306: “Currently…” (Shilpa Gupta)

                “Do artworks keep evolving, acquiring new meanings, even after leaving the artist’s studio?”
                “They do. Threat, an interactive installation in which viewers are invited to take a soap away each, was a response to a growing fear of otherness. Currently, as it sits on a street in Copenhagen, inhabiting a shipping container, it opens up conversations around anxiety owing to migration into Europe on the one hand, and a double take, on the other, with the current situation where we’ve become suspicious of almost everyone.”
                -from a 2020 interview with artist Shilpa Gupta

                One of the funny things I’ve done in a classroom is try to teach the same course. I’ve started one year’s version of Writing Poetry with maxims from La Rochefoucauld, and then because it went well I’ve started the next year’s Writing Poetry with those same maxims. As though I could carry along a sequence, a syllabus, from year to year. It’s wonderful how close a thought from hundreds of years ago can feel. At the same time, that thought lands differently in 2015 and 2018. Shilpa Gupta is showing me why. We don’t read the ink of a letter. We read the ink and the space around it.
                I imagine myself carrying along a ruler, holding it up to things while I try to make sense of the world.  Aha, this piece of driftwood is one foot long. This stone is one foot wide. This lamp shade is one foot high. But now I have this image of the ruler shifting in my hand. Anything that I actually return to feels different, is different, each time I go back. Maybe we carry things not just because they stay the same, but because they change. When I think about the books and the ideas that really, really mean something to me, they mean something by growing, by becoming, by being different. Star Wars doesn’t mean to me what it did when I was sixteen. It still means something. What if rulers function, not just by holding true and helping us measure, but also by warping? By hinting to us about how we’ve been trying to measure—by bobbing as they float on the ripples of a changing current?

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