“palimpsest” by artists Ann Hamilton and Kathryn Clarke, 1989 (x)
At the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC, as part of the “Over, Under, Next: Experiment in Mixed Media, 1913-Present” exhibition (more info here).
I had the great fortune of finding time in our recent trip to DC to visit the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. In general, I loved a majority of the pieces. A lot of them made me think about a plethora of ideas, feelings, thoughts, and even a few provoked some images and stories that hopefully one day I’ll be able to expand upon. If there’s anything I love more than art, it’s art that inspires more art.
But one particular piece that had me positively enraptured was “palimpsest.” It’s officially described on the museum website as “a room-sized installation featuring thousands of fluttering pieces of newsprint, beeswax tablets, and snails, among other things.” However, it was much more interesting and unique than what they make it out to be. Upon walking past the room, I was immediately intrigued. Let’s be real - any time you have to wear special booties over your shoes, you know you’re about to have an amazing experience.
Walking into this room was indescribable. Over every inch of the high walls were pieces of worn paper, tacked up to the wall. Each little piece of paper had either part of a story, a quote, a part of a journal entry - and all done in various different handwritings. What’s so cool about this was that each different piece of paper was like a small essence of a human being. Some of the ones were extremely moving - sadly, I could only read the ones at eye level. (I do wish there was some possible way of reading all of them, including the ones at the tippity-top, but unless they have them documented somewhere, I find that hard to believe.)
The floor was covered in more pieces of paper - however, instead of being tacked on, they were done in a tile-like formation, finished over with beeswax. They weren’t really legible, but you were aware that they had just as many thoughts and stories as the ones up on the wall.
I was so moved by the words found in this room. Honestly, the beauty of words astounds me sometimes. I think we take words for granted, and if anything, underutilize a majority of the beautiful words out there. That’s why i dnt understand ppl who talk like dis bc how is dat pretty like plz lets b real here. Words are the essence, the truth, and so beautiful at that. So let’s utilize them to our best abilities, shall we?
I snapped a photo of a few of them using the camera on my phone (ouch), and here’s what they say:
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes” -Marcel Proust
Now, of course, I’m not so scornful. As time goes by, we don’t give a second thought to all the memories we so unconsciously accumulate, until suddenly, one day, we can’t think of the name of a good friend or a relative. It’s simply gone; we’ve forgotten it. In rain, we struggle furiously to think of a commonplace word.
(The second paper freaked me out a little bit, and mainly because the chance factor that it was one of the ones I happened to come across and read. For those not in the know, I’m directing a piece right now entitled “Chiaroscuro,” and it’s told from a woman’s perspective about her relationship with her mother, and how her mother develops vascular cognitive impairment - a type of dementia. So like. Whoa.)
All in all, this piece of work truly affected me in ways I cannot describe. All the papers reminded me that there are so many different people in the world, all living different lives, all with different experiences and different emotions and different beliefs. For example, in one paper, a person was describing their surroundings (a bare Parisian room overlooking a river), and then went on to say about how they’d been writing a novel for over a year. And all of that ended up on one little piece of paper at a museum in Washington DC.
It’s just crazy, to think about things like that. And I truly recommend people go and enjoy this exhibition while it lasts (it ends in September).
After doing further research, I found that the artist describes this piece as: “a meditation on memory, its loss and our finitude.” And isn’t that just wonderful to think about? :)