Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Yorkshire Sculpture Park comes to Yellow Bird

Some of those who gathered at YB on Sunday to chat with Peter Murray about Art in the Landscape. Guests included: T.K.Davis (Civic Design Center, Nashville @ Architecture, UT Knoxville), Hanjörg and Gisella Goritz (Architecture, UT Knoxville), Michael Baggarly (Sculpture, MTSU), Mark Scala (Frist), Joseph Mella (VU Fine Arts Gallery), Jochen Wierich (Cheekwood), Gregg Horowitz (VU, Philosophy), Jonathan Neufeld (VU, Philosophy), Joe Prince (Woodbury), Christine Haase (German Studies, UGA). Stephen Tepper (VU Curb Center) and Mel Zeigler (VU Art Department) caught up with Peter Murray at his public talk at the Frist on the Monday.

A year ago when I bought The Lodge, I knew it could function as a reception center, and all-weather space of welcome. And so it proved on Sunday when some 15 quests truned out to talk with Peter Murray about his Yorkshire Scilpture Park, and about public art more generally.Peter and Christine had arrived at lunch, having driven from Atlanta the previous day, spending the night in Chattanooga. T.K.Davis drove down from Knoxville, as well as Hansjörg and Gisella Goritz in their white 1972 Porsche. The weather was perfect. We walked the main tracks - Jay had bush-hogged them the previous day - though I was painfully aware how little of the estate people got to see. You can take a quick walk around in about an hour, but with all the trails now open, and bit of lingering here and there, the complete circuit would take 3-4 hours easily. The full experience would include the Peace Circle, the bamboo groves, the mossy rocks, Tree House Ridge, the South Field, the watercress waterfall, Look Out Ridge, the cedar field, the Kiss, and Spring Hollow.

We set up our 'seminar table' on the deck, and a slow fan, though it was only late April! After a while, Mark Scala, getting us down to business, asked me how I conceived of YB sculpture park, and I presented the big picture - cabins for writers and artists, summer residencies for sculptors, an annual 6 week fall show, and educational sessions for kids. There was general admiration for the barn, and enthusiasm for converting it into a gallery space. Clearly too the sauna must be finished, as that will be quite a draw, both for the sheer pleasure, and for its cobby architectural interest. TK pressed the idea of a competition to design and build 8x8 cabins to encourage student and underemployed local architects to come up with innovative designs. These could be built offsite, then hauled in on a trailer. Peter Murray was insistent on not acquiring permanent work one might regret. YSP does lots of temporary exhbitions; this looks like the way to go - perhaps keeping good pieces for a year.

It is easy to think of wood and stone as the obviously available local material, guiding the kind of art that will happen here. But as soon as one begins to think 'conceptually' things really open up. This place, as with many others, is layered with time and history (incl. geological) in so many ways that could be celebrated or explored artistically, with or without limiting oneself to local materials (we have a 'local' scrap yard).

Applying for 501(c)3 (nonprofit) status will help move us forward. All agreed on the next stage - defining the specific focus of YB, and putting in place the ingredients that will 'let it happen' - cabin, barn-gallery, and funding. Institutional ties (formal and informal) to Nashville Metro Arts (?), to Cannon County Arts Center, to Cheekwood, to Vanderbilt (Fine Arts Gallery, Art Department), to MTSU, and to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park will all help.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

More on the rabbit trickster

[lifted from http://paganismwicca]

Western European Symbolism
Rabbit (Coinean) and Hare (Gèarr) are symbols of fertility, intuition, rebirth, promise, fulfillment, and balance. He is the Goddess’ creature and represents the Moon, night and dawn. is also associated with abundance, rebirth and release and is symbolic of the ‘tween times, dawn and dusk. Their motions were used for divination. They’re also associated with transformation, receiving esoteric knowledge and intuitive messages.

The Celts believed they brought luck and keeping a part of the animal, usually the foot, attracted good fortune. It was also believed that the foot protected people against evil. Rabbit is a symbol of Easter and Ostara.

Native American
Rabbit, like Coyote, Raven and Crow, is considered trickster by some Native American tribes. Nanabozho or Manabozho, Great Hare, is a powerful figure found in some stories. Nanabozho is a hero, creator of the earth, supporter of humans, bringer of fire and light, and teacher of the sacred rituals. In others he’s a clown, a thief, or a sly predator, an amoral animal dancing on the boundary between the positive and negative.

To some tribes he’s known as Fear Caller because he brings whatever he fears most to himself. He’ll see Coyote and will tell him to stay away because he’s afraid of him. When Coyote doesn’t hear, Rabbit calls louder and louder until coyote notices, then preys on him.

Other Cultures’ Folklore
* Western African American: Perhaps the best known is Br’er Rabbit, recorded by Joel Chandler Harris, narrated by fictional Uncle Remus. The slaves mixed their rabbit tales with those of local Native American tribes. Br’er got himself into all sorts of problems, but, being clever, he could talk his way of his troubles.
* West Africa: Many tribes, have lore about a Hare trickster who is equally rascal, clown, and hero. In one, Moon sends Hare, her messenger, to earth to give humans the gift of immortality. Hare gets things mixed up, giving them mortality instead.
* Cajuns: Had a trickster rabbit, Compare Lapin, who was akin to Br’er Rabbit.
* India: The Panchatantra fables portray Hare as a clever trickster whose adversaries were Elephant and Lion.
* Tibet: Trickster Hare outsmarts Tiger.
* Japan: Hare is sly, clownish, and mischievous.
* Chinese: A rabbit's foot is associated with prosperity, hope, fertility, abundance and good weather.

