Thursday, December 13, 2012

Not the End of the World

Yesterday was 12/12/12, but it was not the end of the world. It is, however, the end of the semester, and time to take a break. By the time I return, the twelve days of Christmas will have run their course, and we shall see new things in the light of Epiphany.

 Before I go, however, I’d like to share one more artwork that I saw in Chicago last month. Our hotel was just opposite Grant Park, and every time the shuttle bus brought us back from McCormick Place, I would notice a group of tall, headless figures walking around in the grass. They looked familiar, like an acquaintance from some other part of my life that I couldn’t quite place. Finally, I decided to go find out who they were and what they were doing there.
From a distance, the figures seemed to be identical to one another, a literally faceless mass of near-humanity. As I approached, I began to realize that each one was a little different from the others—some taller, some shorter; some in groups and some alone; each facing in a different direction, aimlessly or intentionally following some secret intention. Missing both heads and hands, the eerie giants were stopped in mid-stride, as if held in an unseen force field. All were hollow when seen from the back, mere false fronts rather than solidly planted.

By the time I was among them, I was pretty sure that I knew who had made them. A glance at the plaque on a nearby stone confirmed my guess that it was Magdalena Abakanowicz, and told me that the name of the group of 106 rusty, iron folk was Agora, the word for gathering place or town square in ancient Greece. Although I had never even seen a photograph of this installation, it seemed familiar because I have been aware of Abakanowicz for many years. She began her career as a textile artist who was well known when I was a weaver in the 1970s. In those days, I admired her courage to break free from the technique-driven constraints of craft, instead  making the ugly, ungainly, yet oddly affecting installations of burlap and sisal that she called Abakans.

The walking simulacra populating the Agora seemed familiar because they were! No longer soft and unstable, relying on suspension lines hanging from the ceiling to remain upright, these hard, durable figures stand on their own two feet. However, like their ancestors the Abakans, they loom over their puny visitors, ignoring the intrusion into a realm that is at once mystical and menacing. And, like the Abakans, the inhabitants of Agora will also decay, albeit more slowly. Already covered in rust, one day they, like their textile forebears, will fall to the earth, unable to stand up to the ravages of time. For them, it will be the end of the world.

1 comment:

  1. Ah, yes, and we, too, "will fall to the earth, unable to stand up to the ravages of time. For [us], it will be the end of the world." And I hope that, in the meantime, we are not "when seen from the back, mere false fronts rather than solidly planted." I hope....