Visitors taking in “Hourglass,” artist Daniel Arsham’s new exhibition at the High Museum of Art will note that Arsham, until recently, was colorblind, and apparently shied away from shades other than black and white in his art until new innovations in ocular technology exposed him to the full array of the color spectrum. He quite obviously has taken advantage of the subtleties of color for his latest exhibition. While he features seven pieces in his current show, the piece that most spoke to me was “Basketball Lamp 2017.”
Walking in, one immediately notices the work’s novelty as it literally surrounds you on all sides and is entirely purple. Various sports balls — volleyballs, soccer balls, tennis balls, etc. — comprise the walls and poke haphazardly from every which angle, layered on top of one another in a randomness that almost resembles the growth of stalagmites within a cave. However, these are all artifacts from our own world, balls in various stages of decay, all of them seeming to be made of Styrofoam but cracked or uniquely damaged in such a manner that we may imagine they had been around from the Earth’s dawn. A single light source emanates from the center of the room — a basketball, again as one might guess purple, but comprised of its original material. The light escapes from the ball’s pores to illuminate the rest of the work, giving an otherworldly sentiment — extraterrestrial or even post-apocalyptic.
Perhaps this was the intention. Walking into the room, I was reminded of walking through the catacombs in Paris where the skeletons of millions of citizens are stored, moved there after the cemeteries became too full. This impression comes from both the ball’s decay and its rotundness, dimly reminiscent of skulls. Though actual people’s remains had not been placed there, the piece certainly called to an earlier life long past. Each of those balls undoubtedly had a story, had an owner, had a city, was bounced in a number of exchanges and perhaps tumbled underneath a house’s infrastructure to be forgotten. Now, however, their lifespan had ended. The world they had been part of perhaps continues on, but for all we know these balls represent the only relics remaining of the world from whence they came. One immediately feels the weight of such decay. What happens when no one remains to re-inflate the ball or to pull it from underneath the neighbor’s hedge and it is instead abandoned to the undoing of time?
Initially, this weight resembles a melancholy — how unfortunate that all these things have now died. Yet upon further reflection I felt a relief, a joy even, at imagining these balls’ full life and how well worn they looked. I remembered the quote: “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”
The exhibit “Hourglass” is aptly titled in my estimation, as it gets at the heart of our greatest limitation: time. We may only exist in one given place at any time. We only have X number of years to get Y done. When it is over, there is no callback, and all that we have created slowly will decay to eventually become something else. Perhaps, though, rather than focusing on what all will eventually fade, we may take joy in what exists with us in the present. There is, after all, a light in the middle of the room. If all we had ever done were truly obsolete, the work would be enveloped in complete darkness.
Jolisa is a senior at the Westminster Schools and spoken word artist extraordinaire. L’année prochaine, she will be attending Rice University next fall on a full ride.
Teen Art Writing Intensive
VOX is partnering with BURNAWAY to host a five-session program offering teens the opportunity to write about and look at art in metro Atlanta. Each session starts with a discussion led by a professional member of the art community, lunch at the VOX headquarters, and then a field trip to a MARTA-accessible art location. Teens will travel to the High Museum, Mammal Gallery, Whitespace, and the Beltline over the course of this program. Participants are encouraged to utilize the themes of diversity, accessibility, and activism in their writing and during discussions. Email Sarah@voxatl.org if you’re interested.