Shape-shifters

ALFEDENA GALLERY, CHICAGO (May–July, 2008)

Lakshmi, goddess of beauty and wealth

On the holy day celebrating the great god Vishnu—the creator and the annihilator—a child was born in his likeness. Surgeons with scalpel-tipped fingers saw the infant demiurge as an aberration—her torso with eight limbs a thing to be dismantled. The parents cooed at her and, realizing her specialness, named her Lakshmi—Vishnu’s alter being, the embodiment of wealth and fortune. The villagers also venerated the eight-armed wonder as if eight arms could build a better hug; as if each additional hand could grasp tighter than the last. The medical community’s prognosis: baby Laskshmi was living with a headless conjoined twin. But the village divined that Lakshmi was the earthly incarnation of great Vishnu—incarnation being a process familiar to them from their daily readings of the Upanishads, and so she was celebrated and bedecked in the garb of the gods. At two years of age, medical ethics vied with communal beliefs. In the end, the ancient mythology was no match for the doctors’ amputation skills.

The power struggle for the right to Lakshmi’s extra arms resembles a myth of scriptural proportions—God versus Man. Bearing the gift of wealth and fortune was Lakshmi’s punishment, for her arms were shaved off, and her body rounded into a recognizable human, no longer like a creature that scuttled out from behind the lotus flower. Shave the arms off a god and you end up with Man; discarding household deities is like leaving the oven on when you go away on holiday.

 

A Figure Study

Garbage bag man is filled with appliances, jewelry, home décor—a thief’s dowry wrapped in brown plastic and twisty tie. Cinched and easily carried away, but the center won’t hold, the ForceFlex® snagged on a chicken bone. Maybe the gelatin didn’t set, so when he gets carried away he explodes all over the place. Garbage bag man goes shop-lifting for culture and stuffs himself up like how a knotted, knuckled hand fits into a kid glove. Ultra softness was a good memory when we had memory, but it slipped out a gash in the plastic.

 

Evolution

Being whale meant traveling at train speed and sucking in plankton through baleen. Becoming human meant listening to Mozart in the womb. Raised by wolves, growing up was an education in olfactory character profiling, sniffing at every open sore. Leaving home for the city, slapping the pavement, machine handles were turned, cigarettes were burned. Man made verb, synonym, dinner. Settling in, the composition of an airless jigsaw and elaborate handshakes became clear. Then, fuzzy. As ghost, the white cover was flicked off like a table spread, and an infestation of bees was revealed in the shape of a person. They buzzed away, and got lost, probably in space.

 

Shape-shifters

Where do my ideas come from? Originality is something I ate. Creativity is a rash on my brain. No wellspring of pristine material bubbles within. Instead, every new idea is the result of an encounter with external objects. Everything is manhandled and covered with fingerprints. We may not recognize our collaboration with the world; some things just seep in. Other times we face with world with open palms and wide-open mouth. Either we mindlessly repeat—echolalia—or we channel the information and ‘speak in tongues’—glossolalia. Take a clump of clay, roll it around the ground so it picks up specks of the bodies gone before us, place it in your mouth, and this becomes your voice box. Coursing through the bloodstream are shipwrecks and leftovers. Assembled, we are collages of elaborate design.