Saturday, February 14

Tough Art!

This sits in Istanbul's Hagia Sophia. Well actually it sits atop a marble jar brought, along with its twin, to Istanbul in the 15th century by Murad III. It probably sat outside for more than half a century before that in the ancient Roman city of Pergamon on the Western tip of Greece.

It's a jaw-dropper... A huge thing, some six or seven feet tall: an urn carved from a solid block of marble that was used in lustration ceremonies.

"Say what?"

Yeah, I had to look that up. Seems they filled these things with oil to create magic circles around infants during naming ceremonies. The belief was that evil was banned from the circle while goodness flowed in. A lot like baptismal ceremonies. You could get a big guy into this thing, with room to move around. Well, not that there was any need to cram a man into it, I'm just saying.

Now it sits in the Hagia Sophia where it's been indoors for another 500 years or so, protected from the weather... First in the Sultan's great mosque, and now that it's been converted into a museum, it's part of the collection of ancient Muslim and early Christian artifacts which the Turkish people maintain for all of us.

Recently Tom Dills asked some questions about the permanency of art, or at least our photographs. He mused about photographer and editor Bruce Jenson's essays on the topic. Bruce has often wondered about the eventual fate of this stuff we do... Well, the stuff that he does and by extension, what we do. Simply put, both Bruce and Tom wonder what happens to the photographs and art we've created when we die.

Which led me to wonder about the Lustration Urns of Pergamon. Did the designers/carvers of these things expect that a millennium or so after they stopped chiseling away stone that people would still wonder at their beauty? Or was the respect their work generated in its spiritual usage sufficient psychic reward. I guess that someone gave them some sort of direct economic payment for their efforts. And I also guess that, like artists always, the sheckles they got felt like too few.

Do you think it's the scale of these urns or their marble, that guaranteed them some sort of lifespan longer than their creator's? If they'd built them out of pixels, I wonder if they'd survive the winds of technology much less fashion, caprice, war, weather, and the tantrums of human taste. Understand, our photographic art is stored in the least permanent form ever imagined. Recently I tossed dozens of 78 RPM classical records of my father's that were created in the 1920s. I have no way of accessing their contents. I'll soon follow them to the trash with dozens of audio recording tapes which need reel-to-reel playback machines. And a lot of Super 8 and VHS family movies will follow them. Do you imagine that your carefully preserved images residing on virtual clouds somewhere will be any more accessible than the stuff you may now have on 8 Trac Tapes, cassettes,or even on CDs and DVDs?

Emily Dickinson had the advantage of "recording" her thoughts on paper, so that they were easily accessed so she could be "discovered" after her death. Imagine if she'd dropped them onto floppy discs?

Forget the "quality" of the work, what's "permanent" art demand? Not merely high levels of imagination and creativity, but some impermeable strata that can withstand time's vandals. Oh, and it probably should be big... like this lustration urn... Huge enough... to get noticed, right?

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