Submission No. 6

from the series Point & Plane. Mally Mehryar, 2012.

We see a ceramic sculpture (of uncertain size — its scale is impossible to assess, although the angle of the photograph suggests that this piece is quite small, perhaps as small as an inch or two in length, since anything much larger than that would require significant elevation for the bird’s eye view we are granted).

This sculpture consists of two rectangular shaped pieces positioned in a deceptively simple relationship with each other: one is propped up at its corner on a cone-like protuberance, which lies near, but not at, the center of the other.

The lower element is colored a gorgeous combination of rich, oxidized brown and glossy lavender, like a high-end dessert you might see behind a glass case. The upper element is ridged with brown too, but most of its body is frosted with pale laurel green. A slight bend to it gives it an organic, and again, distinctly edible quality.

The sculpture described above has been photographed against a neutral background, which we are tempted to describe as white until we notice the overexposed area, bursting with all the colors of the spectrum at once, at the top right corner of the frame. We begin to pay more close attention and see the faint, blue nimbus around this sun-burst, and soon our eyes begin a slow descent, from gray to beige to ivory, and we find ourselves moving, sliding, feeling our way really, hand over hand, across a shadowy field of subtle gradations of white.

We see the whole now. The background and the work of art that it supports.

There is, in it, a sense of grace. There is a sense of erasure. A sense of composure.  (Hard-fought. Well-deserved.) Perhaps even a promise of wisdom.


But all this is merely what we see and the emanations from it. 

What does this sculpture mean?

For our response to a work of art cannot be merely descriptive; it cannot be merely a catalogue of what photons hit what rods or cones and what qualities result.

If you are anything like me, then your response is, above all, an emotional one.

The more I look at this submission, the more I am drawn to the black, glossy, cone-like shape that protrudes from the lower piece… How it holds the upper piece suspended, opening a dark cavern beneath it…

It is a jack.

It is a mountain peak.

It is an act of defiance.

It a fulcrum.

It is an intervention.

When I look long enough at this black cone, I feel my emotions well up, to the point that I find myself with an urge to check them (am I resisting the feeling of being vulnerable?). Why do I have such an extreme response? I guess, if you don’t, then I would turn this question around and ask you: How could you not feel this way?

Do you not see that the simple relationship that exists between these two ceramic planes, captures, with astonishing precision, the relationship between our dreams, our aspirations, and the world around us?

Do you not see that we are constantly propping up, through arduous effort, the stuff of our lives, the comforts, the achievements, the identity, the income-streams, the relationships, the thousands upon thousands of commitments we make to ourselves and to others every day — and that this black, cone-like jack is our distilled effort to sustain all of this?

That, despite our efforts, the gray-green pastry of our life is, at any moment, ready to tumble, to slip, to clatter to the ground?

Gravity pulls at us, and we don’t even know why. One recent theory suggests that, just perhaps, it is the force of entropy  that lies behind gravity’s pull. We only so much as breathe, and everything we have worked so hard to achieve… it clatters to the ground, cools off, dissipates, disintegrates, falls away, falls apart.

How did W. B. Yeats put it again?

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned…

— from “The Second Coming”

The truth is, we can see that these two ceramic elements have been worked and worked, shaped, fired, glazed, fired again. We can see that the artist formed them with proportion and beauty and suppleness. And we can also see that she has taken great care to position them… precariously.

This is the tension that makes this sculpture so emotional for me, and so familiar.

It is the tension — more than tension, it is the heartbreak — that runs through our lives. We are worked and shaped and fired and glazed, by our own hands; we aspire to perfection. But then too, we seek change, we seek risk, we seek what is precarious, what will be certain to break.

Why do we do this? Because safety and stasis are NOT OK for human beings. They do not promote our… how shall I be delicate here?… our interests. “This way leads madness” goes the expression. Well, we soon find out that either way leads madness — but one seeks you and the other is sought by you, and which would you prefer? So we act, despite the consequences.

We leak, we break, we clatter, we spill: menstrual blood, discarded eggs, embryos, placenta, semen, piss, shit, tears, sweat, snot, puss, spit, bile, dead cells, skin cells, detritus, effluvia past all imagination. We are not sealed up. We are not whole. We never will be.

There is an indie rock group that I absolutely adore, named Built to Spill. They have a song on their most recent album There is No Enemy (released in 2009) called “Things Fall Apart.” An unsung artist, earthfirstsammy, posted a photo montage on YouTube set to this song:

And there’s another song from this group that comes to mind too (this one from their first album, “Ultimate Alternative Wavers,” released in 1993). Its eponymous title is “Built to Spill” (perhaps it’s the inspiration for the band’s name?), and its lyrics are as follows:

built to spill
you are pleased precariously
temporarily filled
you will
spill until
lower expectations
momentarily chilled
you will
built to spill
because at the time it seemed
like an acceptable deal
you feel
you feel
you feel like you are on the verge of something real
on a role and built to spill
this is how you’ll always feel
it’s no big deal
I’m ashamed of you my friend
would you please
would you please
I’m to blame for this my friend
would you please
would you please
built to spill
carry out your function
then occasionally filled
you will
you will
you will come alive to something real
then realize you’re built to spill
this is how you’ll always feel
it’s no big deal

(This song can be heard on YouTube here.)

Like these songs, like Yeats’ poem, this sculpture suggests to me that we must act, we must create, in the face of precariousness.

It is an object of intrinsic beauty, but, holding as it does this urge inside of it, it is also an object worthy of meditation.

It does not joke with us. Punk us. Or trick us.

It simply asks, from deep inside that black cavern:

Can I do this? Can we do this?

And: For how long?


The artist submitted the following notes along with her art:

Precious are some of the things I find on the ground. Things I purchase from stores at special price. Things I make with clay and good patience. Things that I keep and things that I offer to someone special.

In good timing, I spread selection of things on the table and watch the space between them. The game of things begins and will continue as long as my enthusiasm can last. Surely, small mirrors or something reflective multiply thing in number. The only rule of the game of things is to stay away from adhesives. The reward is just a varied dimension composition that may fall apart with a tip of my fingers.

About Tom Clyde

The best place to learn about me is to read my riffs. What could be more revealing? Cheeky, maybe, but true enough.

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