DATE: 2/16/2004 03:11:00 PM
We were at the Foster Gallery, finally, Stephen and I, but I'd left him briefly behind. He was still lingering in the room with the gigantic black and white print of a stitched wound on one wall and a bronze cast of a strange elfin boy with shocking glass eyes looking as though he were crawling down another.
When we arrived at the Museum that afternoon it was at least our fourth trip there together, which doesn't sound like a lot, but I know people who haven't actually been there since field trips in elementary school. They'll tell me this with a strange look on their faces when I tell them we went for a visit just this past Saturday, a look that says they're being visited by a ghost, or maybe just an uncomfortable feeling of separation from their past selves. You see, visiting the museum is something everyone thinks about doing so frequently, I think, that though they don't actually do it, the thinking amounts to nearly the same thing.
It's like exercise. Everyone feels such a guilt-ridden impetus to do it that they're as exhausted just from thinking about it as if they've run on the treadmill.
Or maybe that's just me.
But Stephen and I actually do it. Not that I take credit for this, of course, since it's mainly on his urging that we make these frequent pilgrimages to the MFA, the Museum of Science, the Symphony. Silly, strange Stephen still thinks he's in college. He still thinks he has the luxury of learning and observing beautiful things.
Or maybe I've got the wrong idea about what being a "real person" means.
So when we first got there, since it was Steve's idea to go in the first place, when he practically hopped up and down on one foot to see the creaky old opheclides in the musical instrument exhibit, I agreed. As for what I wanted to see, well...
What I wanted to see had no location. What I wanted to see was not a particular exhibit. I knew it probably wasn't a piece of Louis XIV furniture, or a clay pot from some godforsaken corner of Africa--in other words, probably not part of the permanent collection. Instead, I remembered the time we saw the traveling Edward Weston exhibit there, in the Gund Gallery, and I remembered how I walked out of it feeling like my skull had been hollowed out with a spoon.
That's what I was looking for.
And so we reached the Foster Gallery after an hour of historic clarinets and wandering through galleries like the one that's centered around the one Georgia O'Keefe the MFA owns and accidentally ending up in the Asian artifacts. Like the Gund, the Foster is a space that features an ever-changing array of contemporary exhibits, and, since the Gund was closed, was the one most likely to duplicate the effect of the Weston exhibit for me.
Because the art in the Foster is just so current. Someone is actually still alive to make money on the stuff. They are right now. Don't get me wrong. I love the Impressionists. But they are so two hundred years ago.
And as much as I admire the art of painting, photography is what gets me. Because it's not really the things we create that speak to our worth--it's what we do with what's right in front of us. How we see it. How we frame it. A photographer is a tragic hero to me. He doesn't seek to alter the reality, or even capture it--he just holds on to it for a moment. He accepts that he is not in charge.
Thus my criteria were set, and after passing over several other exhibits inside the Foster, I walked over to an installation by an MFA School graduate called Heidi Marston, and I had found it.
A series of mixed-media, mainly photographic, displays, on the topic of self-identity and inspiration. Marston's argument was that inspiration was a culmination of experience rather than a momentary experience in itself--in other words, the journey, not the destination.
But that's way too cerebral for what it did to me. I think it finally hit me that this was what I'd come to see when I got to the one that showed her hands sharpening pencils in the screw-bottoms of lightbulbs. The title was "When Inspiration Comes, I'll Be Ready."
And I thought, oh, yes, oh, yes, Thank God.
But it got even better--worse?--when I reached the one called "It's All In My Head". A vague stain of some kind of brown color for an image, overlaid with a silkscreen piece with words scrawled across it in huge pencil. The words were swimming in front of the image, blocking it out, erasing it even as they tried to describe it. And right then, rooted to that spot, I wanted to grab everyone strolling by, absolutely everyone--but especially my boyfriend, who was still somewhere behind--and point at that piece and yell, "LOOK! LOOK!!
"You want to know what it's like to be me? You want to know what it's like to live inside my head? There it is! Look at it! And you know what the real son of a bitch is of the whole thing? It's not even mine."
After that I was done. I was oversaturated and hyperstimulated. I was a monkey freaking out in front of a mirror, trying to attack its own reflection. I had entirely too many thoughts all at one time. Other exhibits would try to make me keep thinking and I'd get a terrible brain cramp; I was full. I was done. One more bite and I'd vomit. I began to resent anything beautiful.
Yes. I'm strange. But I can't be all that alone. I mean, hasn't this ever happened to you? Haven't you ever seen an image that just made you clutch the sides of your head, the better to keep it from falling off? Haven't you ever wanted to just sit down in front of something for the rest of your life, because it'd take that long just to really look at it?
Have you ever just wanted to cry?
Visit Heidi Marston's website here.