Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Levitated Mass (from AOSHQ)

This was posted over at Ace of Spades back in June of 2012, and since it's about my favorite public artwork, I'm cross-posting it here. After posting yesterday, I decided to overcome my usual resistance to visit an exhibit or piece on opening day, just to further spite those of you angry at a rock being called art. Full disclosure: part of my hyping this has been a reaction to the absurdity of this on paper. The sheer cost and energy put into creating this work went beyond any adjective I can summon without grinning, though as a conservative I find it refreshing how this came to be: artist Michael Heizer found a way to get his 40-year vision off paper and, with $10 million all privately raised, onto Miracle Mile. I thought about what I would probably write, whilst making Mrs CAC her Starbucks Surprise (grain alcohol and ginger ale in a Starbucks cup for the long drive). I was probably going to focus on the positives of minimalism, on the hype, on a hundred things I didn't. Yesterday was perfect: high 70s, light breeze, and a waxing crescent moon suspended in the bright blue California sky. You couldn't ask for better weather while enjoying outdoor sculpture. Or when having an epiphany. Passing Wilshire, the plaza came into full view, along with the crowd. Surprise, even at 5:30 there were still hundreds milling about the campus. If you decide to make the trip, it is free: just enter the park entrance on 6th street and walk towards the Big Fucking Rock. You really can't miss it. Even if the ranting street lunatics try to distract you on Fairfax. Once inside the plaza the gigantic rock is hard to miss:
I seriously could not wait. I had to see it, even if the crowd of people, bicycles and dogs gathered inside and around was a bit distracting. Fun note on the dogs- while people casually streamed into the sculpture and under SMOD Jr, dogs, whether big or small, would go batshit, barking at the giant stone and making a hilarious scene. The moment where the huge mass begins to block out the sun, something interesting happens. The people staring up and walking under all stop, right at that point. Some even walk back a bit unnerved. There is something about having the normal (sunny day) obscured by the abnormal and challenging that triggers something odd in people. Call it a "this may be a stupid idea" reflex. The "maybe the panicked dog has a point" idea. I walked down the channel and under the stone snapping a good pile of images with the blackberry before I decided to just "experience" the work:
Re-approaching from the Western end, the first thing I noticed were the long shadows cast down from the deep channel and rock. It creates an effect photography can't really capture, it's purely psychological: the buttresses "supporting" the rock actually appear to shrink as you approach it. The mass itself seems to be just sitting there, and its odd edges give an illusion of movement. It appears, temporarily, to be hovering over your head. The supports themselves are obvious if you are look for them, but as I was taking in the giganto-fuck-normous boulder above me, searching around for a hint of the sky, they seemed trite and tiny.
One of two measly buttresses supporting the 680,000 lb stone
Shape of the channel also throws off perspective for size. Rock looks monstrous over the people shadowed underneath
Why? Why was this done? What was he seeing in the desert in the 1960s when he thought this project up? Why here, in an urban landscape? Snarky answers aside, I was determined to figure it out. The boulder was moved over a hundred miles on a massive rig and dropped over a concrete channel. The rock was secured in place with bolts and buttresses but appears to be just resting there precariously. When the Big One finally hits, it will likely levitate a lot less. As I'm staring at the rock above me, contemplating the why, I get distracted with the usual troubles in my mind. Debt. More debt with the wedding coming up. My father-in-law's fight with Alzheimers. Bigger problems start racing through my mind- the recession, the upcoming election, etc. The stress of the last few years has weighed on a lot of people. Getting annoyed I'm being mentally derailed while starting at granite, I began to move up the channel, out and away.
Actual moment of epiphany while wearing a stupid hat
That's it. Man has always been in awe of nature and natural forces. We seem so small compared to the bigness of everything around us. As an amateur astronomer, staring out at the Whirlpool Galaxy really brings things down to size. We can be overwhelmed by the massiveness of things we encounter and experience, but we have this sensation because unlike the rest of creation we are aware of ourselves. We have thought, and as such can make our own choices independent of what the rest of our surroundings may intend. The work is there to challenge you. The mass, dangling over you, a reminder of the countless aspects of our lives we seem to have little control over. The implication of being squished brings to mind the greatest one: death. Not a lot of choices right there in that gigantic hulking mass of indifferent nothing. But the channel is the real key to the work being successful. We move downwards to encounter the mass, to challenge it. Unlike the gigantic boulder, we can keep moving. We make the conscious choice to engage the things we may often find overwhelming. We also have the choice to beat them back and emerge with a greater sense of ourselves. The rock harkens back to the millenia-long use of stone to symbolize the eternal. I thought the press releases mentioning this were pure quackery, but it is dead right. The rock symbolizes everything we encounter that may intimidate us but which we choose to approach and deal with anyway. The Man V Nature narrative is often the David V Goliath of conflict stories. Storms, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, swarms etc all spell out a battle that seem to imply poor odds for us. But since we have conscious thought, man can, if he chooses, have the upper hand against most things. In man's conquest of his surroundings and in his personal battles, we have choices, especially when we break down what is challenging us. Their massiveness is often an illusion, the threat less grave when we actually face them. The 340 ton granite and gravity would love to squash you like a bug, but (for now), it can't. It just sits there. Less awe-inducing, and more pitiful, as visitors pose for cameras, a guy dressed like Jesus staggers around it (seriously, you had to be there), and crap art critics bloviate from under it.
So long, Sweet Megalith Of Death
Final verdict: definitely worth the trip. Beer helps too.

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