October 9, 2007

Recent experiences in mind-expansion

In the last handful of days, I've been to two very intense, moving, and thought-provoking exhibits. It's going to be hard to convey the full impact of them, but hopefully I can get at least some of it across.

First of the two is the latest exhibit at the American Visionary Arts Museum (AVAM), "All Faiths Beautiful" (photos from the opening, apparently). I had been slightly disappointed by the last two year's exhibits at AVAM, but this one is special from the first step beyond the entrance. In addition, I had the pleasure of experiencing it with a new internet acquaintance with whom I was very much on the same wave-length. From the items we reacted to, to the connections we made with pieces, there were repeated moments of synchronicity as we wandered through the galleries. As I've written here before, I'm often hesitant to share with others things that are meaningful to me for fear that the experience will be diminished by that person not "getting it". Having this person along definitely made the experience richer and lots of fun to boot (thanks, Leo!).

So, the exhibit
begins with a stream of postcards from the PostSecret project, chosen specifically for their reference to the sender's issues with faith. The secrets shared ranged from hilarious to heart-rending and were very touching to read. At the top of the entrance ramp, before entering the galleries, a sign explains that this year's exhibit is dedicated to the middle-eastern spiritual poet, Rumi, to celebrate the 800th anniversary of his birth. I've read about Rumi in the yoga and Buddhism magazines I subscribe to, but I had never been drawn into reading anything from Rumi. After this introduction to him, it's time.

Immediately beyond the ramp and across from the stairs, AVAM hung the lone Alex Grey piece in this exhibit, "Transfiguration". I've seen a few other of Grey's works at the gallery ("Gaia" and "Cosmic Christ", both presented in the same terrific spot by the stairs) and each one has left me in awe. It's impossible to conceive either the detail or the overall beauty of his work in the tiny images linked here. The man's work is profound and amazing.

The walls along the stairs leading to the upper exhibit floors are lined with more cards from PostSecret. They're a fantastic exhibit all to themselves, but they're only the beginning. The review in the Baltimore Sun really describes the entire show better than I can, but there were a few highlights that really stuck with me. One in particular is the art of Fred Kahler. The detail of Kahler's pieces is mind-boggling. I've often walked through AVAM and imagined the various artists hunched for hours and hours over their work, compelled to create by the power of their vision (AVAM recognizes this same impression, with a separate exhibit of permanent works entitled "OCD: Obsessive Compulsive Delight"). Just as many hours could be spent inspecting, analysing and comprehending works like Kahler's. Amazing stuff.

Another hightlight is the room of Rumi. The combination of Rumi's words with gorgeous imagery is fantastic. Being with someone at the time, I didn't take advantage of the pillows along the wall, but on my second visit I may have to pull one out to the middle of the room to sit and soak it all up.

Another excellent discovery of the day was later at the Fell's Point Festival (longest running street festival on the east coast, apparently). There are always several booths of wonderful photographers, but the works of Christos Palios were the most fantastic I saw. Very Escher-esque pieces that are as trippy as they are beautiful. It's definitely worth the time to explore the portfolio area at his site.

Today's incredible experience was attending Bodies, The Exhibit. At first glance, the exhibits appear to be very thoroughly detailed models. The colors of the muscles and other tissues have a faded appearance that makes them seem fake (whether this is their true color or from exposure to light, dust, etc, I don't know). As I looked closer, though, certain details became apparent that drove home the reality: The hairs on the shin of a human skin laid out sans body; thick, horney-looking toenails on the foot of an otherwise flayed body; eyelashes on another. From that point on, my thoughts veered between fascination and morbidity through the rest of the exhibit. The information accompanying the exhibits is very detail and informative, and actually seeing the veins, tendons, muscles, organs and skeletal structures was wonderfully instructive. But then I'd catch myself thinking that a gluteus muscle looked just like a flank steak, or that a cross-section cut of thigh looked like a slice of ham (with the center bone, marrow, and all).

The circulatory gallery, though, was more beautiful than morbid. I don't remember the exact name and details of the process used to create this portion of the exhibit, but in a nutshell-- A fluid is injected into the veins that colors and hardens them. The body is then immersed in a solution that dissolves everything except the hardened veins. The result is an amazing mesh of tiny, intricately branching veins in the rough form of a human body, heart, lungs, etc. It looks as if it can't possibly be real and, if it is, as if there wouldn't be room within the body for all of those veins along with skeleton, muscles and organs.

As much fun as the exhibit itself was riding the subway home afterwards and trying to picture what was under the skin of the people all around me. What would that heavy-set person look like in a cross-section cut? Do that person's lungs look like the healthy ones exhibited, or are they black like the smoker's lungs displayed? Mind-blowing stuff, and so worth the visit. See it if you can.

I've ended up the evening sitting in front of the computer tripping myself out over the Win Media Player visualizations dancing along to Incubus' "Calgone". Damn, man, who the f' needs drugs? I mean, really. Experiences such as I've had the last few days do it for me with no controlled substances necessary

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