Las Vegas Pinks (2015)
The six rock memorials honor a handful of deceased Calarts community members: two students, a facilities manager, two teaching faculty, and a dean. No institutional protocol nor policy governed the creation of these sites. No guidelines for expressing grief exist in the school’s literature. The memorials were created ad hoc through the organization of caring friends and colleagues, and often times completely unknown to the higher powers of the administration. (In one of my many conversations I learned that president Steven Lavine himself knew of only four of the six rock memorials on campus.)
I was drawn to these memorials made of rock, scattered at different locations around campus. I began seeing them as places of latent spirituality found in the otherwise secular landscaping. They struck me as glitches in the official story.
In creating a rock memorial on campus, the name of the deceased person is inscribed or cast in bronze and adhered to an attractive free-standing rock. It is crucial that the rock is large enough to not be easily moved. The choice of site for the rock is equally as important as its material: it is installed in a semi-quiet area; the rock’s face is positioned to be seen by the viewer while standing from a specific vantage point, and it has a pleasing view of the landscape beyond as a backdrop. They are usually sited near the affiliated department of the deceased. Once the rock is placed, the memorial becomes alive in its function and is extant as the sum of its parts—remove the memorial rock from its site, place it in a gallery, and it ceases to be a memorial. It is as much its site, its ceremonial activities, its routine use and maintenance, as it is the rock. The rocks as they stand in the landscape are loosely tended by the Calarts’ landscaping crew, but mostly are left untouched and ungoverned. I believe they will continue to be unmolested by young art guerillas to come, due to a nearly universal social contract that regulates honorific sites of identity beyond death, while they also evoke the looming sense of mortality in their stony gaze. As spiritual objects, the memorials attempt to facilitate the collective need to grieve (usually aided by the groundwork of spiritual belief) while in a secular art context.
In these memorial objects, death is symbolically and materially aligned with nature. In their scenes of private of existential contemplation, the name of the person who has ‘left’ the body is identified by the natural rock, materializing the belief that in death they have ‘returned to nature/God’. This denotes that during life they were outside of nature/God. Standing and looking down at this site, onto the smooth inscribed rock face of Alexander ‘Sandy’ MacKendrick, you find yourself protected by the soft shade of the only magnolia tree on campus while a rose garden (also planted in his memory) extends to both your right and left. Here, one may imagine the deceased, reunited with nature in an Edenic garden. It’s a divine access point to the spiritual spring latent inside the object.
My original intent was to relocate these six memorial rocks into the space of the gallery during the week of my exhibition. I attempted to identify the overseeing powers-that-be and receive their permission—I thought that by working within the system of institutional power and control, I’d reveal something otherwise hidden and make it manifest through my bureaucratic navigations. What manifested instead was a nebula of self-governing built-in social contracts, and the moral majority within myself. No vertical hierarchy governed these sacred places, nor could anyone grant me permission to relocate them. In this code, no one person –not even president Lavine—felt they had the authority to say ‘yes’, while if asked, anyone felt the right to say ‘no’. I found that the real site and material was not in the memorials, but the cultural conventions honoring the symbolic and the sacred power of social contracts. This seemingly erases distinction between the grounds and the sacred qualities themselves—the place is the spiritual, grounded to its location permanently.
The memorials perform as spiritual faucets. A groundspring of nature-divinity lies below material surfaces waiting to be tapped; they inconspicuously blend with the landscaping while becoming nodes –access points—for the subject to turn on and fill-up on their necessary nature/God quota. The underground spiritual plumbing may be accessed through these marginal secular-spiritual objects, most profoundly in places of strongly enculturated identities.
To continue, see Sculpture Garden