uncared-for.  This particular color was some pinky-white, and because I've been in such a funk, creatively, the paint sat in the bin until all the water evaporated, and the remaining paint cracked, like the surface of the desert after a quick shower.  The pinky-white of this dead paint was just close enough to the pink of the glass, to set up an expectation of relationship.  So, I created one, with eight dark suspended glass forms, arranged to look as though they'd bled the material in the bin, and were either now useless, or waiting to be harvested again, in the near future.  This is the kind of thing I usually think about.

So, everything is in place.  The glass is inextricably attached to the cart.  I usually try to make things that come apart, but that takes a lot longer to accomplish, and I didn't have the time.  Plus, I kept telling myself that nothing I was doing would matter anyway...  The big challenges for tomorrow are: muscling the work up the basement stairs; getting the work into the van (which has the weirdest door configuration -- it's relatively roomy inside, but the doorways are kind of constricted.  I've measured, and I think I can get the work in through the side door, but I'm not exactly certain.  Tipping a glass-laden object seems like a bad idea, and I certainly can't tie it to the roof.  We shall see, I guess); securing the thing, once it's inside the van; and finally, getting it back out of the van, after driving for three hours.  Moving it into the museum should be easy, and it's supposed to sit on a low plinth, about 6" off the floor, so installation should be a breeze.  If nothing breaks.  Including me.

I probably should have wrapped all the glass this evening -- I'm such a procrastinator, and I always tell myself that something will take ten minutes, when I'm pretty sure I've done it before, and it always took about ten times that long.  But I didn't.  I'd hoped to leave for Millville at, oh, 7 am, but that is clearly not going to happen.  I think that, if I leave by noon at the latest, I'll be more or less okay.  I'd just like to get back tomorrow evening before dark.  This doesn't seem like so much to ask.

And now, what will seem like a digression, but really isn't.  First I'll talk about one of our cats.

Buster is our red-headed tiger-striped boy, adopted from the Morris Animal Shelter in Philadelphia.  I originally got him because our first cat, Silas, was becoming acclimated to living in South Orange, and the whole idea of having a cat in the first place, was to have company for my long lonely nights in the apartment in Philadelphia.  Well, thought I, I'll just get another cat, and take him back and forth every week.  It was going to be just that simple.

Unfortunately, Buster is not a happy traveler, and when I decided that the apartment was too expensive anyway, and that I would be better off (though not necessarily any happier) staying in a cheap motel, where at least someone would come in and make the bed every day, it became clear that Buster was going to stay in South Orange too, as a companion for Silas.  They got along famously, and still do.

But Buster isn't the brightest cat.  Even though he's lived a fairly pampered life, he still seems skittish about being picked up.  He hasn't figured out what a door is.  He can sit in my bathroom, staring at the door for minutes at a time, clearly wanting to leave, but completely flummoxed as to how this departure is to take place.  Silas, on the other hand, is quite adept at simply pushing a paw under the door, and pulling it open.  In cat terms, I guess Silas would be Isaac Newton, and Buster would be Homer Simpson.  But with better hair.

So, when every once in a while, either John or I will express some considerable frustration with a fellow human being, and express a desire to verbally accost said person, even though such a lecture would clearly have no impact, we remind each other that this would be like yelling at Buster -- because although he'd charming and lovely to look at, he seems to have the mental acuity of a paper bag.  Yelling at him would only confuse him, and be a waste of time.

The other subject I wanted to talk about, briefly, is my mother. 

While I was making this most recent piece of useless sculpture I already don't have room to store, I was thinking about my mother, and her stunning, casual neglect of, and indifference to, her own sons.  I was idly considering, as I hot-glued one thing to another, just how the trajectories of my brothers' lives, and my own, might have been different, if we had had a sense, from early on, that our existence was of any value to anyone else.  (I've always felt that, because I was the first-born, and my parents were living right above my maternal grandparents, I had a crucial four-year window of being adored, which gave me at least some resilience for what was to come later on.  I still have survivor guilt about that)  That's four sons, healthy and reasonably intelligent, about whom their mother showed no curiosity or interest, once her plot to divorce her first husband had come to fruition.  She even went so far, I have been told from a credible source, as to tell my sister that those boys she remembered playing with weren't her brothers, but were neighborhood children, and that my sister was an only child.  My sister being the credible source, in this case.

And, unlike my brothers, I've actually seen my mother, twice, in the more than fifty years since that crafty plot of hers worked to what she felt was her advantage.  The first time, she was in her mid-forties, and was still bent on using her physical charms and other wiles to get men to do what she wanted.  The second, she was in her early eighties, and refused even to make eye contact with me, or to say a word, to me, her eldest son.

But here's where the Buster connection comes in.  As I stood on that cinderblock doorstep, in front of that dingy double-wide trailer, with my mother standing in an open doorway, with the reek of cigarettes and cat urine belching out from behind her, I realized that there was nothing to say.  No information to impart.  No questions to ask.  No accusations to level.  No recriminations to lay at her poorly-shod feet.  However clinically correct any of my observations might have been, however psychologically sound the analyses of causes and effect, in which she had played so great a part, by playing no part at all, none of this would have had any impact, or most likely, would even have made any sense.  In a way, not only would any expression of any emotion, of any degree of intensity, have had no impact -- thus the Buster comparison -- but it would have been useless in the way that confronting a drunk hit-and-run driver would have no reviving effect on the victims in the wreckage.

I've gone through all this, because to a great degree, thinking about my mother was one of the 'inspirations', I guess you'd call it, for this burden I've made for myself, down in the basement.  If it's not too much of a leap, this makes me think of the way the mythic gods and goddesses always seemed to come to human beings, to make decisions, or to hand down judgements.  Weighing and balancing, and seeking justice, seems to be a core human trait.  So that, when nothing like justice seems possible, even though palpable damages have been suffered, what are we left to do?  How can we explain the scars, or the other disabilities, either to others, or to ourselves?

In Buster's case, I just open the bathroom door for him, and shake my head.  If only it were this simple, to deal with the fallout of my mother's toxic indifference.

©    2013         Walter Zimmerman 


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