I recently emerged from several years at one of the oldest, yet one of the most unconventional art schools in the country. One cannot help but broaden an awareness of art after seeing the panoply of expression that occurs in the incubator that is art school: A video shows a man peeing into his own mouth. A woman shows a video of herself having sex with her sculpture. A woman tears up a plant from a garden on her way to school and throws it onto the floor of our classroom as her final project. A man fashions a jock strap so that his exposed testicles hang perilously close to the barbed wire he is crawling under.
Ok, yes, besides the shocking and irreverent art, there are, of course, many instances of exquisite beauty and poetic creativity rendered by students: A meditative video on light hitting dust as it snows down through blackness. A woman wailing operatically as she kneels in an expanse of crimson sand. A watercolor painting that captures the poetic outline of a shovel being buried by snow.
A few years ago, we discovered an alternative route that bypasses a congested four-way stop in our coastal town. Along that route is a row of working class homes, occupied by older, long-time residents. In the middle of the block, there are two homes that face each other, each overflowing with their seemingly competing morass of lawn sculptures — two opposing yards teeming with inflatables, whirly-gigs, flags, sculptures, lights and signs. We like to call them the clutter sisters, though it seems the men of each household are intrinsically involved with the displays.
At first, our interest in the clutter sisters’ yards stemmed from the incredulity of their buying, storing, and rotating the hundreds of knick-knacks on exhibit. Then we wondered about the neighborly relationship between the two: Do they vie with each other on their expressions? Or are they collaborative? What happens if they perchance acquire the same lawn totem? Who started displaying first?
And it was today, on this most balmy of oceanside evenings when we passed the regalia of Halloween emblems such as fake tombstones, ghost and witch icons, and other plastic-y orange and black thingies, that an appreciative wave overcame us. The clutter sisters, in their undying lawn decoration management, are acknowledging the profoundly temporal and impermanent nature of being, a reverence for community ritual in our increasingly individualized world.
In describing Gadamer’s notion of festival, which repeats every year yet is differently performed and experienced every year, the philosopher Grondin notes: “A festival always celebrates the enduring in the perishing, but in such a way that the enduring as well as the perishing are contemplated at the same time. The festival always marks a self-collecting of time over itself, a wish to retain the moment, which we also know does not allow itself to be held. So every festival contains a consciousness of human frailty. Every festive joy, yes, every joy, is perhaps the other side of an inexpressible, unutterable.”
From an institution that would like to say it is communicating and defining contemporary art practice, the greatest gift I received therein was the openness cultivated in me to be moved, transformed even, by the most mundane yet passionate collection of Walgreens holiday-aisle, “human” expressions.
Today’s Advice: “The play of art does not lie in the artwork that stands in front of us, but lies in the fact that one is touched by a proposition, an address, an experience, which so captures us that we can only play along.” Jean Grondin on Hans-Georg Gadamer