Sunday, November 20, 2005

Rapture; Bay Area Trip Part 1

I just got back from my annual trip to the Bay Area to visit one of my best friends Betsy, whom I have known since the 7th grade. I love this tradition because in two short days and two shorter nights, I'm able to submerse myself in a world very foreign to my own. Betsy and her man, Jim, have carved a quality, tailored life in the East Bay that is adventurous and free in many ways. They are both fire fighters which is obviously taxing, but it also affords them enough time to travel extensively especially since they have no children. Most recently they've been to Hawaii, Panama, Italy and Fiji. And they don’t stay in chichi, Americanized hotels either but in remote surf resorts and ornithologists’ perches tucked away in the jungle and bungalows stilted over lagoons. They are kayaking and sculling and running and hiking and climbing and camping and skiing and surfing their way through life. They are living, man! I know I’ve posted this picture before, but this is how Betsy lives her life: (Jim’s in the background - oh, and above is Betsy in the tube, dude.)

So, I plop in once a year and spy out this intoxicating life where couples drink wine leisurely while cooking. Or pop out for a mid-morning jog or hike. Or take the binoculars and sit in the jacuzzi and enjoy the view of Mount Diablo and identify the many species of birds that flutter around the impressive oak that commands their back yard. I mean, it is goddamn nice in the world they've worked hard to create. And I sigh and admire. And I also miss Husband and the girls the minute I get there. My life is golden too, it's just harder to see to the naked, free-spirited eye.

Here's what I love most about my trips other than the fact that Betsy and I are often caught in a time warp and we will act the same as when we were in 10th grade, cracking each other up with stupid faces and poses:

1. Betsy & Jim are all about Quality. From the furniture to their food. It's better to save up and get some great high-end shit than settle for anything else. It's about fine and giving sustenance, and I Hear That (when I can). This philosophy contributed highly to the menu we enjoyed ALL WEEKEND LONG, but I'm saving the entire next post for that.

2. While getting in the mix of bustling San Francisco, I am reminded that there is a lot of interesting shit going on in the world. While I am trying to breathe in all moments of my own packed life, outside my world art is progressing and life is evolving, and I love a weekend like this where I can take the time to bear witness to it. It is inspiring and I dig it highly.

For example, by chance we caught the opening day of the Chuck Close and Kiki Smith exhibits at the SFMOMA. I like Chuck Close very much, but I was stoked to be able to see Kiki Smith. I had really only seen some of her drawings and earlier works before, but I know she exudes some kind of power that I wanted to experience live. I had also been reminded of her work recently because my girl Andrea has a link for Kiki Smith on her site. Seeing art live is mind-blowing compared to the effort is takes trying to capture the emotion of a piece from a photo. Betsy and I walked into the first room of Kiki Smith’s exhibit which housed her more recent sculpture. It is far too simplistic to say that Kiki Smith is an amazing feminist artist because she has evolved into something beyond the two dimension of the statement. The first piece I saw, Rapture, was a life-sized black bronze cast of a naked woman stepping out of the carcass of a wolf while holding onto its leg. Stepping out of, leaving it behind -- thanks for the ride, you couldn't consume me. Resurrection, being called to something and the woman moves confidently towards the calling. It was an exciting kick in the gut. I was thrilled by it.

I could tell you about every Kiki Smith piece from the show. I could. Really. Ask me. But the only one I really want to talk about is Blue Girl. This was a midnight-blue bronze cast of a life sized girl about 7 years old, naked and bald, kneeling, head down tilted to the side, arms away from the body, but palms up. The girl does not look broken, yet – almost -- but the turned-up palms look as if it’s an unintentional plea. It is such a mature and painful pose for a child. It looks like what an abused or forgotten girl would do out of some subconscious instinct. Something else (something divine?) was pleading for her, to help save her, and it used the gesture of the pose to do so whether the girl was aware of it or not. I was not prepared for her, to see this, to see this girl that I knew. I choked up severely. For a second, I felt a moment of panic because if I had let myself cry I wouldn’t have be able to rein it back in. I wanted to be alone with the piece to let it all out for the kneeling girl I had known, that had felt this exact way once. In a fit, I might've tried to pick up the sculpture, stand her up, or at least hold her, but I suddenly became very self conscious of all the people in the room, and of course Betsy. She said, "Are you crying?" when we had moved on to the next room. I wasn't crying, hadn’t, but I had halted huge tears from coming down and they just stayed bubbled in my vision. "It's just," I started, feeling panicked again trying not to think of the kneeling and the palms and her down-cast head. "This?" Betsy said pointing to a wax sculpture on the floor I had not noticed. "Uh, the--" and I thumbed towards the other room. The dam was close to giving. "The girl?" she asked. And I had to just look at the wax and not talk about it any more. I had to push my blue girl back down, a girl I don’t think about too often anymore.

