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Uplifted

They’ve taken in the David Smiths for the winter, up at Storm King, and put them in storage until it’s safe to have them re-emerge in the spring, like crocuses, or tax preparers. We’ve never quite been able to figure out why so many of the sculptures up on Museum Hill disappear every year at season’s end. Does the bronze or steel of the pieces tend to crack in the area’s bitter cold, or collapse under the weight of the heavy snows? Or are they trundled off to the indoors because they are smaller and can be moved, and that it would be good if all of the works could be nestled in shelter but are simply too big to move? Not one of life’s great mysteries, but a puzzlement nonetheless.

The mystery, such as it is, was solved recently when – on a winter walk through the browned and still beautiful (indeed, perhaps, more beautiful) grounds, devoid of all humans except for our small, select group (one of the benefits of membership) – what to our wondering eyes should appear but the realization that the hilltop area is covered with trees mature enough that, when the winds barrel down from the mountains or ice storms coat everything, large and weighty branches snap and hit the ground (or David Smiths) with damaging force. Ergo, the sculpture exodus – no sense playing dice with Nature, not when fine art and millions of dollars are at stake … and, especially, when some of the stuff is merely on loan. So, off they go, to their Citizen Kane-ish warehouse, awaiting the equinox.

Which leaves the pedestals. Here and there, poking up from the beaten down grass, the concrete rectangles remain, devoid of duty, like doormen in a doorless world. In a sculpture park, as Storm King is, or in any museum or gallery, the pedestal is the most overlooked and nearly-invisible object in the place. But they also serve who squat and support; without pedestals, there’d be a lot of lopsided pieces ruined by contact with the elements, and a lot of art lovers with bad backs from bending over to look at things situated at the wrong height. The art would suffer, too, by just being plunked there – to be on a pedestal, after all, is a figure of speech indicating honor or praise or the implication of importance … all of which a lot of today’s art could use, if only to be considered adequate. Sometimes, pedestals are what make art “Art.”

But, up there, nearly alone on the semi-barren rise above Storm King’s di Suvero’d landscape, one can imagine more life to pedestals than even those functions already mentioned. One can dig deep into one’s memory and try to remember the pieces that had recently been on those pedestals, and imagine them there, seeing them, the shiny burnished surfaces, the geometric forms, ghostly, like phantom limbs. It’s a good mental exercise. Then take it to the next step: use the empty pedestals to envision your own sculpture garden, imagining works that could go on them, whether they be works you know or works you’ve made (give yourself an ego boost by seeing your art in Storm King), or even works you devise out of your own creative wisps as you stand and peer at the pedestals. And, for that moment, in that very site-specific magical moment, when site impacts you and you create art, you have an essential arslocii experience that is not only wonderful and ephemeral, but entirely personal – and, yet, no less valid or “real” than if the solid pieces were standing there before you. So much of the appreciation of art is what we make of it, our “take,” the intellectual and emotional resonances, the inner gong we strike; so why should imaginary artworks, utilizing the site and your brain, have less personal impact? They don’t extend beyond you … but, then, what does?

And, then, consider the concrete pads themselves, without any whole-cloth addenda. Fanned out across the ground, low to it, quietly making their presence known, they seemed like an artwork in and of themselves: physical, minimalist in the sense of a Donald Judd or even a Serra, as well as conceptual – a piece playing with the idea of pedestals without art, engaging us with the absurdity and opportunity to imagine. Believe me, we have seen worse things that call themselves art by big names who call themselves artists in places that call themselves art collections.

We’re not saying here that anything can be art – it can’t, although some might disagree – but that sometimes the art need not be present to appreciate and perceive the placeness inherent in an art place, and that sometimes the littlest things can be art, even unintentionally, and that when art is the thing under discussion, you the observer are in the driver’s seat. When they take in the David Smiths, it doesn’t mean that they’ve taken in your senses.

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A Year in the Life

We humans like to mark events, to placemark something meaning-filled in our circular, and sometimes repetitive, lives, giving significance to moments along the continuum. Much as a dog “scents” his physical surroundings, bipeds have a need to mark their territory in a conceptual way by choosing a date and re-acknowledging it every year; literally re-turning. We call this an anniversary. These yearly events – whether birthday, death day, the founding of an institution, the reenactment of an historic celebration or battle, or a marriage ceremony – remind us and reinforce in us a feeling of continuity and specialness in an otherwise chaotic world.

Four such anniversaries have converged this year and this month for arslocii. One is birth related, a second is relationship-based, a third is site-specific and the fourth concerns an institution’s creation. All are meaningful to us in different and yet similar ways: pairings that are related to and responsible for the raison d’etre and concept for this blog (for those astrologers amongst us, the fact that June is associated with the Twins, the constellation of Gemini, is an interesting coincidence although a loud “whoa” is not necessarily warranted here). We at arslocii are always trying to achieve perfect pairings, in an attempt to make connections between art and site. Over the year and a half that we have been writing here, we have explored many aspects of the concept, far more ideas than we originally could have fathomed. So here we go again.

Quickly, the birthday anniversary this month (a nice round year) was observed in a lovely place that had an unearthly number of constellations visible – we know Castor and Pollux were in there somewhere – so that it couldn’t have had more placeness anywhere else. That is the first instance.

The third instance (if you are counting, I skipped the second) is that the home of arslocii, the shelter that keeps our writing paper dry and our bank accounts empty, was discovered and made ours exactly 25 years ago. This anniversary reminds us of the road traveled but, mostly, of the weighted anchor that home ownership is – both the associated successes and failures – and of what these walls could tell you in the quarter century that we have been holed-up in this, our version of the American Dream. It is our relationship to this behemoth structure and the life-altering interactions with it that have paired us in eternal DNA linkage, bone to mortar.

A fourth anniversary is a 50-year one, of the founding of Storm King Art Center. This may not appear to be a personal milestone but it is. Storm King, named for the mountain that presides over it, is the most excellent of sculpture parks. The park’s very existence, as well as its presentation, is the underlying inspiration for arslocii because it “gets it” about pairings. And it made us “get it,” too, because its original concept of matching sculpture and site is a definer for placeness. It has caused us to be put into a position of trying to explain the inexplicable. Storm King illustrates, so seemingly naturally, what we seek out. We realize that their result took incredible foresight and planning, not to mention vision, to achieve it. Its magic is in the way it looks as if it had happened spontaneously, as in a random toss of pick-up sticks or, perhaps, emerging as Athena full blown from the head of Zeus.

“Nature and culture in harmony, you see, Lizzy,” Mr. Gardiner observes from his carriage tour in the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice, speaking to his niece about the landscape of Derbyshire that they are traveling through. “Wildness and artifice, and all in the one perfect county.” “Storm King” could easily be substituted for “county.”

The second and final anniversary (and these are not in any kind of hierarchical order) is the one that caused the most significant pairing – the meeting and marriage of the authors. On the very same date that they met, four years later, they were wed. So, depending on which anniversary is being counted, the numbers are 34 or 30, but it is always both for us. Arslocii. This particular advantageous connection is the underpinning for much love, oodles of discussion and experience, a few disagreements and some creative output. However, this placeness relationship is slightly out of the ordinary: not just art and site, but heart and sight. We just hope it lasts, since there is way more to be discovered and learned, and we were dumb as mud when we commenced this journey. Luckily, we still find placeness in each other, together.

Happy anniversaries.

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