Art in Odd Places
I was excited about my assignment to experience art for my essay. However, the story was thirty miles from my house and tragically far from my couch. But I reminded myself the hardest part is showing up, so I grabbed my husband and brought my attitude along and we headed to downtown Orlando to visit Art in Odd Places.
I was expecting a craft show of sorts, or perhaps an audacious banner that read: Art in Odd Places HERE. I was all set to do my craft-show walk, a hands-in-pockets, hip-swaying amble, while I “experienced art” and avoided eye contact with people trying to get me to “buy art.” Instead I was greeted by the smell of downtown, a mixture of urine, bodies and exhaust fumes — and an empty street.
Continuing to walk down the street, my first art experience was accidental. I wasn’t even sure that what I was witnessing was part of the art show. I joined a small crowd at the mouth of an alleyway, where six men were standing near tables and avoiding eye contact. The crowd seemed to be waiting for something to begin, so I waited, too. One of the men began caressing a set of wooden wind chimes while the others paid him no mind. In approximately two-minute increments, each of the men added their own obscure instrument sound. It felt contrived and I leaned over and whispered to my husband, “This is dumb.” Critical musings from the girl who played the triangle in grade-school music class.
I moved on and maintained the expectation that the art was going to happen to me. Perhaps I took too literally the notion that I was to “write about my experience” instead of letting an experience unfold. I’m an accidental victim of our 4G, downloadable, gimme-gimme culture. Gimme life in 140 characters, gimme a news feed. Make it easy and make it quick. Surely, this art show was no different. Do something for me. After all, I’m a writer and I have information to gather. I have to sum you up and slay you with my words. But on this Friday night my arrogance was tamed.
Art in Odd Places was a scavenger hunt of sorts with humble, talented art sprinkled along the street waiting to be discovered. It took me a while to realize this, but when I noticed the hands, everything changed.
They were intricately carved and sprouting from large PVC pipes all along the street; each pair different, but the same; each pair pointing, or teasing, or coaxing me down the street. “Follow me,” they said. And I did. And they led me along from artist to artist.
I could tell you about the individual art pieces I saw, but I’d be missing the point. This show wasn’t about how the art was made, but how it was displayed. As a writer, there is ego attached to my craft. There is a sense of pride that comes along with seeing your byline next to your body of work. In fact, there are laws in place to make sure you always see this and get that ego boost. Many people have a reverence for writers, for those who can string words together in a rhythmic dance. As such, writers can be rather full of themselves. At least, newbies like me are. Seeing this art displayed randomly throughout the street, without business cards or screaming bylines or boastful artists, was humbling. This art was subtle, mature, and sensual. It quieted my ever-processing mind and made me feel. This art didn’t come into a room saying “Here I am!” Instead it said, “I’m here if you want to find me.”
Along the way I saw a woman knitting. She sat in a rocking chair and knitted, which by itself isn’t very artistic, but this was different. There was a speaker attached to her knitting needles which produced an amplified and reverberated sound. Swish-swish click! The sound was reminiscent of a Doppler heartbeat, except this heartbeat was slow. It was dying. Each beat seemed like it was the last: a grim representation of a life slipping away. I watched this woman as she rocked in her chair and felt a new appreciation for her craft. It was as though she was knitting her life experience. Hers was a scarf of wisdom and pain and acceptance.
At the end of the street my husband and I came upon a colorfully painted seesaw. A barrel was attached to the fulcrum and as the seesaw moved up and down the barrel turned and tinkled wind chimes. “Make music with a friend,” the sign read. I gave my husband a questioning look and he smiled at me and said, “Yes.” I mounted first, holding my skirt down and wincing a bit as the wood cut into my thighs. Laughter bubbled up inside me as I waited for my husband to climb on. Then suddenly, whoosh! I was flying up, up, up and I was eight years old again and giggling and holding on tight. The ground rushed toward me before I took off again for the sky. I was exhilarated and scared and trusting of my partner – don’t drop me! Flying and falling and pain and music, this seesaw was childhood all over again. I felt the excitement and the rush and the ups and downs of youth and the cutting pain of growing up. I felt love for the man who always says yes to life. For a brief moment we were the art. I felt a happy rebellion for being odd in art places. I felt. It wasn’t contrived. This art made me feel and that’s the best kind of art there is.