Wednesday, May 6
Well, I wonder....
"...our perceptions being made finer, so that for a moment our eyes can see and our ears can hear what is there about us always."
Last night I had the pleasure of attending a talk by David Wilson at the Hammer Museum (see below; I hate repeating myself and know that I often do.) I was curious to see what this would be like. I've never met the man, but feel like there is a public understanding that his work is of questionable authenticity and that the elaborate levels to which he goes to create belief in this research, along with the aesthetic of the Renaissance Cabinet of Curiosities, is what makes him a compelling artisan. I worried that he might actually address this sentiment in some way and burst the bubble. I was wrong to not have had faith.
Wilson modestly discussed his initial introduction into the world of archives and historical documents, which consisted of weekly visits with his father to talks at the Natural History Museum in Denver. He then screened a few excerpts from a film project he is working on with the Kabinet group in St. Petersburg, Russia. These historical biographies describe the lives and beliefs of figures like Nikolai Fekorovich Federov. He also previewed a series of early sketches imagining the details of space travel and a clip from a silent film from the 1920's depicting the same. The point of the lecture was to trace the history of what philosophies drove the Soviet Union to build rockets. Wilson's only expositions on this were through the narration of the film and a gleeful description of the details of the Museum's exhibitions related to it.
The presentation of these lovingly produced images of the post-Soviet landscape with a voice over describing the somewhat bohemian circumstances of these men was seductive. The films did not describe a time line of industrial development, but rather a growing communal philosophy that human imagination, even in its most extreme and seemingly outrageous forms, could forward our collective consciousness in the most beautiful way possible, reaching towards the heavens. I realized about halfway through that whether the factual information was true was totally irrelevant. Wilson uses the model of scientific authority only as a vehicle to get us to the really important stuff: these odd feats of industrialization are inextricably reflective of our fundamental beliefs on human interaction and our place in the universe.
I could not help but think about this all the way home. Everything can be researched and supported with details, facts, cell phone pictures, what have you. How important is this really? Whether David Wilson's scientific method is accurate or not is irrelevant; whether sketches of an imagined future were actually made in the 1920s doesn't really matter. In the end, sometimes it's not the details of what brought you to a place that are important, but that you are there. I think what makes his work so compelling to so many people is that he's talking about faith. Not specifically a religious or what have you kind, but a belief that maybe the universe and maybe just even other people will capably give you what you need, there is no way to force that into existence. Wilson has conceded that his work is "similar to what an audience experiences when watching a magical illusion performed." It is comforting to know that an artwork (or a life's work) can still elicit a cosmic sense of amazed admiration from something both surprising and strange.