First, a confession: I’m writing this entry a few weeks after our museum visit, thus my topic is heavily influenced by later lectures; namely “The Origins of Innovation”
Handed a staggering number of art works, I initially felt overwhelmed by the sheer quantity. A few had rather dubious connections to the larger origins theme, and many just skirted the topic.Two works struck me in particular however…
The first work that I felt truly captured the essence of our lecture series was an unassuming installation of photographs hanging just beside the door. They depicted a peaceful mid-western prairie, but, upon closer inspection, I noticed that it documented a controlled burn. This intrigued me, as the purpose of a controlled burn in twofold: to preventative and restorative. The former is intended to burn a path around the crops to prevent wild files from advancing beyond a certain point; and the latter is to return nutrients to the soil in fallow plots. This, I find, is the essence of finding order amid chaos. Facing the threat of destruction, controlled burns both ensure the fertility of the land below and define a boundary for the land beyond. Moreover, while fire itself is a chaotic entity, it is orderly — hence, controlled burn — and used to keep true chaos — wild fires — at bay.
The second work of art that I will discuss is Ai Weiwei’s vase collection. See, these ancient clay vases have survived millennia, only to be drenched in a staggering array of industrial paints by a contemporary artists. Many in our tour group referred to the art as vandalism, as if Wei Wei were a graffitti artists spraying over someone else’s work. In fact, Wei Wei hired a man to smash a few of these pots in an gallery in Miami. Oddly enough, the same individuals who claimed painting the vases was vandalism saw the pot smashing as performance art.
I care to argue that he was giving these vases a new beginning. These pots were originally created to serve a purpose, and are entirely utilitarian in nature. Claiming that they serve a larger academic purpose is largely a moot point, as we have already learned what we could from them. Now that they have lost their utilitarian purpose, they are essentially worthless (ignoring the rarity aspect). Now, they have lost all value in that sense. Weiwei has reinstated purpose with a contemporary twist. He is essentially giving them a second chance; an origin in the modern world.
But how are these two works related? I argue that they both mark second chances — a rebirth. In both cases, the prairie and vase have lost their purpose. The prairie has been drained of all nutrients and the clay vases are simply not practical in industry. By committing what to some feels like a desecration, these artists and farmers alike renew the world’s lease on these objects. Both the acts, burning and painting are a point of origin, or rather a node on the hierarchical tree of origins.