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Placeness in the Heart

heart-vintageanatomyThe heart, the ancients believed, was the seat of all emotion. We modern, rational beings know better; science tells us that it is the brain that processes stimuli, rallies the chemical and electrical resources and gives the body its marching orders. When something frightens us, saddens us, moves us – when we see a loved one, when we spy an enemy, when music or drama touches us in the most intellectual or primal of ways – it is the brain that’s behind it all, juicing the system. It is natural that the heart would have been pre-science’s candidate for the center of feelings, because that is where we tend to most noticeably feel them: in the rapid rhythm of fight or flight, in the skipped beat born of beauty and desire.

And yet … no matter how many studies prove the brain’s preeminence, we – who, like candies, have a hard nut of the primitive tucked inside our coating of rationality, always ready to get stuck in our scientific teeth – refuse to fully believe it. It is to the displaced, status-lowered heart that we turn to explain ourselves. We can be heartsick, an important action is heartfelt, when we are courageous we have heart, or are urged to build courage by taking heart (and, conversely, when we are cowardly or have little faith, we have lost heart or are disheartened); at sad news we come with a heavy heart, when love ends we are heartbroken, with good news we are heartened, joy plays a song in our heart, it is heartily that we grab the gusto, and heartlessly we steal it from others …

broken

And on, and so forth. Science tells us that the heart has nothing to do with these adjectives and adverbs – but just try to replace “heart” with “brain” and see how thuddingly it falls from the lips. “Brainfelt”? “You gotta have brain”? “I come with a heavy brain”? No, don’t think so.

brain

Granted, the brain as Numero Uno is the product of scientific principles that have been around for far fewer years than the centuries, the millennia in which beliefs and superstitions about the capabilities of the heart have existed. Moreover, the brain just doesn’t have the romantic aura that the heart possesses. The brain is the Rodney Dangerfield of major organs – it gets no respect. It’s dull – compared to the kinetic heart, the brain just sits there and does perceptibly nothing, a spongy mass that might as well not be there for all we are aware of it – and, of course, that’s its fault, since it is what allows us to have awareness at all. (To add insult to injury, the most cataclysmic of brain ills – a stroke – is erroneously thought by many people to be something to do with the heart, so much so that medical popularizers have tried to rename it in the public mind as a “brain attack.”) We have a likeable, instantly recognizable, stylized cartoon-version, Be My Valentine drawing of the heart – there is no such vernacular illustration for the brain. (Indeed, we have Valentine’s Day, a celebration of the loving heart; no such brain day exists, unless we’re talking about the College Boards.) The brain struggles for identity because, though it sits, synapses sparking and leaping mere millimeters behind the sensory inlets of our eyes, nose, mouth and ears, we ignore and devalue its powerful and necessary contribution to our very being and believe that we are creatures of the “mind” – something we deem as being different and removed from the brain.

The brain, in other words, lacks placeness. The heart is lousy with it – it is, in our minds,  the place. Some of that is because we can feel it, and we can see it causing our chest to rise and fall; it is the first machine within us that we become aware of, and, when it is time for us to end, it has the final word. Moreover, the heart’s placeness has much to do with its actual place, its location – right smack dab in the middle of our body, upfront and vulnerable. The brain is, though right here in our head, tucked away somewhere within a protective shell. In earlier arslocii essays, we spoke about how placeness is a partner with empathy; oddly, though empathy is a function of brain plus experience plus genetics, we rarely think of the brain as an empathetic force or repository, but rather as a cold, analytical mechanism – it is the blood-pumping device called the heart that we see as the font of empathy. And let us not overlook the Hallmark Card-ish sentiment that  within “heart” is “art.”

If we are to be modern and rational adherents to the scientific method, we must and should find it not difficult to embrace the notion that the brain rules. But so long as we retain the basic animal in us, so long as mystery and imagination and metaphor are part of what we are, so long as we know that we do not know, so long as we know that science is wonderful but imperfect and sometimes blindered – so long as all these contingencies exist, and so long as we humans see the heart the way we want to see it, then maybe there is something to it, maybe there is some sort of spiritual autonomy and power that resides in the heart. Maybe we’ve been able to intuit that, sense it, a certain something that science will one day catch up with. Maybe we’ll learn that in some ways the brain takes its orders from the heart, not vice versa – that the heart is not just a dumb pump but something that has a brain, too. Maybe poetry is right; wouldn’t that be nice? Paraphrasing the words of the current pope, who is the brain to judge?

heart-in-hands

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Art Among Art

Although it can be unfair to compare a small museum’s sculpture garden to a full-blown sculpture park, arslocii holds them both up to the same standards using the same  magnifying glass. We have been to some of the big outdoor-sculpture venues, as well as some of the diminutive ones; and we are fond of any size open-air gallery where the art’s placement is considered and complemented.

