Sunday, September 16, 2012

Scottsdale Belle Art SWING: Push (Don't Punch)

This Scottsdale Belle Art Tower installation presents a challenge to those of us raised in the PUNCH school

We live with contradictions and tensions every day. To a great extent, this defines the essential task of a human animal living in a nominally civilized society: the social contract requires that we feel one thing, yet do another. Go see Hobbes, Rousseau, or even Daniel Bell for more on this.

However, a glance at the news of the day (and our history to date) will also show that the human animal is terribly bad at this. A miserable unqualified failure. In fact, we are so very bad at this that I find that the language lacks sufficient adjectives and intensifying adverbs to express the extremity of our failing without falling back in linguistic frustration on vernacular and swear words, which goes against the tone and level I try to set with this blog, but which also, very precisely illustrates the point: one thing you can rely on with us humans, when push comes to shove, we'll act on the impulse we feel rather than observing the constraints of the social contract, and without any concerns for the consequences. It's what we do, people. That's how we roll.

For some giant portion of the population of planet Earth, in statistical terms let's just say EVERYBODY, daily life consists of wondering if things couldn't/shouldn't be better, more peaceful and more prosperous, richer and more lush, while individually we act like psychotic self-centered apes armed with AK-47s looking over a flimsy fence at another band of slightly better off apes who have everything we think we need. Any time our greedy band has access to sharpened sticks, a rampage can't be far off.

If we're honest, every single one of us feels this because we have consciences and know better. In some this sense is much more blunted than others. In some it is burned out through the training and conditioning of ritual, institution, or circumstance. But whether it's what we're doing or what we're reading about others doing in the news, at least some part of us knows better, and so we feel the tension, we live the contradiction. Living like that, it's always a bit jarring when someone, artists let's say, puts it on a sign and sticks it in our face. It's the obvious unsolved awful thing about us: we could be so much more.

Humans are designed for you to gently interact with.

Down at the Scottsdale Civic Center, Belle Art Cycle 2 installation 6 is up for a couple more weeks, so I wanted to spin by and check it out before the next installation (7) goes up. What should I find but punching bags that you are not supposed to punch. Speed bags, I think, like in Rocky, and every other boxing movie ever made, bangety-bangety-bangety- bangety goes the rhythmic whacking of the bag, so fast it blurs, an exhibition of one aspect of the sweet science in which hands and body do something so fast, beautiful, and destructive that we wonder if it can even be so. 

Boxing, similar to football, the structured and permitted release of the animal-in-us within a confined and refereed space, measured and limited but promising blood for us ravening masses. It's supposed to perform a limiting function by exhibiting someone much better than we are doing it right up to, but stopping short of, the line of mortality. Dance up to the bleeding edge, then pull back. We have those sports, yet that's not enough for us, no, not nearly enough to feed the animal. So we take sports where violence is specifically proscribed, baseball, soccer, cycling (W.E. Becker/Major Taylor), cricket for god's sake, and turn even them into blood sports when push comes to shove. Cricket hooligans. Really? REALLY??

They don't bump, they turn and make sweet musical sounds

Plato, Saul Bellow, Ghandiji, I'm pretty sure we'll just never get it

This art not only has a sign (sticking it in your face) telling you to chillax and restrain your punching impulses, but also seems built in such away to frustrate punchers and bangers-together. This is no carnival strong man bang the bell type machine, although it has all the visual parts to be one: if these were free-swinging punching arms set on ball bearings that banged together when punched with sufficient force, there could be a satisfying (temporarily, all such satisfaction is fleeting) bell at the top which would ring if you hit the bottom ones hard enough. But no. Weaklings and Rockies, aggressors and peacemakers, knuckle-draggers and petite readers, we are all one before this thing. PUSH (DON'T PUNCH).

I love the "don't climb on it" addition to the sign. Did the Romans have something like this in the Colosseum, with captured gladiators armed with swords fastened on each rotating table? Like cricket hooligans, the op-art hooligans show up here and have to make it something it is not? Not for me. For me, out on my solo art bicycle ride, the signage and the quiet musical tones, the disconnected and easy kinetic spinning of this work, is enough data to fuel quiet reflection for hours. PUSH (DON'T PUNCH). I'll try. I keep on trying. Please keep reminding me, though.

Sign out in the civic plaza in front of the Belle Art Tower

We live with contradictions and tensions every day. Signs and rules which tell us one thing, news items and human actions around us which slap us with the opposite reality. We attempt to resolve the disparate data points, move forward, and hope for the best. Ride a bicycle far and wide. Hug family members. Post up photos on the blog. Do what we can do. Keep on laughing, and endeavor to do better. Because that much I am sure of: we surely can. Because we know we can, and because reality always seems to have a way of showing us something we didn't expect.




  1. What would the water feature in the bottom photo look like if it WERE operating?

    1. Steve this must be its hibernation state. It sprays very slowly, at low pressure, just to keep the pipes open. In operation, the water shoots a thousand feet into the air, and kids can ride the jets. I think.


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