Still, I felt renewed after visiting Kiki Smith and Chuck Close's entire exhibit. I was thrilled that Kiki could convey so much in bold new ways, and after the show I interestingly could not conjure that feeling again – the deep instinctual hurt and panic -- that I had felt when I first saw Blue Girl. Even when I look at the picture of the sculpture in the book. That initial viewing just caught me off guard. But I realize too that as an adult, I feel more like the woman confidentially stepping out of the dead wolf. I thank time and any other divine measures that got me to that point, including calling myself to my own rapture.

P.S. Kiki Smith was there! At the museum! Signing books! Betsy was cool enough to stand in the long-ass line with me so I could get the Blue Girl page signed by her. Look! Here we are together, the gorgeous Ms. Smith and me, though I look like I'm bum rushing her all giddy-like:

And Chuck was there too! Signing away with his bad hand. Here's a picture of Betsy sneaking up behind him hoping he'll look up from signing someone's book. No such luck:


la vie en rose said...

i have been feeling that kneeling girl in me for over a week. she's really wanting something from me and i'm just not sure what. your telling of the encounter and the emotions you felt is divine. here's to that little girl in all of us and to feeling her and letting her have her place. thank you for this story.

Anonymous said...

One word - "speechless"

Anonymous said...

Absolutely loved this blog. I felt like I was right there with you.
Ohhhh .. when we get hit in the gut by the blue girl....

andrea said...

you know, it happens (so rarely, I think) that we allow ourselves to respond authentically to what really, truly moves us. whether it is the blue girl sculpture or the smallest gesture of a dancer or a piece of street art or the way your child looks at up at the sky... I dunno, reading about this, your experience... deep, man. deep in such a good good way.

that being said, wow! look at beautiful you and beautiful kiki smith, yo! and can we please discuss the life of your chica? she sounds amazing. the photo of her jumping off that cliff is so fresh. again, I thank you for sharing this.

madness rivera said...

Betsy really is amazing. She even went to the Olympics for rowing in 1992! She's awesome and I'm really glad we've stayed so close over all these years. I love that she and Jim are brave enough to live exactly as they please. They play hard and enjoy live. It's great to witness.

Thank you for all the Blue Girl comments. I love her.

Ward Jenkins said...

I wish and hope and pray that everyone could look upon art like this. It is a monumental achievement whenever an artist can make a connection with the viewer this strong, this moving. I was almost about to ball up myself just reading what you had to say about the blue girl. It was a very touching tribute to the piece, to the artist, to art in general. When you had your photo taken with Kiki, were you able to mention to her about "blue girl?" I'm sure she would've been very receptive to your feelings about the piece.

Thank you very much for sharing with us your emotional, powerful, raw thoughts. Thank you.

madness rivera said...

Aah Ward, thanks for the great comment! Y'know, I did think about saying something to Kiki when I started waiting in line. This is when I realized I couldn't conjure that initial response. Also when I finally got to her after a half hour of waiting, I goof-balled up a little (refer to my giddy face in the photo of me with Kiki for evidence of this.) I think too I could only best convey what I was feeling in writing. It's my best form of expression.

bettyboop said...

wow, you work fast and furious! i wanted to give you time to write before i checked your blog, so i waited until today, and VOILA! great piece! thank you for all the sweet comments about me and jim and you and me.
i agree with ward-your interpretation of kiki's girl is amazing. it shows your heightened artistic eye. and the fact that you can articulate it is also impressive. i'm like, "duh, that's trippy."
love you!

Laume said...

Have you ever read Charles DeLint? I caught the words "blue girl" in the blog list and clicked on it in curiousity. Different blue girl. But I looked up the statue - 1998. So the book, The Blue Girl, was written after that. Maybe DeLint and Smith know each other, or maybe DeLint saw the work and was affected by it. Maybe it's all just a coincidence. Or maybe there is a sort of collective unconscious type symbolic definition of what a "blue girl" means. Have you read it? If not, go, read. You'll find it in the Young Adult stack.