This week we visited the Delaware Art Museum, in Wilmington. First (and Delaware is the first state), let’s say that the museum itself is situated in a rather stately neighborhood. Placeness already. The Copeland Sculpture Garden is a slip of land behind the broad-lawned and broad museum building. At first glance the landscape seemed too shallow and uniform to allow any sort of interaction of art and site to occur. Walking through the main entrance and out the glass-walled back, across a large terrace and into the “yard” made me think that this was a private home with garden art. Maybe it once was.

Crying Giant

The difference is that what is immediately in your face is Tom Otterness’ “Crying Giant.” It is huge, 13 feet tall, resembling a cartoon version of Rodin’s “Thinker,” but is maybe a more accurate depiction of modern man. The piece is a cluster of geometric solids that has tendril arms and legs, and Mickey Mouse hands and feet. It leans head-in-hands, dunce cap on head, with painful swollen feet and seated on a large cube. For a series of balloon shapes, it is filled with angst, both comic and sad. Is it sad about the state of art? I was moved by its powerful simplicity, but then I wondered … about its placeness. Well, on one level, if it is pondering art then it is filled with arslocii. But then it is reflected so well in an all-glass modern gallery wing of the museum – a sort of looking glass for the angst of modern man. Also, when catching a glimpse of it through the connector bridge between old museum and new, it is handily framed by the architecture, making it appear much diminished and, perhaps, even more sympathetic.

framed view

Down a wooded path is an interesting piece by William Freeland, “Irish Pastoral VII,” a minimalist hard edged factory made of rock and steel that felt like a tombstone. Behind it and hidden below grade is an old reservoir structure, a circular pit with stone walls that looks like a train-engine turnabout. Maybe that is because it is now a labyrinth, a spiral made of gravel and stone. That day it was set up for a wedding event and, although empty of guests, it was filled with placeness by what it was and is.

Another interesting work is Robert Stackhouse’s “Delaware Passage,” a rigorously fashioned structure of square metal tubes looking, all at once, like a railroad bridge, a brise soleil, a roof, a dock and a teepee. It plays with perspective, as it is short but endless. It is a striking piece but its placement doesn’t do it any favors.

Delaware Passage

But what is this? Three large craters encircled by hedges of holly. This Copeland Sculpture Garden is not a collection in which one would expect to find earthworks, but here they are. Only … what they are, in actuality, are functional drainage pits/fields. There are cascading rocks, having been intentionally (and well) placed that lead to large cast cement cubes guarded by iron grates at the bottom of the craters. They are modern and primitive, compelling and mysterious in that they are hidden by the shrubbery. But they are beautifully rendered works that are so integrated into the environment – because, unlike most of the pieces here, they are interacting with the environment. They are of the environment and, though not “art” in its narrow definition, should be considered part of the collection.

drain field

drain house

Placeness is a funny thing. Sometimes you can gather together things that artists make and which are intentional works of art – and sometimes they can be very good representatives of the form – and they do nothing for you or to you or with you; they do not gain from the setting nor add to it, they do not relate to it in any way nor to the other pieces scattered about, all seemingly with the same purpose – display; all this despite the best efforts of art professionals to show off the work and make something of the place. And then, sometimes, something that is neither created to be a work of art nor is considered to be such – in fact, is hardly considered at all, except as a workaday intruder in the garden – can have such power or attraction or even a compellingly formal nature that it not only challenges your conception of the art and its definition, but makes the o better and the place perfectly contains it, as if it were prepared thoughtfully to do so. A rocky sluice designed to channel water runoff away from the art and into a drain can, somehow, wonderfully, become the centerpiece of the sculpture array – a questioning of the need for intention as a component of art. Arslocii can materialize from something functional as well as something artful, being the product of one or both at the same time. It just happens, and just is. Arslocii.

reflected view

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Artless City

There is an art to cities – in the way they are planned, in the way they are built, in the manner in which they develop both intentionally and organically, in the way they respond to unexpected internal and external forces, in the way they confront and respond to age, in the way in which the residents live their lives in relation to these urban plans, changes and vagaries. Some cities become fine works of art, others do not; some become both, consecutively, alternately, moving forward or backward, often repeatedly so, as the fates, citizenry and city fathers allow. The art-ness of cities is fluid, and can vary from block to block, decade to decade, administration to administration.

