Friday, August 16, 2013

Mildred’s Lane and The Order of the Third Bird

Betsy Huete

Mildred’s Lane is a living sculpture, archive and museum, artist residency, and pedagogical experiment coordinated by artists J. Morgan Puett and Mark Dion and located in Beach Lake, PA. It’s a site that brings in various visiting artists that lead projects throughout the year, but mostly in the summer.

I had the pleasure of attending a week-long workshop this past week called "The Order of the Third Bird." Highlights include, but are not limited to: dancing under a meteor shower, Mark Ruffalo helping me light a candle, and watching a deer from ten feet away eat an entire apple in one bite.

As a newly inducted Bird, I am beholden to a certain amount of secrecy, but I can say that it involves a ritualized, sustained attention to objects made to looked at (usually works of art). The following are my accounts of each practice. (Anything in my journals alluding to ritual, however,  has been redacted.)

Deer at Mildred’s Lane

August 6

Originally saw a statue of a woman’s head, previously completely wrapped in a yellow scarf. Scarf withdrawn, neck bathed in yellow fabric. Standing on wrought iron table.

My goal was to disassemble assumptions regarding the work, like its link to classical sculpture. Instead, simply understand and assess as an object. Actually, trying to undo what I understood it to be as a representation of a woman. Kept seeing the head though…I re-assembled the head in conjunction with the cloth and the table. It formed an awkward being…a seemingly top-heavy structure. I also reincorporated the structure as a component of its immediate environment—linking color and form together. Yellow of cloth linking to yellow of flowers, dilapidated head linking to rusty/decayed objects in the immediate landscape.

I undid my understanding of it as representation, as a woman. I deconstructed it as an art object, setting the stage to try to understand it as a valid object worth engaging. When I deconstructed it, removing its artfulness, I began to look at the surface. I saw breaks in the surface, but not in the actual material. This showed a capturing of action, a recreation of passing time. I also saw on the object actual markings that appeared unintentional, like dirt and scratches. These were actual, in the moment markings of time. In rethinking of it as an art object, I see it as something that holds real and perceived markings of time.

At Puett’s studio. These are collector’s edition pieces of canvas mold that came from the walls of the Mildred’s Lane exhibition at MoMA last fall.

August 7

I came in and saw a brown woman’s ass, bent over, ready to take it doggy style. Except her ass was also the color of the icing of a chocolate donut, and the texture had the same consistency. Her butt was covered in sprinkles, and she appeared to be trapped in the side of the mountain. Really her butt was sticking out of a small pile of rocks, but the lighting on the side of the rocks was majestic, making everything feel out of scale. The small pile seemed huge, and the woman’s ass seemed normal and giant at the same time.

The angle I settled on was a profile, so I was less engaged with the work as half an ass and more its form. I also began to think of the previous woman, and all the empathy it needed and how I felt none. I thought this was much more deserving of empathy—after all, this poor woman is crunched, ass-out, in a mountain. But I didn’t feel empathy, I felt enthralled and a little disgusted. The form seemed confrontational, as if it was barking to me, “I’m fine!” when obviously she wasn’t. The form was in and out of place, variously echoing and rejecting the landscape with its neon sprinkles. It also seemed like the mountains were spewing this globular thing, and it was on the way of oozing out.

I thought instead of the woman being trapped, what if she grew mountainous armor and top-heavily collapsed forward with her ass in the air? What would happen if I did feel sorry for it? I even feel sorry for referring to “it” when I should say “her.” The empathy is pretty agonizing in that case—it must be absolutely humiliating to be standing with your ass hanging in the air and some asshole adorned sprinkles all over it. I also thought about the total form being a rejection of this place. While it was bathed in a warm mid-afternoon sunlight, it seemed like it should reside under fluorescents. After a while I just listened to the rain and forgot about the work altogether.

I wasn’t sure what had changed at firs, but it sincerely seemed like it didn’t want me to feel sorry for it. Then everything suddenly felt wildly optimistic. The form seemed pregnant and about to give birth.

This is the pathway leading from the barn to Dion’s Memento Mori

August 8 (part I)

Everything felt ominous and really anxious. There was a playful attitude about the work, but it was as if it knew it was fake and being obvious about it.

