Tuesday, December 26, 2023

The High Museum

After spending a few days doing—in Benjamin's mind—not much, we were all happy to go on an outing to the High Museum of Art on Thursday (December 21). We knew Grandpa didn't get off work until noon, but Patrick was supposed to meet up with friends later in the day, so we decided we'd leave earlier in the morning, so we didn't invite Grandpa. But then I remembered that the kids were supposed to be on puppy duty, so we wouldn't be able to leave until right around noon (when they go to visit the puppy), so we decided that if we were leaving that late we should just invite Grandpa and leave right around noon. And then soon after we decided that, our neighbour texted to say she'd be working from home and thus wouldn't need the kids to check on the puppy, so we could have left earlier in the day, anyway...

It was a confusing morning, but we managed to get out the door around the time we said we were going to leave. And we got back home with time for Patrick to pack for his sleepover. So it all worked out!

Here we are checking out an outdoor exhibit called "Happy Joylanta."

Lots of fun colour! Inside, Andrew wanted to be sure to take us to see the Sonya Clark exhibit, which was phenomenal. When we went to the High with our homeschool group earlier this month, Andrew got out of the elevator on this floor with one group of kids, while I took another elevator ride and got off on a different floor with a different group of kids. We eventually met up with each other, but certainly had a different experience. I didn't make it to see what Andrew called "the hair" exhibit and, honestly, the way he described it didn't make it seem that amazing, but it was incredible!

He steered us to that exhibit straight away and I'm so glad he did. It was such a thought-provoking exhibit. One of Clark's guiding questions for her work is: “How do we address and challenge our shared colonial past, and how do we hold ourselves accountable for and claim agency in what happens next in the future of our society?” 

My ancestors came over on the May Flower, so I'm anyone in engaging in colonial thinking. Moving to the south has certainly helped me become aware of the kind of questions Clark asks—how accountable am I? (I didn't get on the May Flower; it's not my fault I'm here) —how have I benefited from a system of oppression? (for a few examples, my ancestors contributed to the decimation of indigenous populations and were slave holders and were happy to stake claim to land they had no right to claim) —how do I hold myself (society?) accountable for such injustices? —what do I want the future to look like? Big questions to grapple with, and this exhibition was a beautiful way to approach such questions.

Here is Zoë admiring a wall of prayer beads:

She liked that many of the designs were simple. It made her feel like she could "do" art and found it inspiring!

I loved that, too. I liked the idea of small and simple things being collected into a magnificent (and breathtaking) whole. 

It's Uncle Patrick!

The project is a "long-term participatory project"; Clark has collected these prayer bead samples from people all over the world. Each pouch is supposed to contain a paper with a wish or prayer written on it, and each pouch is supposed to be decorated with at least one bead. 

The information by the project revealed that "bead" and "prayer" come from the same root word. I'm a sucker for a good etymology story and this one is incredible to me because I had never considered the two words to be related. I know about prayer beads, but knowing they're essentially the same words makes that phrase feel redundant (similar to the "perler beads" my kids worked with when we got home from the museum, since I know that "perler" means "bead" in French).

For example, the word "bitte" in German, which means "please," is related to the word "pray" (which in German is "beten"). So our word for "bead" comes from old Germanic roots meaning "prayer" or "request." Seeing a wall of wishes—a patchwork of prayers—made me feel hopeful somehow. It was a beautiful thing to consider (and, again, so colourful).

Much of Clark's exhibition focused on hair. She made wonderful pieces out of combs that she had layered and broken teeth off of to create various shades.

She had lovely braided patterns on canvases. She created a font using wisps of her own hair for inspiration (interesting, but impracticle). This wall was a particularly attention-grabbing piece for Zoë:

The bricks are each stamped with a word from The Declaration of Independence, but instead of mortar, human hair—collected from barber shops that cater to African American hair styles—is used. (I'm still trying to figure out the purpose of the glass...)

I loved learning about the Confederate truce flag. The Confederate Battle Flag is immediately recognizable, but the truce flag... Well, I didn't even know one existed. Clark's work strives to bring its existence into remembrance, the exhibit offered the same reverence to the the truce flag as is shown to old American flags in national museums.

Also in the exhibit were Confederate Battle Flags in various stages of coming undone (dismantling the flag as a symbol of White Supremacy):

This Solidarity Book Project was pretty cool as well!

Each book is a volume that teaches readers about solidarity (as selected by participants in the project). They then followed instructions to create a fist raised in solidarity within the pages of the book. 

My kids were a little aghast at the idea of "destroying" a book in this manner, but I explained that—while I can be a bit of a drill sergeant about how we treat books at home—books really are a disposable, or at least a consumable, medium. Libraries are always weeding their collections. They have workbooks they write in that get recycled at the end of the school year. That is the nature of books—not every copy of every book needs to be preserved to be read indefinitely. Some books are destined to be "upcycled" for other projects.

That doesn't mean I want them cutting up the books in our home library. But books can be used for other projects.

They should know this from the time we used pages from Heike's Void (by Steve Peck), that an editor had written on and then mailed to Andrew for him to make changes to in computer document. We literally tore pages out of the book and created some "found poetry." The pages had fulfilled the measure of their creation in book form and found new purpose outside of the bound-in-order and read-front-to-back purpose they were originally intended for.

I'm not sure whether I ever shared those pieces. I'll look later.

There were many other really neat parts to this exhibit. One room had quilts draped all over the ceiling that were decorated with constellations. They had blacklight flashlights you could use to search for the Big Dipper. I missed out reading about the quilt installation (that's what one gets for chasing a toddler through an art museum), but I imagine it had something to do with quilt codes (though perhaps not).

I highly recommend a visit before the exhibit leaves us in mid-February!

We did a quick walk through some of the permanent collection on our way to the Beatrix Potter exhibit. Zoë took my phone and took many of the following pictures...

We had to make our way quickly through the exhibit because Phoebe was anxious for Peter Rabbit. She loves Beatrix Potter's artwork now and was so excited to explore the exhibit again. I got her a book of Beatrix Potter stories for Christmas and am hoping they can capture her attention (because I cam getting sick of reading the Daniel Tiger collection I got her for her birthday). Anyway,

Here are Rachel, me, Miriam, and Patrick looking at...something:

And here's Patrick and I chatting about something:

I won't post too much about Beatrix Potter since (1) I did that earlier and (2) Zoë wanted to write about her experience in the museum using the pictures she took. Grandpa took this picture of all of us at the entrance to the exhibit:

From there we returned to the permanent collection:

We went through the In the City of Lights exhibit, which left us all feeling a little thirsty for some good ol' fashioned European art, so we headed over to the European Art collection:

After that we hit up the play rooms:

This installation responds to movement, painting the screens with different splashes of colour as you move:

Daddy and Rachel ran back to our van to grab our lunch, and they came to wave at us through the windows when they were back. We all went outside to join them for a lovely picnic lunch:

Benjamin picked up Phoebe while we were waiting for the elevator to take us down to the parking garage and they were so cute together, so I took a few pictures:

Once home we played a few rounds of Mexican train with Uncle Patrick (while the little kids (and Miriam) worked on their Perler Bead creations) and then he headed off to his friends' house while we got dinner ready (we had leftover to help clear out the fridge for all the Christmas cooking we knew we'd be doing):

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