It is hard to tell if Philadelphia is a work of art now, on the way up or the way down. For the most part, its central core has seen much construction and advance, and especially impressive and comforting growth of those things that attract tourists, young people and empty nesters: music, theater, museums and galleries, restaurants and shopping. It benefits from the great number of single-family homes and apartments right in the heart of the Center City area and immediate in-city surrounding neighborhoods; it is a place that never has suffered that deadness of a downtown that empties after work hours. There seem to be a lot of bars and bistros feeding off the disposable income or the credit-card debt of hordes of twenty- and thirtysomethings, as well as Boomers and expense-accounters.

It is also a city of staggering poverty, of disturbing and frequent violent crime, of acres of empty lots and decrepit housing in rundown sections out of sight of the more bustling and cosmopolitan center. There is the natural tension where the two worlds of Philadelphia – the poor and the better-off – meet, along borders, in rapidly gentrifying areas, pushing the edge of the inner edge city, where abandoned factories and remarkably cheap housing entice artists and pioneers and the brave, threatening the turf and tax bills of the longtimers. There are also places in the downtown area where that poverty and decline pop up and encamp, as a sort of movable blight, creating surprising and dismaying stage sets in a kind of street-theater conceptual art that lacks aesthetics but instead is deadly serious doings. Market Street is one of those stretches.

1900

As one could safely guess, Market Street – or what has now been labeled as Market East – has been a commercial corridor at least from the time of Philadelphia’s earliest settlers, as their ships docked along the Delaware River shore and unloaded merchandise, which was then distributed on carts and in shops popping up and moving westward from the water, following the spreading population. Within living memory, the seven blocks of Market between 7th Street and City Hall were home to seven department stores, as well as dozens of shops of all sorts. Market was never the fanciest shopping street – parts of Walnut were more high-tone, sections of Locust were oddly exclusive – but it drew customers, and it was a family strolling street, going from Wanamaker’s to Snellenburg’s, Gimbel’s to Lit’s, Howard’s to Robinson’s, and to Strawbridge & Clothier. It was a street of rites of passage and city lore: here is where hundreds of thousands of Philadelphians went to see Santa, where they had their first grown-up restaurant meal, where they would go to the Grand Court at Wanamaker’s and hear the daily pipe-organ concerts and meet at the Eagle. It was more than a shopping street, or a destination – it was the stage set, a place of memories and where one became part of the great continuity that is city life.

market-street

Starting around the Sixties, Market Street began to change noticeably. The better stores disappeared, to be filled with t-shirt and sneaker shops, and low-end retail; whole rows of stores were demolished to make way for office buildings and parking garages. Lately a convention hotel has been built, and a landmark high rise has been converted into a hotel, as well. Stores vanished when the idea for an in-town mall came to fruition, and the Gallery – appropriately named, in this discussion about art and the city – like malls everywhere, became a big-box magnet and category killer. There are amenities for tourists and conventioneers, but not many.

And where once there were seven department stores, now there is one. It has gone through three name changes and, as a Macy’s, no longer has any hometown lineage, and except for the organ and eagle, no local DNA. Snellenburg’s died and departed long ago, as did Robinson’s and Howard’s; Gimbel’s has been a street-level parking lot for decades, and the site of dashed developers’ dreams for just as long. Strawbridge’s and Lit’s have been converted into office buildings, with a smattering of retail at ground level.

