Art does not organize parties, nor is it the servant or colleague of power. Rather, the work of art becomes a political force simply through the faithful representation of the spirit. It is a political act to create an image of the self or of the collective.
Also see George Orwell on art and politics.
Theresa Himmer creates fun sequin art
A history of the sky
There is a woman who thought that reckless abandon was what one felt when one was really living. She thought if she could get just a little deeper in, farther from places she knew, she would maybe loose herself. She would be alive then—that’s what she imagined would happen. She thought if she didn’t plan anything, continued to be where she was never expected, it was bound to happen.
There were many ways she practiced this, a cold beer often started small moments, but this day she was somewhere else. Traveling let her be this way. She had just been climbing the steps of an ancient temple, lost itself too in the rerouting of roads and things. The day was sunny and the bus on which she traveled stopped at an intersection. It was the only intersection. To the south had been a few mud-brick houses, and to the north was a market. Along with the toddler in green overalls teetering though pots and pans and the tan farmer selling various packets of seeds, the woman had seen the butcher with several large carcasses warming in late morning heat. She had imagined the street before, but without the meat. These places were so different where she was from, but that was why she was there. To make it permanent she stopped at the man under the small red tarp, pointed, nodded, gestured, and had a bite of what one in another place might call a corn dog.
After two more hours on the bus, she got off once again. There were mounds of hay filling the miniature blue truck in front of the entrance to the temple. The temple, she never knew what it was called or who it was built for, was on the edge of a cliff eroded by water millenniums ago. Below the edge, carved into the dirt, were homes. They reminded her of ones she’d seen on the same sort of day in Cappadocia when every sight was new and the road was long.
This was the fourth temple of the day, but this one was older. The others had been filled with monks in mustard and crimson robes, brown hobbits, and stone gray cloaks, shuffling as expected. Each one reminded her of movie sets, the gray cloaks were particularly sci-fi with their asymmetry and mock necks. This one was quiet and near no others, the road wrapped around it like an elbow’s nook. There she had turned the corner onto a precious plot with a hot hot fuchsia and a bee shimmying and dancing its way across the petals. It was an ancient dance she had studied, seen on other endless summer days—the sight had always taken her to a place so sweet. When she was young she had helped her father cut honey comb with a hot knife after causing all the bees to disappear with bellows of smoke, their buzz drunk on that sweet amber. The thought lasted as long as the bee floated around the magenta petals, and was finally disturbed with the mumbles from the group of American students with which she was touring. She saw herself in the wrinkle free pants and the comfortable walking sandals, camera swinging around her chest, saddened somewhat by her foreignness.
Every time she got back on the bus she felt anxiety. She was in a bus, touring the remote land and forms of China. This time she gave up even trying to figure out where she was—it was a country whose reaches seemed endless. Moving from historical site to historical site had shown her beautiful things, buildings, people, but she wasn’t getting where she wanted. She had traveled much, but never distances this far. She loved the ride though, the distances from the window, the distances to get there, the road and its gifts.
Lunch was way past due and the driver was worried the passengers would not make the planned stop. She and her traveling companions were certain they were nowhere. Hours had been spent moving in-between small villages and open fields. Each town on the tour route, making itself open to the economic possibilities tourism seemed to afford, had a place for foreigners to eat. Food prepared to the liking of German, French, and American flavor profiles was the assumed goal. This was never good, never. But it was late, the light in the sky was shining through the dust in the air as it does when the the evening approaches. The streets of the town were empty.
It was new, the town. She felt it immediately when they drove in. She gave it ten years. Everything had the signs, the use of a short time revealed in the flimsy, overnight construction. The wear on flashy materials that were designed to last for no ones lifetime. Mainly it was the blocks, the blocks of housing that were too high to be for such a small place. Globalization and its swift transformation. She had learned about this from a handsome Czech professor and been seduced by his romantic ideals. The truth was much more overwhelming and puzzling.
The cold cuts of what was translated as donkey meat were expected, so was the scrambled egg and tomato soup; the cold beer and the hot water were a combination that she had come to enjoy, private rooms with large round tables for the sharing of dishes were a given; smiling waiters and excessively decorated spaces were a sign of welcome, but the rhythm that was piped out of the speakers and into the barren streets was of a dream.
There we only two reasons the song was on repeat: It was the only English music and it was intended to provide a sense of comfort, or it was one of only a few songs that came with the jukebox. There was a slight chance that it was the owner’s favorite, but hospitality never worked like that in China. She was the only one in the group who recognized it. She had heard it first sung by Steve Earl and Emmy Lou, then Sublime, and at that time, which has been frozen in her memory, by a popular 70’s group know as as the Melodians. It was a song of freedom.
The first time she heard it that afternoon was when she descended the bus steps onto the street, directed by the tour guide to go under the multicolored plastic flags, pass the fish tank, up two flights and into the room on the left. She immediately recognized the melody for she had always had a hopeful spot in her music collection for songs with a little soul and the ones that called people to rally for good. It may have been the first time she smiled, not out of amazement or aw which happened many times in China, but out of an emotion that was closer to joy. She shook her large hips for a few beats and sang a few lines, asked if anyone knew who was singing because this was a version she had never heard before.
The food came in courses, cold to hot, with the final soup to fill any unsatiated guest. She reflected, though the effort was there, the meal was by far the most inedible they had received. But the song, the song was on its fifth or sixth loop and each time she smiled . She smiled not because it remind her of a different place and time, or of a personal memory. It was there where the music took meaning. Others in the group were won over by its repetition, breaking to its reggae beat.
“By the rivers of Babylon, where we sat down, and there we wept, when we remembered Zion.” She first laughed to herself, the music seemed absurd for this place. She had always loved its folk chords, never thinking of the words. Babel, the land of myth, where words had no use, where slaves in a foreign land were asked to sing for their homeland. She listened to the words, lofted by the harmonies, and thought of the people living in that desolate town, that beautifully deformed country. The people had been slaves to communism for so many years, slaves now to western ideas of progress. She thought of them caught in the undertow, only to be churned by the cycle of oppression.
“Sing a song of freedom.” She remembered every kind gesture, every offering of generosity. She had been unaware of of this, no guide book had the words right. There was such a different understanding of freedom; flag waving and celebrations for the bearing of arms, an idea of freedom that was most literally tangible, didn’t apply here. The freedom that the music brought was a freedom of mindfulness. It was a joyful thought, a thought of solidarity, a thought of common conditions.
It was the music that allowed her to gather this. It was an insight, a connection, something that helped her be present in a place that she so longed to be present in. She was alive. It was the music, the place, the situation, the people; it all came together. She realized what ailed her wasn’t wanderlust, it was the intimacy of connection she missed which was afforded by a few notes. It was the haze and the sand in the meal, the bright colors and a juke box with a surprising little 1970s roots revival number. It was an awareness that can only be found by a change in perspective.
The bus pulled out, the darkness of night was a certainty. Waves from waiters in their polyester black pants and white button-down shirts sent her on. That is what she longed for, that language of music to highlight the unnoticed, to draw on the emotions to open minds, to engage the senses in that primal way where to arouse an ancient consciousness. Music could be bought or traded, but owned by no one. This is how it worked. Nothing was reckless about it, yet she was alive and it was good.