Sunday, October 02, 2005

fireworks / bas reliefs at night / a sonnet

Last evening, I went with friends to sit aface the Potomac River and watch a brief but vivid display of Chinese fireworks -- a surprisingly satisfying (though significantly percussive) experience. Our seat (along with a decent draw of local denizens) was directly beneath the riverview back terrace of the Kennedy Center For the Performing Arts. Indeed, this Center had sponsored the late-night (10pm) freebie public-art extravagance. I think a consequence of this little performance -- is I've quite lost a taste for American fireworks. The esthetics of the art: a topic I had not given a thought to, till now. The designer, I'm told, is in fact a contemporary Chinese artist who uses gunpowder as a major element in various media. In any case, to see gunpowder's lethal potential turned toward sheer display and delight, felt to be a happy 21st Century moment (as one vaguely recollects how the stuff was introduced, via Marco Polo, to a waiting world eager to find deathly uses for it).


The evening had a pleasant hint of chill. Before sitting to view the particolored, exuberant flashes in a dark sky, we walked along the shore and around the FDR Memorial for a good hour. A conclusion from this stroll: nighttime is far & away the best "environment" in which to view certain bas-relief work at that national monument. The waterworks too (there's much water in the design of this vast new memorial site, some of it with narrative suggestions -- e.g. the Tennessee Valley Authority phase of President Roosevelts's work suggested in one place -- but water offers its own meta-story moving thru & beyond the particulars of the historical recollections) -- the waterworks too are impressive at night: the light-effects of water accentuated by the dark framing of the greater surround.

But the bas reliefs. They're wonderfully lighted -- such that mysterious qualities of such forms are brought forward. Suddenly there's dark ink in the picture!

One is instantly put in mind of this remarkable artform's long antiquity (Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Greek & Indian) -- a form that stands at the brink -- or stands in the brink? -- between conventions of 2-and 3-dimensional representation.

Hovering like dream between these two modes of depiction, the contrasts of light & dark deepened & sharpened by the dark of night and the smart light-angles, the steeles (in implicit if ambiguous tribute to Egyptian antecedents) invite one to think of new uses and optical-narrative possibilities for this satisfying visual ground. One can imagine a renaissance of bas-relief, for night viewing only.


Earlier in the day, I'd composed this poem as an idle amusement:

Shall I compare you to a Shakespeare sonnet?
but you're more current & more copacetic
your sparkling mind: you say at once what's on it
he takes a year to state things so you'll get it

agreed he rambles like the kelly rill
still I prefer your gambolling ways of musing
don't take from this I'm blind to charms of Bill
he doubtless merits moments of enthusing

if he were for his time then you're for mine
what lingers yet of worth within his ambit
suggests what lasts amid the paradigm
you sketch in some insouciant verbal gambit

the old prefigures beauties of the new
his shade were all foreshadowings of you



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