For one who works in one of those buildings and who exits onto Market Street five days a week when the sun is similarly making its exit, the art of the city is difficult to interpret, and certainly to appreciate. The street surface is filthy, foul odors emanate from a sewer system overtaxed by the flushings of shoulder-to-shoulder multi-story buildings, a deadening darkness pervades the streetscape as shops – those that are not vacant – close early or roll down their metal grates over the windows of their unlighted businesses. It is by no means “Blade Runner” but it is a vista that resonates with several layers of failure and many more layers of tolerance for what should be intolerable.

stores

So much for the set ­- now for the actors. A walk up Market Street more and more seems like a stroll down a byway in a third-world country, with the lame and beggars lined up, trying to snag some change from passing tourists and dayworkers headed home. These are people in dire shape and straits, and they are not to be ignored; but, not too long ago, there was a campaign by a local group with the poster tag-line, “The more you give change, the more things stay the same,” and that is the philosophy we follow. But we all play our roles: they ask, we politely decline, and that’s that. Some passersby behave as if these people do not exist, not acknowledging their presence. Very few of us actually give, and these are often visitors from other countries. But there is almost a dance of request and rejection, and both sides know their lines and, really, know how the scene will end. Indeed, some of the panhandlers ask for things – a dime for a meal, a quarter for coffee or a bus ticket – that are so patently ridiculous on the face of them that they are bound to lead to the failure that is predetermined even if their “pitch” were better. But there is, in that walk up Market, an element of danger, of some fear, of the possibility of a confrontation or an accusation, and then violence.

homeless

Market Street, once a benign place of commerce – not the city’s liveliest, or best, but certainly one of its most solid – has become emblematic of a changing urban “theater,” one we no longer wish to be in the audience of. We all, in the city, put up with too much to get what we think we need. When one no longer gets that, nor gets it in a way that is satisfactory – when one realizes that there is no reason to put up with so much unpleasantness, that one no longer wants to take it anymore, that what we believed to be the city’s placeness is mutated or gone completely – then it is time to say that this city as art is no longer to our taste, and that it’s time to direct our gaze elsewhere.

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Harvesting a Home

fitting d into omEveryone makes moves in their lives, and, in a mobile society, changes in their living accommodations. There was, at one point, a period in my life when I made a series of seven moves in eight years – relocations that made me a citizen of four different states, and they weren’t all contiguous. Ultimately, I ended up buying a house in one of them. Well, not really a house – yet.

It was originally a house (built in 1873) turned into an office building nearly a hundred years later, and then turned back into a house once more – by me. Not your typical house, though. Rather, a strange hybrid of a house and an art piece. Arslocii, indeed. As it stood, it was contained space and not much more. Everything that makes it a house of note now is a result of my direct response to its houselessness and the denuded nature of is office-ness: beige walls, beige floors, fluorescent tubes and stark, detail-less spaces. It was so nondescript that I felt a mandate, an imperative, to take it as far from blandness as was possible. Far over to the other side.

Twenty-seven years later, it is as unique and one-off as the nest of an Australian Bowerbird: an assemblage of found objects meant to attract the eye … in his case, of a mate. My mission was to embellish the place to find its soul, or to restore it. In many respects, it was like building a stage set about houseness, or my dream version of what it could be, put into a tangible form – and on the cheap. It progressed naturally, building one project upon another, and finding my own place in the creation of the form. Whatever complex layering resulted, it reflected the multidimensional layerings of me as an artist and a human being. My house and I are one, difficult to separate. But separate we must.

For, after years of unrest and unsettling neighborhood events, a culmination of disillusionment and dissociation, it became clear that this house is not in a good place – not for me anyway. And that there is another location that can potentially create placeness for now and for the future. And it is hundreds of miles from this house. I have found another house there, in this new place, and it is nothing like the one I helped to create here. Nothing at all.

My dilemma now is in trying to salvage what I worked half a lifetime to build, and to attempt to fit it into and onto another house that is so completely different from this one: sort of made from scratch and customized into an artistic assemblage. The only thing the two might have in common is that the new one, although not stripped of detail, has such indistinct or poorly rendered detail that it, too, is open to interpretation. Plus, this second one is much smaller. In the new structure, the struggle will be one of physical matter more so than conceptual matter; bringing forth a challenge of material limitations rather than cognitive ones.

I liken it to building a first prototype of a robot – a kind of manufactured living thing – an endeavor that is successful, but nearly three decades later, it is sadly stuck in its time and limited by its creation date. In other words, stuck in its place. The urge is to make it again, an updated version using some of the same parts and more hindsight. As a second generation, it will have recognizable traits, but it will move beyond the original exercise, becoming a more integrated whole. That is the hope, anyway, for this experimental house-innards transplant process. As I harvest the very seeds that I planted a generation ago, will both patients survive? Will I? Who will end up the monster, the creator or the created?