When you’re trying to hear something, an attempt is made to drown out your other senses. Like when you’re talking on the phone, you aren’t really paying attention to where you’re looking, but inevitably your eyes fall on something. After a while I noticed my eyes were falling on the same thing, which was a hole in the floor. And I became interested in the problem, or maybe not problem of sustained attention of two senses. As I was listening I became interested in why I settled on that hole. Slipping away? Escaping to another side? Finding comfort? And I was interested not only in the relationship between sound and object, but also the issues surrounding the value system of what we choose to look at and why.

The first at least third of the piece is very ambient, which triggered me to turn around and face the landscape. My motive was to think of the sound work as just another part of the environment, like the birds chirping, wind blowing, etc. So I just looked out and tried to let that happen. I started thinking about the sound drawing lines, delineating edges of trees and hills. Also I thought about how all these things can’t talk and the implications of not having a voice. But then I thought that they do talk all the time, that it’s just not a language we speak in particular.

I closed my eyes and stopped trying. I sat there, not trying, and everything became very bodily for me. The music turned my body into flowing water at one point, it made me want to vomit at another, and then it turned me into a hairbrush.

Side view of Puett’s house, early morning

August 8 (part II)

Walking in felt like a deeply interior space. I was more drawn to the humming of the projector. The projector and the silence of the video somehow made me feel like I needed, or really wanted, to be watching this by myself.

I started counting her movements, but ended at “two.” I was accidentally counting one and two to the rhythm of her movement. I also noticed the intonation of my voice changing with each movement, like a failed attempt at binary code. This made me think of decoding language through movement and vice versa.

I headed to the projector and listened to the sound of the projector. My 1’s and 2’s turned into onnnnne’s and twwwwwwwo’s that were really just following my breathing. Then I started listening more deeply and heard these rapid stutterings, so I followed that. 1212121212 and so on…but it was too quick to keep up with and I failed. So I stopped doing that and just listened. Turns out there were multiple layers in the sound…humming, vibrating—all kinds of vibrations.

I asked the piece what it needed, and it told me it needed to be consumed. So I did that. Normally I feel very uncomfortable as a voyeur of any kind, but I reveled in it this time. Every movement that seemed provocative in the slightest I let feel sexual, anything trite I let it feel dumb, anything frustrated I let it be so. It made me horny and visually hungry.

Stairwell inside Puett’s home

August 9 (part I)

I encountered a dramatic unveiling of the barn window to reveal a landscape. Immediately, I felt a sense of competition among planes. First there was the 2D plane of the light/window, there 2D plane of the white circle, there were the competing pillars acting as interventions, and there was the depth of the landscape.

The angle in which I settled did not allow me to view the intended object, and decided that was ok. So I let my eyes course through the various planes I did see, and started viewing everything from the vantage point of pure form rather than representation. Everything became a geometric abstraction—the angle of the roof, the rafters, the meeting of hillside to sky. I began to look at the sky. It looked like gray milk. It looked really opaque.

Then I put all of my focus into that singular object in an attempt to drown out the landscape. I stuck my head through the window, breaking that plane as well. I noticed how the rain soaked through the fabric, creating a palimpsest of the table.

I stepped back into, vaguely into, my original spot, I gave everything equal weight and noticed how censors were just made.

The Mildred’s Lane library

August 9 (part II)

The house seemed carefully curated, like it was consciously dilapidated.

I stood in front of the house, looking back at it. I was standing in the rain, and at first it felt really nice. As it rained harder and harder, I began to reconsider. Then it started to rain absurdly hard—I almost jumped onto the porch when it occurred to me that, after all, the house is getting rained on like this too, so I might as well stay out there. I began looking at the porch and some of its wooden supports, noticing that some had been replaced more recently than others. And I thought about the rain rinsing off things from the house. It was like the house was fighting itself, like it couldn’t decide if it wanted to erode or keep itself together, like a patchwork quilt.

Since I had faced the house and purposely endured what it was enduring, I came up onto the porch and faced out. I just let myself feel the comfort of being sheltered. As I was looking out, it occurred to me that this is probably fun for trees because it’s their dinner. The leaves looked really green, and they were bouncing all around because of the raindrops.

I needed to learn more about endurance. So I went back into the rain and looked at things that are better at enduring than houses or myself. I looked a while at the trees and overall landscape, and it seemed that they are better at endurance because they are quiet and accept violence.

View from the best reading chair in the entire world


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