Shifting Gears / Cherish loving, because it doesn't last
I saw a documentary a couple of years ago -- "Cardboard Bernini" -- as part of the Connecticut Film Festival. It was a wonderful experience in so many ways.
Following the creative process of making a massive and grand sculpture, the film leads us through the technical, the philosophical, the comedic, the poignant and inevitable demise of, yes, the sculpture itself.
How could it last? It was only cardboard.
Jimmy Grashow is the artist. He's also the philosopher and the comic. Back and forth he went, cutting and attaching beautifully cut pieces of cardboard; then musing, with a sense of sadness and mystery, about the inevitable transience of everything, then, with a gentle laugh, shrugging it off with a comment that would make us, the audience, laugh with him. "It's so ephemeral," he said in speaking of cardboard, "it's grateful for the opportunity to become something because it knows it's going to become trash."
That is how he went about his work of creating, making something truly wonderful, using years of his life to do so, holding a sadness that it would soon be gone and a lightness that permanence of everything is an illusion. And that it was all OK.
So, when the end of the documentary drew near, this magnificent sculpture -- with its rearing horses with raging eyes and bulging muscles, with sea creatures made from thousands of intricately cut scales, with dolphins jumping through turbulent waves, sea nymphs with trumpets raised, and even Poseidon, massively sitting astride it all in thoughtful majesty -- was set in place for exhibition.
The setting was the courtyard at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield. Outside! Cardboard! It was to be on exhibit until ... until it rained. The inevitable rain, of course, and the dissolving of the sculpture was part of the exhibit.
I cried at the end. And I looked at each part of this sculpture in its extraordinary beauty, knowing its history and its future and I loved it -- really, I loved this sculpture in a way, I think, I could not have loved Bernini's marble sculpture. I surprised myself. I didn't expect to cry. I didn't expect to love this sculpture. But I did.
The very fact that it would not last, was not meant to last, would inevitably dissolve, was part of why I loved it. Strange. If we lived forever, all of us, we might forget to notice it all, all the things we love. We sort of tend to do that anyway, holding our awareness of our transience at bay. I had to look hard at that sculpture simply because I knew I would not ever see it again.
Truth is, I could not have stayed looking at it for a long, long time. But in the few moments I looked at it, and loved it, I truly saw it. I did not take it for granted. It's an interesting state of mind that we can't get to often and can't stay in long. But for the few moments we are in it, we are touched.
I didn't want the sculpture to die, uh, dissolve. I wanted it to last forever. If I had known it would last forever, I wouldn't have cried. I might not even have loved it.
Carol Swenson is a counseling psychologist with a practice in Westport. Her "Shifting Gears" appears periodically, and she may be reached at: email@example.com.