little pieces of you

Back in LA (Lordy, do I wish that weren’t in the past tense), I had the privilege to see an unforgettable exhibit on the grounds of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House.

In it, a recent grad school grad put together an installation for her thesis. Pieces of her life were revealed to the viewer in a stunning way. It was immersive, it was creative, it was daring. It had layers, depth.

A small, blue-walled room contained original photography, vintage armchairs that you could nap in for hours, and six or seven bookshelves stocked with hardback used books. Each shelf stocked full of un-jacketed novels of all sizes and ages. Each row color-coded. Red, blue, white, green, black. We walked into what felt like the study of a mid-century suburban ranch run by an OCD housewife. Orderly books contradicted the disorderly pattern of the experience.

The rules were simple. Pick a book. Open it to the first page. That inner cover consistently revealed an old-school library checkout sleeve labelled with a number. In the sleeve was a polaroid with portions sliced from its image. As a viewer, you were to flip to the page that the sleeve signified, and slip the photograph into the pre-placed photo holder on that page. When you did, certain words were revealed through the carefully sliced gaps in the photo.

A series of steps finally led to a message carefully chosen by the artist herself. A harmony could be seen between the book’s title, what she chose to highlight in the text, and what you could see in the vintage photo. Of course, I didn’t write any of it down while it was fresh in my mind, but what I can say is that the messages were brilliant, irking, shocking, sad, happy, joyous. After finally finding where each piece of the puzzle fit, a part of her own life was unveiled. Text and photo came together in an I-SPY-esque experience.  We were intentionally intruding on this woman’s thoughts and memories, good or bad.

It was brilliant.

Our own lives are what enrich our art. Without any type of rooted connection, what we create can’t possibly be as meaningful. So You Think You Can Dance this week reminded me of that. One of the contestants revealed that his the concept of the performance hit home. He connected to the piece’s theme of racial injustice using the trials he’s had raising his mixed-race child. Enriched by the deepness of his memories, the piece (in my humble opinion) was the most moving of the evening.

Our lives…our experiences… those are the powerful fuel for what we can create. Oftentimes those very experiences can be a hindrance to creation, to moving forward. Times of trial put a halt to all sense of hope. Why not use everything you’ve seen, felt, lived, as a rich, essential part of your being? Good or bad, what you’ve been through is a part of you. It matters. It’s defining.

So, what are those pieces for you? Right this very moment?

All I know is mine are forever growing and changing. Thank God. That’s what makes each day so wonderfully substantial.


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