But while as a child I sided with Peter Rabbit, now I am increasingly sympathetic to the position of Mr McGregor.

Flying rabbits

I have almost completed the 7' deer fence around the garden. Today I looked out the window and saw three horses, five deer and one turkey grazing the big pasture, just the other side of the new fence. I think I can keep the deer out. But I had not thought about turkeys. And then there are rabbits. The top part of the fence is 2" mesh, but the main sturdy lower part is about 6". This should keep out the flying rabbits, but the traditional ground loving sort will saunter through. Can I really bring myself to hope that Berzerker will take them out as baby bunnies for breakfast? Can I spray coyote urine around the perimeter? Does the Coop sell coyote urine? Do I really want to resort to trickery and deception to keep out unwanted critters? Kant says we should not beat a dog because it would hurt its owner, or perhaps corrupt an onlooker. We might be encouraging a cruelty that might later be inflicted on humans. Could not the same be said of trickery? Indeed there are ads for pheromones that would make one irresistible to the opposite sex. Isn't that on a continuum with coyote urine? And is not perfume already playing this game? So what is the difference between allurement and deception? Is it like white lies and lies of a darker shade? And what IS a white lie - is it an untruth told in one's own interest? Or one that is insignificant? Is it better to deceive rabbits, or to use a narrow mesh fence buried in the ground? And all of this leaves aside the question of whether I should not be sharing my crop with Peter Rabbit, or Bambi, or any of the other wild creatures. Why is this not an occasion for Derrida's infinite hospitality? I suspect that sadly there is a small truth hidden inside contractarianism - that some sort of agreed reciprocity is possible with humans, but not with the other-than-human, and that this sets important frameworks for exchange. Infinite hospitality would prescribe generosity to the point of bankruptcy and the subsequent inability to be generous. 'Good fences make good neighbors' may all be about maintaining the conditions for generosity! In the case of my garden, while access to it might give local critters dietary variation, it would give them a lot less satisfaction than it would cause me suffering. Would they really enjoy the Amish heirloominess of those tomatoes?

Addendum. With all this talk of tricking rabbits by spraying coyote-pee, I had entirely forgotten how intimately rabbits are already associated (LIKE COYOTES!!!) with trickery (and probably fences are important too). For example, there is a book *Tio Conejo (Uncle Rabbit) and Other Latin American Trickster Tales*, by Olga Loya. Here is the blurb:
"In folktales, the trickster can be the wise one or the fool, the one who fools or the one who is fooled. That is why children of all ages enjoy hearing these tales. The psychology of childhood is pretty much the same everywhere, giving these enjoyable stories universal appeal. In these four tales, told in Spanish and English, the trickster takes animal form: a monkey, an opossum, a dog, and a rabbit."

Saturday, April 18, 2009

No Hunting! One Exception

Easter egg hunt: making memories

Sartre once said that there are no real adventures, that adventures are ways in which we (re)construct the past.* That’s a bit of an exaggeration. I have two memories of easter egg hunts – one at a vicarage garden party when I was a child, and the other as a grown-up on an estate in Scotland. I remember them both, but especially the first, as events, as adventures. They were exciting social events, with people swirling around, but they were also solitary quests, trying to anticipate what someone else would think a good hiding place, as experienced burglars do with house keys concealed in the garden.

The weather could not have been better. After deadly tornadoes nearby the previous weekend, and heavy rain, the skies cleared for us, and we had a bright sunny day. I had devised a combo egg scavenger hunt and treasure trail. The scavenger hunt would be for kids, and not stray too far from the house. There would be chocolate eggs, and plastic eggs filled with candy. And the treasure hunt would send teams of people two in two directions around a figure of eight trail, crossing in the airstream trailer in the middle with a bottle of wine and glasses laid out on the table. There would also be a shorter trail for late-comers, leading to a buried pot of gold. In all cases there were a series of clues (39 in all), and gifts scattered around the clue sites, in crevices in trees, handing from branches, loosely covered on the ground etc. But as Robbie Burns told us, “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley.” I should not have told people in advance that they might meet in the Airstream because when they got lost, they headed there, generating something like a short-circuit, even carrying away the wine as a prize. And I had not anticipated that it would only be necessary for one team to row out to the floating Picasso-like yellow swan on the lake and read the clue. Others could simply tag along with those who had returned to shore. Of course the obsessive trail-designer wants people to follow each and every segment of the trail in the right order. So I was grateful to Zach for finding the pot of gold in the gulch at the very end. It was with mixed feelings that next day I discovered still lodged in a cedar tree a bottle of champagne, a small bottle of Chateau Yellow Bird Cabernet Sauvignon, 2010 (“Bottled in the imagination”). I had won my very own prize, like a dog who discovers in the Spring a bone he had forgotten he had buried in the Fall. The next treasure hunt will be slightly different, based on the potluck principle, and the public cashing in of coupons hidden on the trail for (hopefully seriously interesting) items brought by the participants.

The pot-luck part of this event was the food. Somehow, and without planning, there was exactly the right amount, and balance. And it was delicious.

Easter is a time of resurrection. And it seems the ticks got resurrected too after a winter of inactivity. It is said that the best way of ridding a pond of leeches is to invite a class of young kids to swim in the pond, and they will walk away as leech-magnets. I did not intend such a strategy in this case, but I understand that many ticks did get a ride home with my 30 guests. We should have sprayed, but the ticks had successfully staged a surprise spring offensive. Catherine found six, and was still counting. Luckily they are more creepy than dangerous.

* (Re: Sartre, above) It’s true we may not know until later how things will turn out, and sometimes do not label as such what we will subsequently call an adventure, but uncertainty about how things will turn out is a lived experience.