Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Pendulum Pauses

Kayaking Taylor's Island Estuary                                                                             June 22nd, 2013

Some families on the Bay live in modest bungalows with a nice view of the water. Others reside in spacious and elegant towers, with plenty of furniture and the latest communication equipment.

One hot afternoon a cruising catamaran dropped anchor near a low highway bridge, its further progress blocked. Three hard-bitten, grizzled specimens emerged into the burning sunlight, and launched a rubber raft, towing three kayaks under the bridge and into the trackless wetlands that form an ever-shifting maze in one small part of the brackish waters of the Chesapeake. They were all seasoned veterans of the endless struggle that is the essence of being male. Married men.

After a false start or two, down blind alleys and into narrow leads between the stiff brush walls, they regroup and tow farther east into more complex and open waters. Breezes are slight and erratic, and the tide, near its height, carries them onward. They tie the raft to a stick in an open location, hoping it will be there when they return.

An early design effort by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, after his duck-hunting buddies complained that their blinds were always little more than a heap of sticks with a few tired, hackneyed Neoclassical elements tacked on, which no longer fooled the ducks because of the sense of alienation or distance from the landscape itself.

The sheaves surrounding this stunning presentation by Le Corbusier (who felt impelled to get into the game or be left in the mud) were criticized by Mies as an effete reference or homage to the goddess Demeter, detracting from the pure expression of space by the structure itself. Reportedly, when Le Corbusier heard of this he just squinted, turned his head to spit his tobacco juice into the bay, and grunted, “Bullshit.” In this way are the priceless native customs and morays diffused into new populations. No – not eels.

This iconic glass brick by which we all so fondly remember Mies, has, tucked away on the roof, a faux-straw-and-plywood duck blind (mainly constructed of stainless steel) as a tribute to his humble beginnings. Legend has it that he used, in his later years, to sit for hours up there at dawn with a shotgun, waiting for the ducks that would never come.

This magnificent duck-blind sculpture by Philip Johnson represents a peak in the art. It has a boat-stall capable of hiding a sixteen-foot skiff, and enough room in the blind for six hunters and all the beer that that entails. Negotiations into the middle seven figures with MOMA and competing European museums to purchase the structure and move it to an indoor artificial wetland complete with mallards, have run aground and stuck fast in the mud of international high-art politics.  Notice if you will, the superbly casual irregularity of the rectangular panels.  The result of exacting calculation or the simple brilliance of sheer laziness?

A side view, showing the spare yet lush natural landscaping.

van der Rohe's Farnsworth House, built on a flood plain and clearly influenced by duck-blind principles. We may judge its success by the Wiki blather as follows:
                        “The highly-crafted pristine white structural frame and all-glass walls define a simple rectilinear interior space, allowing nature and light to envelop the interior space. A wood-panelled fireplace (also housing mechanical equipment, kitchen, and toilets) is positioned within the open space to suggest living, dining and sleeping spaces without using walls. No partitions touch the surrounding all-glass enclosure. Without solid exterior walls, full-height draperies on a perimeter track allow freedom to provide full or partial privacy when and where desired. The house has been described as sublime, a temple hovering between heaven and earth, a poem, a work of art.
                         The Farnsworth House and its 60-acre wooded site was purchased at auction for US$7.5 million by preservation groups in 2004 and is now owned and operated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as a public museum.”

I've heard it's hell to heat and cool – but who the hell cares – it's art.  What's that you say?  It looks like some old iron trusswork found abandoned out behind the rail yard, painted white?

A latecomer to the scene, Frank L. Wright, professed to be saddened by all the squabbling around the duck-blind aesthetics, and put up this beautifully spare and gaunt framework, allegedly to restore the art to its roots in pure Euclidean geometry, and inject some honesty and forthrightness into the scene. Of course he was immediately savaged and ridiculed, the others saying that he had simply stopped work and left when he realized that he didn't know one end of a shotgun from the other, and disliked the bitter beers so popular in the marsh. Also he kept bending nails and hitting his thumb.

The periwinkles cling to their arcane geometries. They stubbornly refuse to entertain any notion of rationalist, rectilinear architecture, and they openly sneer at the theories of Walter Gropius and all his intellectual and aesthetic spawn.

Returning, we saw a huge pile of sticks high in a pine tree, and shortly thereafter saw a huge old bald eagle perched a hundred yards away; soon it flew. Not long after we saw another one; my impression was that it was smaller and younger. It dived once or twice and then soared up in larger and larger circles, widening its search field high into the bright, clear sky. We drifted on our boats, letting the paddles drip; time seemed to flow slower and slower; the afternoon approaching a still point, when the everlasting pendulum of life seems to rest in balance, and in that moment opening the illusion of eternity. One forgot just for a while the ridiculous sight seen earlier: a small biplane put-putting across the sky in the distance like an idling lawnmower; in the binoculars it was seen to be purple.

"During the Middle Ages the communal clock extended by the bell permitted high coordination of the energies of small communities.  In the Renaissance the clock combined with the uniform respectability of the new typography to extend the power of social organization almost to a national scale.  By the nineteenth century it had provided a technology of cohesion that was inseparable from industry and transport, enabling an entire metropolis to act almost as an automaton.  Now in the electric age of decentralized power and information we begin to chafe under the uniformity of clock-time.  In this age of space-time we seek multiplicity, rather than repeatability, of rhythms.  This is the difference between marching soldiers and ballet."

- Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: the Extensions of Man,  2nd. ed. chapter 15. 1964.

So that's why we're out here in these boats, goofing off for all we're worth. 

Almost everything seems funny to this simpleton.

East of the sun;

West of the moon.

And the great eyelid of the day slowly closing.

Returning across the bay the next morning in mediocre winds, we watched a front come in, and rain, but without any violence or drama, except visually. Then for a while all we could see in any direction was a hundred yards of rain. I snoozed on the dining room bench, the boat rocking gently through the quiet rain.



About Me

My photo
He clasps the crag with crooked hands; Close to the sun in lonely lands, Ring'd with the azure world, he stands. The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls; He watches from his mountain walls, And like a thunderbolt he falls.