The doors, the lighting, some walls and even floors are going to find their way to this new home. It is an organ harvest, house to house; taking the essence away from the original and re-creating a revised version. The staging is terrifying, the removal and replacement are difficult to imagine, let alone orchestrate. I think about it every day, this square peg fitting into a smaller hole. Can a cathedral be scaled down to fit within a parish chapel? I have three or four notebooks filled with measurements, ideas, lists and questions. Can placeness result; that is, true placeness? The best of one combined with a better place could achieve the desired end. Wish me luck.

in the box

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Moving On

doorwayWe are leaving a place and we are happy to be doing so, and it’s about time.

We won’t deny that some happiness happened in this place, even some life-changing occurrences and decisions.

But this has been, for the most part, a place of violence and brutality, of anger and low blows and big blows and blowhards, of racism and condoned mean-spiritedness, a place of disruption and dishonesty, disappointment and dashed dreams, a place where nearly every hint of optimism has been undermined by self-serving actions and arrogant entitlement.

And, so, we are eager to turn our backs on this place ­– this year called 2012 – and open the door to the next place, known as 2013.

But such places of time have a way of lingering; we can expect the scent of 2012 to continue to waft into the freshly painted rooms of 2013. Just when you think 2013 is going to be a new and different dwelling place, that will be a note from 2012 being slipped under the door. And don’t pick up that ringing phone ­–  it’s a robocall from down the hall.

We can hope that 2013 will be rich in arslocii. But most places are just places like other places, and the only art is what you bring to it.

But keep your eyes open, and your heart, as well, because the most potent moments of discovering placeness often happen when you least expect them, and just a few can make a year a place you’ll want to revisit from time to time.

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Nesters, Empty and Otherwise

Consider the robin.

It is, at least in these parts, common, ubiquitous and typical, except for that famous red underbelly. It is small, and it weighs only a few ounces, except, maybe, for those chunky, bulbous redbreasts you see every now and then who look like they’ve traded in their diet of invertebrates for a Krispy Kremes binge.

 

It is not awe-inspiring to view a robin, the way it is to spy an eagle or a hawk, but it is always nice to see one on your lawn – it means that spring must be near, or that summer’s still with us, and that the ground must be nicely worm-aerated. More snazzy than a sparrow, less showy than a cardinal, it’s a fine avian neighbor, and an urban pleasure.

But, now, consider the robin’s nest.

We’ve had the opportunity to do so recently. Here’s a photo of one of them:

Beyond its surface beauty, it is perfect, not only as an object but for its function; a human craftsperson would kill to be able to blend together all the disparate twigs and string and mud and end up with a gorgeous basket of such lovely proportions of width to length to depth while creating the illusion of smoothness and motion. And robins do it without hands – you go and try making one of these with just a beak and a couple of three-toed feet. And then, once the raison d’etre for the whole shebang – little robins – are hatched and all have flown away, this awe-inspiring bit of work is abandoned, left only for us to admire, and for the elements to ultimately disassemble. Place created, place appreciated, place left for discovery, place left to mutate and disappear. Arslocii.

But – and here begins the questions-without-answers portion of today’s sermon – is it art? If the robin has not entered into this project with the thought of creating a work of art – and, to complicate matters, we don’t know that it hasn’t, but let’s say it hasn’t – can it be classified as a work of art, as much as it seems to us to be art? Is intention a necessary element of art? Or is the determination up to the perceiver alone? Is a spider’s web art? If not art, then “artful”? Or does there have to be intent for something to be “artful”? (And, then again, of course, we can’t know that the spider isn’t loaded with intent, and even artistic analysis.)

Then, we have to ask: Does it matter? Does it really matter to anyone but an artist who needs identification and validation and aggrandizement, that what has been created is art? Does the robin make its nest for ego strokes, or to attain the title of “artist”? Unlikely. So, then, another question: Why does the robin do what it does? Making a nest is certainly hardwired into its massively interesting and complex little brain, but making such a perfect one, and one so beauteous? What is gained if it is perfect? What is lost if it is not? Does the robin even know that its nest has beauty; did it even have the desire to make it so? Does “art” and “art-making” play any part in the life of a robin, or a bee, or a cat? And, of course, that submerges us into the definitional discussion of “art.” Let’s not forget: To 99.9 percent of the creatures who live on this planet, the Mona Lisa is something to crawl over or chew on – it is only to us humans, one of whom painted it, that it is something called “art,” and something called “representational,” and something we hold in a value known as “esteem.” History is always written by the winners, and “art” is defined by the dominant species.

