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Archive for March, 2008

An Eva Hesse Kind of Week

Tuesday, March 11th, 2008

It is telling of my weakness that brief, punchy criticism directed towards my abilities in a none-too-important quadrant of my life can swiftly debilitate me. The specifics of the criticism were really immaterial; all I took away was a panicking sense of self-doubt, a questioning of my calling, and the impulse to cry any time someone asked me about my MA thesis.

Sometimes I have days or weeks that remind me of particular artists. I’ve had Fred Tomaselli days where everything seems like a fascinating, jubilant burst of colorful bits. I have had Kiki Smith weeks, where I am acutely aware of the aches and longings of those hurting around me. I have had Lorna Simpson days where the lingering, haunting effects of our culture’s past wrongs ask to be mourned. I’ve even had Marcel Duchamp days where life is just…wackier. (I can’t really say that I’ve ever had a Rubens day, though. I’m not sure what that would entail.)

The last five days — feeling incapable, fearful, and insubstantial — have been part of an Eva Hessa kind of week.

rope piece 1970

Working in New York through the sixties, Hesse worked both within and against the dominant minimalist aesthetic, creating works that toyed with materials and with its relationship to the viewer. Her works often projected out into the viewer’s space, blurring the demarcations between painting and sculpture, object and environment. Many of Hesse’s works, particularly in the late sixties, used new industrial – and dangerous – materials such as latex and fiberglass to create sculptural works which were powerful in their fragility. This work, Rope Piece from 1970, is a drooping, amorphous installation that evokes the body with a minimalist nod. Looped and dangling, the rope somehow still suggests a body.

My own body, while so tense from the stress of the last few days, recognizes itself here. It’s a body aware of weakness, a body on the brink of tears. My fear of others’ opinions — and thus my frequent forgetting of my freedom in Christ — can cripple me. I transpose the criticism of one area onto the substance of my very calling. Should I be in grad school? Should I be writing a thesis? Is my work meaningful? Original? Substantial? Why can’t I write a normal sentence?

With a sister in Darfur and a sister-to-be who is under great expectations, this existential crisis over my academic ability seems rather silly. To some extent, surely it is.

Yet the beautiful thing about Eva Hesse weeks is that I am also reminded of the Incarnation. The Incarnation is the Word becoming a tired, broken body. It is God being born in bloody straw, sweating as he walked, needing naps, crying bitterly. The Incarnation is the God giving dignity to particulars, saying “yes” to the importance of form and flesh and sight. The Incarnation is the reason my unsteady heart and welling fear need not paralyze me. And the Incarnation reminds me why this is my kingdom calling in the first place.

The Improbability of Spring

Tuesday, March 4th, 2008

I have a deeply conflicted relationship with seasons. As a little girl, I loved a particular children’s book that existed for the sole purpose of teaching kids seasons. Living in a seasonless climate myself, it seemed like the book was describing a fantastic, made-up world. I memorized a seasonal calendar from that book. December through February was winter, and everything was blanketed in snow and fringed with icicles. March through May was spring, with blossom-covered trees and flowers that didn’t grow in Hawaii. June through August was summer, full of green grass, sunshine, and ice cream cones. And September through November was fall, with brightly colored leaves, apples, pumpkins, and, uh, plaid skirts. I was utterly taken. When we had to draw pictures of heaven for Sunday School, I drew a sprawling landscape where each quadrant of heaven boasted a different season: snow by the pearly gates, summer by the Tree of Life, autumn by the streets of gold, and spring with a lion and lamb. Yes, I was a dedicated seasonophile.

Then, I moved to the mainland and was forced to face the sad reality that seasons are not idyllic end-to-end. On some level, that children’s book month-by-month breakdown of seasons has remained with me, and I tend towards bitterness when the weather doesn’t follow the prescribed pattern.

Take today, for instance. It is March. My childhood education taught me that March is spring. There should be chicks and daffodils and baby rabbits. And yet, in reality, today looks like this:

snowfall map
On a rational level, I can accept that months are mere guides to the fluctuating whims of seasonal weather. And yet… it’s March, and that deeply ingrained belief in seasonal order rebels. Be spring, weather, be spring! How can I “spring forward” this Sunday if there is still snow on the ground, signifying winter? How can Banana Republic cruelly show me pictures of women traipsing about in cotton skirts when I cannot step foot outdoors without a coat?

Thankfully, this is one complaint that can be easily toppled through the aesthetic delight that made me a seasonophile in the first place. It’s cold, but at least it’s pretty:


snow 2