The moment of art happens in the space between the work and the viewer. It is a potential moment – it is a moment of seeing, for sure, but whether that moment becomes an encounter, that, that all depends. A glance is often not enough – it is too passing, too fleeting, hardly time to comprehend what one has seen. An art moment is an augmented Now, fully present, alert and attentive, expectant. It is an “I wonder…” moment. I wonder what… I wonder how… I wonder why.
My art moment occurred today in the Tate Modern Gallery, London, as I perched on a stool in front of Lorna Simpson’s Five Day Forecast. It is a set of five photographs each filled with a young female torso, lined up next to each other, frame next to frame. The top of the photo starts just above the shoulder with a little part of the neck in shot. Mid-line of the photos are arms crossed tightly over the stomach, wrapped around the ribs, no hands showing, wrists directing fingers behind the body. The ebony skin colour seems to be darker at the crossed arms, the shades of the under side of the horizontal arms obsidian, casting a shadow onto the plain white cotton dress. Each photo is almost identical. The crossed arms present a very closed pose, not interacting, cut off. The figure in each photo is facing forward, full into the camera.
That we cannot see the head, or face, and so view no facial expressions, we are bereft of those indicators to interpret the pose and we have few other clues to help us read the body language. We do not see the hips, legs, knees, direction of feet whether in swagger or defiance, relaxed or careless, so cannot infer anything from them. All we have is the torso. That is all we see. Five of them, next to each other. Where we might imagine a head to have been, on the wall above the photos is a name of a day of the week, Monday through Friday. Under all the photos is a line of ten words: ‘misdescription’, misinformation, misidentify, misdiagnose, misfunction, mistranscribe, misremember, misgauge, misconstrue, mistranslate.’ The title is Five Day Forecast, not a prediction of the weather, but an anticipation of how it will be, all day every day, this working week.
Perhaps the young woman’s simple, plain cotton dress, shapelessly worn, pulled in at the waist by the folded arms, perhaps that dress is the work garment for the working days in the working week. This girl, working for someone – someone else, for a system perhaps that wants her labour, her toil, her energy expended on something from which she will not benefit, in which she is no individual, no name, no person. In which she is none. A system which is mis-sing, misconstruing her, mis-describing her, misidentifying her and her and her. Some external totalitarian regime governing her whole life – though not politically totalitarian, just a social one – harder to oppose as its ‘normality’ seems natural.
Yet who she is, what the thoughts of her mind are, what the determination of her soul is, what the cheekiness and laughter and joy of her spirit are, she doesn’t give to Them. ‘They’ don’t, and never can, own her spirit. Perhaps in some place, on some day – Saturday and Sunday? – she smiles inwardly and outwardly, laughs, hums her tunes, fizzes with life and dances with joy. Is this all? A little triumph, surely, in the face of society’s strictures against her. Yes. But this, her smile and joy she is free to give or withhold. Her laughter she can restrain, choosing not to bless that company with her dazzling life and sparkling joy. Her choice is her freedom; it is hers to give or not. A little thing, yet a mighty thing. It asserts her individuality, her existence, her presence, her life.
‘Because my smile or joy or laughter or grace, cannot be demanded. It can only be bestowed. Freely.’