I have been culture observing…not really having plans this weekend, so I looked at a very interesting exhibit yesterday at Carnegie Museum of Art—that of a woman named Iris Van Herpen who designs “couture” that aligns the body with technology and the environment. It’s hard to explain—involves couture that expresses this relationship– with the natural world, with electricity, with new technology such as 3D printed objects.
I like to look hard at things, so I’ll go back to look at it again. When I lived in Maine, I was always struck by the decline of our apprehension of nature. This artwork made me think of how the body–which seems increasingly a commodity, like everything else–also is usually depicted as utterly divorced from nature.
It’s an entirely different world from that of my mother (born 1910) where she and her sisters slept three to a bed, got chilblains and saw classmates die from the flu or other infectious diseases. Where there was no entertainment except playing outside on city streets filled with industrial smoke or on the steep wooded hillside that I also explored as a girl.
From the Von Herpen exhibit I accidentally visited the “interactional” gallery and got curmudgeonly; I love to look at art and never read instructional cards or listen to tapes unless I decide they are necessary. I am not that interested in mediation of experience, which now seems a cultural norm.
Alas, the exhibit involved people coming up to remind you to engage in the activities they had designed for you. I left immediately. At my age I regularly disobey rules, at least in the artistic life. In fact I muttered a bit and noticed the security guard glancing at me.
“Swell,” I thought, “Now I’m going to get arrested at a museum for being conformist.”
The same multimedia approach was evident in the native American exhibit I fled to—of the Inuit. I know this bows to cultural (or should I say “customer”) realities, but as I was looking at these tiny, exquisite Inuit carvings—of birds, seals, etc., it was hard to concentrate because of the loud videos.
It’s ironic that these objects were created in stillness. Recently I saw similar carvings, in Florida of all places, and accompanying them was an Inuit poem about silence, which I think is food for thought. Excessive and constant noise–lack of silence–is one of the spiritual ills afflicting our culture of distraction.
These media extravaganzas remind me of something I read in the new travel memoir by Andrew Solomon, Far and Away—of the tremendous creativity evidenced by artists in other cultures he has visited. These we in the US often think of as impoverished or repressive, but artistic fearlessness can emerge precisely because of deprivation, invisibility, silencing. This realization is wondrous to me, because Solomon was writing about Soviet artists (and others) of whom I had never heard, who create remarkable work.
How Noisy They Seem
By Alootook Ipellie
I saw a picture today, in the pages of a book.
It spoke of many memories of when I was still a child:
Snow covered the ground,
And the rocky hills were cold and gray with frost.
The sun was shining from the west,
And the shadows were dark against the whiteness of the
hardened snow.My body felt a chill
Looking at two Inuit boys playing with their sleigh,
For the fur of their hoods was frosted under their chins,
From their breathing.
In the distance, I could see at least three dog teams going away,
But I didn’t know where they were going,
For it was only a photo.
I thought to myself that they were probably going hunting,
To where they would surely find some seals basking on the ice.
Seeing these things made me feel good inside,
And I was happy that I could still see the hidden beauty of the
And know the feeling of silence.