The Beauty of Evanescence

Last night the world went mad--again. With condolences to those who lost dear ones in Paris: Seize the moment.

This generation is obsessed with documenting--with taking the fleeting and making it permanent. This mania is not new and has, in fact, merely grown over the past few centuries with the development of the means to document: the daguerreotype, the SLR camera, its digital offspring. The 21st century explosion in social media, enabling one to share said photographs with millions within seconds, after enhancing them to one's liking through various Apps, has made it even easier to reduce each and every one of our "precious" moments into frozen bytes intended to carry on into infinity, to long outlast our relatively short life spans.

Within this perspective the appreciation of the evanescent, of those moments that appear and then immediately fade, those that cannot truly be held in place and are not there long enough to be beautified, has waned. Yet these fragments, almost accidental, elements experienced exactly as they are instead of cleaned up and polished for eventual dissemination, are precisely the ones that should be embraced and treasured, valuable on their own without having to signify any particular message, purpose or event.

Standing in the main central space of the Tate Modern in London last week I was struck by a new installation intended, exactly with this in mind, to capture the beauty of the unintended--those things we usually don't spend too much time thinking about, the ones that can't be engineered or primped into some presentable display and appear (or disappear) of their own accord. 

Abraham Cruzvillegas (b. 1968 Mexico City) has set up a project called Empty Lot in the Tate's Turbine Hall, a well-known venue for cutting edge conceptual art. At first glance it doesn’t look like much, just a large number of identical, triangular wooden bins, neatly clustered together to form a geometrically stable diamond shape—each filled with dirt. Yes, dirt. Plain old dirt. But the important information here is that each bin (and there are apparently 240 of them) is filled with dirt from one or another public space within the city of London. The plots are being tended by the staff of the museum, regularly watered, the soil shifted as necessary, but there is otherwise, no other intervention. The point is to simply wait and see (imagine that in this generation!) what, if anything, pushes its way out of the soil--what signs of life, if any, manage to take root and grow.

Standing over this installation, on the bridge that spans the Hall, I noted that yes, lo and behold, there were indeed bright green sprouts growing from several of the boxes, scraggly weeds in others, even the suggestion of wild mushroom. The secrets of the soil, or each sample of soil, could not be contained and were insistent upon asserting themselves--offering, consistently, a surprise.

What struck me about this project was how, despite the planning that went into it--its general conception, the collection of samples, the construction and design of the boxes themselves, their subsequent organization into an orderly and pleasing shape within the Hall--there was absolutely no assumption of the resultant effect. No one, not the artist, not those tending the plots and not the audience tramping through and taking a gander, could anticipate what might appear. Additionally, and not less significant, was the fact that whatever did appear was certain to be ephemeral, a bud poking through one day could disappear by the next, and most definitely wasn't engineered to extract its best side.

These boxes of dirt, with their potential to produce instants of natural, unplanned, serendipitous beauty, so clearly not intended to please or to receive any particular accolade, simply existing for the sake of existing (kudos to Snapchat) reminded me of the beauty of the fortuitous and unexpected--the splendor of that lick of flame that shoots out, bright as gold, the minute one strikes a match and, just as quickly, is gone, extinguished and replaced by a wisp of smoke offering not a hint of the brilliance it replaced.

Life rarely pauses long enough to get the 'perfect shot'--we might as well celebrate the moments in between.  With chaos abounding, bend over and smell the roses.