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On a shelf somewhere I have a copy of Harold Bloom’s book, Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. I’ve been meaning to read it for years. And years. Ever since I purchased it at Tattered Cover, having found it in the remaindered books section.
Not having read it, I don’t know what Bloom thinks, but I often I find myself pondering the question: what is it that makes us human? It’s more than the fact that we use tools—otters do that. Or how we are conscious (supposedly; some more than others), and how we use language to communicate. That’s part of it, to be sure. But what else?
“Only connect,” E.M. Forster famously said.
Walking through the soon-to-be-exhibition at PlatteForum—the name of the artists’ effort is “Here at Home”—I am struck, as I’ve been since the artists were chosen, by the singular and unplanned focus, the wild and often messy creative impulse, the artist’s explorations of the frictions between home and homelessness, community and solitude, support and going it alone. Each is creating a response to these opposites, these paradoxes, and for me, a writer, their physical products are exceptional and fascinating on a myriad of levels. Some expressions cannot be captured in sentences.
Outside of PlatteForum there is a ramshackle house going up, a home made with found items—long, gray pine trunks, the walls and gable of an old mountain cabin, rusted nails, and scraps of wood. The mess has a beauty and elegance to it. I find myself wanting to live there.
In another room, a mural with a swirling mass of humanity is coming to life. It’s almost as if someone took Michelangelo’s Sistine chapel and cast the figures into a tornado. Arms reach across to one another, figures center their spinning, twisting selves around something—it’s not clear because the mural is not finished—the object of their desire.
In another suite, there are plates arranged in a quaint, cottagey fashion—each with a snippet of language. (Oh how they make me wish for the old hutch in my childhood dining room, with its precious little tea cups and intricately patterned plates!) The common item of our kitchen and dining lives, a most basic utensil, the plate, is talking to us. Eat over your plate, I sometimes urge my two kids. Instead of collecting crumbs, these plates are collecting those things we say to one another during the sacred time of the family: dinner.
Also in that suite, there will be a plain white door with two videos playing on it—one on each side. The short pieces—two sides of a coin—will be records of the daily lives of two women: one homeless, one not. I am eager to see what connections (there’s Forster again!) there might be, and how ironies might also rise to the pixilated surfaces. Is a life in a home more lonely than a life without one? Is community manufactured in one, spontaneous in the other? How does each deal with hunger, or weariness? It seems like Janus, the two-faced god of doorways, will figure in here somewhere.
Only connect. Which is work. Reaching out. Asking to be seen, heard. Defining the questions first, then seeking the answers. That’s only a part of what makes us human.
PS The opening reception is Thursday, August 5, 3 to 8 PM, with a performance/reading by local poets at 6 PM. PlatteForum is located by the Millenium Bridge at 1610 Little Raven Street, Suite 135. For more info, visit our Web site.