In discussing “placeness,” we’ve been wondering: Can you have it if the thing you’re observing doesn’t exactly have “place”? What is it that’s there if there’s not really any there there? Art can be — and some great art is — ephemeral, but how about ethereal? And what is the difference, if any, between artistry and art, and what melds the two?
We’ve been tossing around these concepts for a couple of weeks now, ever since New Year’s Eve, when we went to see Philadelphia’s fireworks display over the Delaware River at Penn’s Landing.
It was an amazingly atmospheric night. There was a blue moon — the second full moon in one month — but you couldn’t tell. It had snowed lightly in the morning, leaving behind it not only the ground-masking white but also low clouds massed over the water and city like a flotilla of tethered blimps, moored to and obscuring the tops of the tallest buildings. A wet fog shape-shifted below.
What this weather pattern did was to alter the usual shocking beauty of fireworks so that they became some other thing: their bursting colors and booming sounds were both muted and contained and veiled, and we among the huge crowd saw and heard them as if they were going off inside a tent, lighting it from within. Each missile’s light was magnified and refracted by the pendent fluff.
Sometimes a launched firecracker would shoot up and keep on going beyond the cloud ceiling, bursting somewhere in that obscuring nest, backlighting the sky — and, occasionally, acting as a colored scrim for other smaller, bursting crackers in front and behind it, their spent paths like the squiggles you see when you have your eyes closed, or like the diaphanous folds and flow of the Northern Lights — then coming into bright view as it fell from the cloud back to our world. Shows within shows.
With each launch and burst, something was created, if only for a minute, the way some subatomic particles exist merely in the tracing of a millisecond. The art was the place was the moment, then it was gone, unduplicatable, alive only in memory, leaving no mark in the sky yet carving an indelible one, defining art and space, the symbiotic relationship of plan and chance, and memory as entity. And arslocii.