Mexico, rebar and human sacrifice

Today at the bookstore I came across a book called Learning to Love You More, co-authored by Miranda July, so I thought it would probably be interesting. She and another artist decided to give themselves assignments for inspiration. They started a website so that others could do them too.

“Sometimes it is a relief to be told what to do,” the authors of this wonderful, strange photo book explain. “We are two artists who are trying to come up with new ideas every day. But our most joyful and even profound experiences often come when we are following other people’s instructions.” (That’s from the Amazon review.)

I poked around on the website, which is inactive now, although the assignments are still available. I’d like to try some. But the reason for this post is that under the tab “Love” I found a narrated photo work by Robert Smithson entitled “Hotel Palenque.” I only know Smithson as the creator of the Spiral Jetty and other earthworks. This is something quite different.

In 1969 Smithson visited Palenque and stayed at a hotel that was being constructed and deconstructed simultaneously. Rebar abounds. The photos remind me so much of what even today are common sights in Mexico. The hotel has a pool that was never finished. It has a wooden bridge crossing over it. From the bridge, Smithson writes, the pool becomes “a kind of pen for iguanas scampering all around.” That and the rough rock sides of the pool make him think of the Mayan human sacrifices.

Another photo shows long sticks resting horizontally on stacks of bricks. It looks like something is going to happen. There’s some movement there, or suggestion of a stage set. Or as if someone has just departed. There’s an energy there.

And there’s the surreal flavor, of course. The roofless rooms, the lone folding chair left in the abandoned dance hall, the pillar that connects to nothing. It’s the feeling of waiting for the other shoe to drop; a disjointed, impenetrable, not quite there feeling. This is what I love about Mexico. It feels like there’s some kind of atavistic energy threatening to break through the surfaces of ordinary objects.

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