Saturday, May 30, 2009

A Rusty Ribbon

(A New Autotelism: VI)

When a front moves across the endless grassland of South Dakota, the mouth of Jewel Cave inhales, and wind pulls at anyone standing in the cave entrance.

I feel a similar wind at my back now, though I am 4600 miles away. Thousands of tons of weathering steel are balanced on edge, sheets six inches thick, twelve feet tall, and hundreds of feet long, gently coiled in arcs and spirals. I'm pulled into a gap between two that is only a few feet wide.

Once I am inside, the intangible wind does not let up — there is no chance, yet, to examine the protective layer of rust that covers the walls, or to gawk at the seamless steel, because I am pulled relentlessly along in an elliptical orbit. The cant of the ribbons slowly changes, and above me the river of metal slowly opens up, revealing more of gallery ceiling. As soon as it has opened, it begins to close again, undulating fluidly as I drift forward in the unceasing current. Then, a change up ahead; the COR-TEN wall to my right comes to an end, and I am dumped into the silent space inside the spiral.

Here, the cave-breath is released, and there is a moment of calm; I run my hand along the rough surface of the ellipse, and listen to the distant muffled voices reflected off the gallery skylights. It takes time to become acquainted with the space; the walls tilt and curve, and give my eyes nothing solid to rest upon. There is no restlessness here. It is a human, comfortable place. here is still no where to sit or wait, so my body stays in motion.

Eventually, reticently, I return to the narrow winding way, and it is like climbing uphill; the equilibrium of the interior pulls me back, but the tight corridor wills me onward, until I have returned to the outer space. I stand dumbly for a moment, like a spelunker blinking in the light.

I do not stop in the external world long; in Richard Serra's The Matter of Time, the gap I first entered has a dozen sisters, and one of them is tugging at my feet.

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