2002 the concrete texts | Creative Capital

the concrete text


. . . up it went, a great ball of fire about a mile in diameter, changing colors as it kept shooting upward, from deep purple to orange, expanding, growing bigger, rising as it was expanding, an elemental force freed from it’s bonds after being chained for billions of years. For a fleeting instant the color was unearthly green, such as one sees only in the corona of the sun during a total eclipse. It was as though the skies had opened and the earth had split . . .


As one walks down the urban street there is always something, many things, to look at, one image upon another, a steady flow of information, of perhaps distraction. And there is the accompanying flow of chatter in one’s mind; often a sort of malcontent rumination of something slight, or perhaps something big. And most often between this thinking in one’s mind and constant barrage from the place one’s body is passing through there is a disjuncture – a mind|body split. This project focuses on that space of disjuncture as a site on which to build.

The concrete text is a temporary public work: a text is physically incorporated into, or cast as part of, the sidewalk surface; it’s narrative a first person subjective narrative of unusual experiences. Both the text and its relationship between the passerby and realtime events function as a sort of go between—a go between mind and body and space and time. This contingent insertion of text onto cityscape might be likened to watching a movie with subtitles, subtitles referent to a different image, a different play of events than the one on the screen. What surfaces is a form of hinged reality or contextual fracture that ultimately alters the theme of the film and your relationship to it, a hybrid reality and if successful a coming into being of heightened experience.

I have been searching through volumes of material from the cavernous archives of the libraries of Harvard (to which I have had temporary access as part of another project). What stood out for me immediately the first time I entered those endless corridors was the palpable reverberating echo, the volume of language contained within the human story—both the extent of this witness and it’s separation from the everyday. A vast epistemology sequestered in endless halls, accessed by a privileged few. How useful this material might be as streaming footnotes on the level of the street within the urgent bustle of urban survival, where it is only banal advertising that functions as the reverberating text.

I began searching through first person narrative accounts of contemporary events that have significantly altered frameworks of reference, events that have been irreversible in their effect in a physical, phenomenological way. Such events commonly become known through the voice or lens of the impersonal, through narration from the expert observer, a consistent monotone description—one spectacle replacing another. I began this investigation out of my own personal concern and urgent need to better understand our time and place as a story about humanity, structured by personal experience. Reading through vast amounts of unfamiliar material became like a train going through the same towns but from the perspective of a very different track.

I have thought of the text as an open ended compilation in first person voice of first hand accounts, witness to significant events, again the occurrence of which have had profound and irreversible effect. Although simply narrated these become complicated stories, in which we are all by the very fact of being here involved. These personal stories, from minds bewilderingly scientific and uncannily objective, narrate experience through first hand witness what might be referred to as the overview effect—or a heightened experience of awareness that they were motivated to try to describe, embodying a voice not commonly heard. These are not the words of poets or writers. There is an odd quality to these words, a glimpse into an interiority of a mind rarely accessed. They resonate spatially as they conjure through language primary archetypes. The words are reflective, they refer to events that we feel in our bones and whether we recognize the specific subject addressed or not the words have a quality of familiarity. Such events bind us, we have them in common, they are our equalizers, they blur distinctions between us.

Example: the thoughts in the physicist’s mind witnessing the first atomic explosion, a reflective and poignant awareness at exactly that moment that the world had irrevocably changed. At that moment, as the mind stood transfixed, everything froze and time turned in on itself. Now, walk over that voice embedded into the surface in the concrete under your feet. Just a routine walk down the street, with the mind full of chatter in the midst of chaos surrounding and . . . and now . . .new thoughts, the silence of the mind as it enters a deeper space of reflection.

Short texts, fragments unto themselves but as a whole become comprehensive. Subject matter alluded to, sensed, open to interpretation and subjective point of view. Over time, the project with the corresponding ebb and flow of experience on the street builds on memory matter, infiltrates, engages, disengages, colors the view. To what degree would this effect the conscious awareness of the passing crowd, I only imagine. It is one of the paradoxes of a public work over time—it’s effect remains elusive. It has the potential to engage, and perhaps inspire, many.

I am currently proposing this work for Manhattan, however once the rubber molds of text are made it becomes reproducible, offering the project the potential of extension to other places. It has no set size as segments can be added on or taken off, depending on circumstance. Any subsequent installation would be seen as an extension of the same work.

Augmenting the public project, concrete text, will be a book. This book will include photo documentation of the sidewalk texts, will make further and longer versions of the texts available and be accompanied by images paralleling the subject matter of the text, re-photographed out of Harvard’s same collections (further description of this book can be found in the in UnNatural Couples proposal). This book will serve both to contextualize the project within a broader framework and assist towards further installations of the public project concrete text.