So, let’s agree: the robin does what it has to do, and we look at it and say it is beautiful and art. But: Is there anything we humans have to do – not want to do, or like to do, but need to do – that we call “art”? On first glance, the answer would be “no.” Most of us go through life doing nothing that could be seen as art-making; for most of us, art is something we perceive, not conceive, if indeed we even perceive. Most of us don’t seem to have the time, or the inclination, to make art, or even to go to look at it, or to know it when we see it; art isn’t what we’re after, but rather distraction. As someone once said, “Anything will make us look, but art will make us see.” Truth is, most people just look, and don’t care to or want to or know how to or even know that they have the capacity to see.

On second glance, though, it seems clear that we humans are just as hardwired to create as are the other creatures on this planet, of whom we are a small part. From the start, it has been a need to draw. The cave paintings are evidence of that. And, after recently seeing the wonderful documentary “Playing for Change,” it seems clear to us that making musical sound is something that we are meant to do; we hum, we manipulate objects to produce tones and rhythms and subsonic vibrations – some will say that that is the most basic hardwired “art-making” we do, and maybe they are right: babies sing, after all. But performance seems something strong within us – go to just about any part of this country, perhaps the world, and wherever there is a settlement of moderate size or larger, the people there will have established a theater group, so that they can combine all those other arts – painting sets, singing show tunes – and also find themselves by pretending to be somebody else.

But maybe all these urges are simply subsets of what seems to be a human narrative imperative. That what it all is, really, is the need to tell our story, personal and cultural, through whatever natural or near-natural means we can. To produce something that says we were here, see what we are, and who we are, and what we can do. And, now that we’ve put it out there, and left it behind, it’s yours to do with what you want – live in it and with it, or appreciate it, or let it be. What’s hatched has flown away, leaving behind shards of our inspiration, and placeness, and magic.

 

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Picture Perfect

The searing heat has abated a bit, but it is still summer-warm and sunburn-bright around here, and just down the hill they – the noisy kids, the sulky-surly and conspiratorial teens, the plus-size families – continue dunking and diving at the swimming hole in the millstream, and it is, in all senses of the term, “picture perfect.”

This spot has been drawing people to it since there have been people in these parts, and for the past century it has been more than merely a place to cool off in lieu of a public pool – it is the site of a rite of passage. Your formative years have not been properly spent if, at some time during them, you and your friends (or, if lucky, this year’s current forever love) did not come here as soon as school was out, sneaking away from parents or chores or summer jobs to spend some time there in daylight and, even better, starlight. It is a place where history, tradition, memories and community flow and converge into something akin to a work of art.

In terms of American iconography, this is a picture-perfect place. How much more like 1950s Mayberry, or, say, mid-19th century Hannibal, Mo., could this spot be, resisting, as it does, the passage of time and the vicissitudes of persistently decaying civilities in the United States of the early 21st century? Swimmin’ hole, playin’ hookey, the first stirrings of the power of the body and sexuality; an experience unadorned by modern conveniences or technology or even supervision, and yet all peaceful and harmonious: the stream rushing and hissing ceaselessly down from the mountain and splashing over and between rocks, forming pools of varying depths, and around them shelves of stone, flat and layered and bleached by the sun, on which bathers lounge, or gather to exchange intimacies, or show off for the person they wish to impress.

But, even more, and easily in keeping with the scope of our explorations here – arslocii, placeness as art – the millstream scene is picture perfect because it is straight out of a picture, or as if it were set up and readied to be made into one. The quality of the light, the way the figures compose themselves on the perches, the way muscled skin looks doused by the pure water, the dappling of light as it passes through the trees lining the waterway – as you stand on the bridge road overlooking the spot, it is impossible not to think that you’ve seen this all before: in a fine work by an Impressionist painter, like Cezanne, or in a painting by Thomas Eakins (which, except for the nudity and homoerotic overlay, is nearly a dead ringer for what you see in the stream on any given overheated day).

Life and art and place have rarely so picture-perfectly meshed. Which came first: the painting or life? Which engendered the other? When the painting and the reality have equal existential weight, which is the more real? Which is the more art? Does art define the place, or vice versa?

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