December 3, 2012
Lurking behind most human’s true sentiment is irony. We are makers, we are consumers, and we are the consumed. This connection is both a precious synecdoche and re occurring nightmare.
The nightmare is this: when you solve a problem, you create a problem. The rise and fall of the St. Louis’ Pruitt Igoe* housing project seems appropriate enough an illustration. Objects shape us and we shape objects,* but humans get caught in the clutch. Ferocious skepticism whittles everything down to insanity. Eventually, this leaves us with the simplest, non-politicized things. I’m uncertain if such a thing exists.
However, I’m intelligent enough to understand that unless we are properly equipped for investment, a rolling Jeremiah only leads us to a cold dead end.
Let’s be honest: little of us stop long enough to invest.
The precious synecdoche is this: we make beyond ourselves. A poet or phenomenologist would suggest that we are both consumers and artifacts. We have a desperate connection to artifacts; they are the warm lifeblood that lingers through centuries while our bodies freeze at a sudden moment. The configuration of these artifacts marks human progress. They not only mark progress, but also our own versions of collective unconscious emblems, that we knight and saint among our many possessions.
Before my grandma died, I loved rummaging through her closets, basement and hidden boxed spaces looking for heirlooms. I was driven by curiosity, but also rattled with a giddy, yet rich sensation of passing through to another world. Grandma’s basement was the passageway into a fantastical place.
When she died, my mother had to close her estate. She left furniture, clothing, paintings, and heavy settlement of knick-knacks. Overwhelmed with the object obscurity and pressure put on by government suits, she purged the house as quickly as possible. She did her best to snag was what she could as mementos exited on various bids. God bless her.
My grandma’s jewelry was the only element of the house saved in its entirety. The collection was not a single celebrated vanity display, but a gallery exhibition. While most of it continues to live in a vault, I own two items: a bracelet and a ring. The ring is beautiful. I asked my mom for one of the broken barrettes to be repaired as a Christmas present. The bracelet, however, is a more fascinating case. It is an eight-jeweled piece, each stone evenly distributed and held in place by gold chain links. Each jewel is a different color- creating a rainbow spectrum of jade, ruby, sapphire, amber, amethyst, tan, pink and emerald. I remember my grandma always had this bracelet on her wrist. Now, a glimpse at the bracelet loosely transfers memories. Gulping homemade root beer floats while Grandma first explained to me what “brain freeze” meant.
Since I found the bracelet again in my old room at my parent’s house, I’ve been wearing it daily. I spend so much time looking at it, I can only conclude that it is perfect and I don’t know why. It’s balanced, and anybody can wear it, something I can’t say about any of my other jewelry. The more I look at it, the more it changes as I note something new.
One day, I noticed that each stone was carved. Each top is lightly etched a half-dome curve at the top, followed by an angled slice half way down the stone, and then two teardrop shaped marks on either side. Then, there are illustrative three stripes on each teardrop. Though I had repetitively seen the bracelet over a period of twenty-four years, I had never seen these marks. The lines made sheathed wings on top of an oval body- each stone was obviously a beetle! I found that something strange for my grandma to celebrate. But then on the opposite side, there are hieroglyphic cross-hatchings along a flat surface. I knew that to someone, these marks were a marvelous gesture. When I asked my mom about it, she said it was a Scarab bracelet. A “Scarab bracelet” is Egyptian artifact. The “Scarab” refers to the Scarab beetle, also known as the “dung beetle,” a marveled creature in Egyptian culture. The Scarab consumes its feces in preparation for larva and laying eggs. The Egyptians revered this method as a celebrated and beautiful life cycle. The amulets were placed in gravesites or tombs as ‘gifts,’ and the flat side usually contained a name.*
This made me crazy. I had a million questions I wanted to ask my grandma. Where did you get this? What do these carvings say? Why didn’t you ever tell me what it meant? Who made it and what stories did they tell you?
It doesn’t take me long to understand that I miss her.
Despite the details, the knowledge, and all my problems that arise for this information, I still want to be ignorant. I still want to preserve those memories. The simple ones: that bracelet dangling and swaying while her fingertips danced on the kitchen table while we talked, or didn’t talk at all.
Pruitt Igoe A large-scale urban poor housing project in St. Louis, Missouri. Occupation began in 1954 and thrived for a short time until federal funds depleted, thus being one of the catalysts to its demise. It grew criminal, hostile, unregulated and eventually completely abandoned by government oversight. Many have deemed Pruitt Igoe “The Death of Modernity.” The buildings were blown up in 1972. Film: The Pruitt Igoe Myth: an Urban History
Actor Network Theory (ANT) A body that engages with design, shapes the design of an object as well as the object shapes the body or “Actor”. A concept heavily developed by Bruno Latour, Michel Callon, John Law.