This is the day I’ve been planning for- when people are going to show up, when the Thing is going to be created. Yesterday we set everything up: the mold, the clay... Museum assistants helped me prepare, the gantry got put up, and people dropped in for a visit, stopping to chat and bringing objects for imprinting into the Shared Spaces piece. Everything ran according to plan.
My main concern is: when all of these things get done, will we end up with something interesting and meaningful, or just a kind of community “craft” project? What drove this whole project for me could be summarized: what if?
What if I could get a piece made simultaneously by people in New York and people in Georgia?
What if, in spite of each community having their own (quite different) objects selected to be in there, it was possible that instead of these objects ‘competing’ I could find a way to coordinate creation of the work so that these objects could live alongside one other as some sort of whole?
The idea would be to see the final piece with all its variety at the granular level while simultaneously seeing it all come together in a unified, balanced and comprehensive whole from afar. I’ve imagined it might give us some sort of glimpse of a new perspective, where we could reflect on our country with all its conflicts and differences, yet still see it as one cohesive, beautiful whole.
So, as always in these projects, practical matters muddled my original intent. It simply isn’t possible to move the piece anywhere while it is halfway made: my original idea of having Georgia participants to create half of the piece before bringing it home to New York to complete just won’t be possible. This is what I had imagined, but it seems this just won’t be the case - unless I had convinced a busload of New Yorkers to come with me to LaGrange! From this evolution, eventually the current model of a multi-city tour idea took root: seeking a diversity within each community, and diverse communities around the country, and hoping something similar or at least interesting would happen for each piece. Then hopefully all of these voices can be arranged into one overall exhibit, with the video of their making, on the national level.
What concerns me now has to do with depth. Will I get the depth of meaning I’ve been hoping for? Will the things people bring just be personal knick-knacks or things of personal meaning that don’t build up any deeper resonance in others? Also, will people be able to talk about their choices and objects, and do so on camera? Finally, will a diverse audience show up to participate?
So far I’ve met a number of people here, and by and large it has all been surprising- not what I had expected – different and better. Starting with my host Wes, who looks on the outside like a northerner’s concept of any random Southern good ‘ol boy, who then turns out to have committed his and his wife’s life savings to building up a high caliber collection of African-American artists’ works on paper, along with other substantive, museum-quality American works. Then there is his buddy, I’ll call him Russ – we met over bourbon at Boys Night Out up at Wes’s country house a half-hour out of town. Russ started a global company producing custom floor mats, with thousands of employees in plants around the world. He’s retired now, his son runs the business, but stays active in the community. His politics could be described as old-time-Republicanism, and he’s happy to speak like any CEO firmly and confidently about his views on illegal immigration (“lock ‘em up!”) and so forth. Except that Russ has been one of the earliest, leading figures in the legalize marijuana movement – confronting Newt Gingrich on numerous occasions, donating generously to the cause and sharing a blunt with us at night. “I told him, Dammit Newt! I am Sick and TIRED of being a criminal in my own Country! Now you get in there and talk to Reagan and get this stuff legalized!”
I’ve also met women from the local homeless shelter, teens, a vibrant and large community of Koreans (there is a big KIA plant outside of town) and people from the local colleges. “Who is LaGrange? Who isn’t?” is my whole notion of whatever cultural flavor I might find on the “Georgia/Alabama border” just another wrong-headed idea? It’s certainly different here than New York – for one thing people really like to take their time and sit and talk with each other!- but beyond that isn’t it likely to just be a community full of individuals, like anywhere else, and not something that can stand in for some New Yorker’s view of ‘a datapoint for opinions in rural America’? Still I feel it is important to be here, to see something that is not New York, and see what I can learn even if it turns out to be completely different from whatever I was expecting.
Oh, and the stillness in these woods up at Wes’s country house is exquisite!