People die and they disappear, and all we can say about that are philosophical banalities, religious platitudes, and where is science when we really need it?
What does science have to say about the soul?
Because if philosophy is the religion of eloquent doubt, and religion the philosophy of blind certainty, science has neither eloquence nor certainty when it comes to the (existence or not of the) afterlife. In the face of anything that it cannot isolate on a vitrine and scrutinize and classify under a microscope, science is mute.
And so, as always, it is art that gives us not answers, but some kind of solace, a modicum of consolation, a sweet and sour caress in the face of The Nothingness…
Thus Robert Montgomery and his poetic "text art". I admire Barbara Kruger and her political stance disguised as advertising (making artistic derision of the "if you can't beat them, join them" axiom), but they leave me cold. They engage my intellect, yes, but in a way they are just preaching to the already converted part of me. Robert Montgomery's art, which I only recently discovered (thanks to Instagram—once in a while even I, a technophobe, must bow down to the enrichment that certain aspects of technology have brought to my life), speaks to more than just my intellect: it speaks to my heart, my soul, my creative and ever-changing mind.
Lines of poetry become something at once more ephemeral and more permanent when they are etched into a neon sign, sculpted onto the side of a building, set on fire—when they exist three-dimensionally in space, rather than dwell, hidden, on the white surface of a book page.
They take on life.
This sign really hit me when I first saw a picture of it (on Instagram): immediately, though, I took it to be not just about tthe people you love who died, but rather about all the people you love(d) who are not present in the present.
Not only the "dear departed", but all the lost loves and lost friends, the people who let go of your hand and let you walk away, the people you left behind when you walked away.
But: is it right to keep them alive as ghosts? Is it what the dear departed would want, or would they rather be forgotten, left alone to play in whatever cosmic dimension they may be frolicking in forever (or not)?
And what does it mean to have these ectoplasmic breaths of life-not-life inside of us all the time?
I am not here interested in the "new age" platitudes (this half-baked new religion for the new unthinking masses—a hodge-podge of warmed up leftovers from the time of the hippies and from some real Eastern religious and spiritual traditions), such as "let go of the past in order to live the present", "don't live in the past or the future, live in the present", etcetera.
I also have my own gripes against these Western practitioners of "new age" philosophies: it is my personal experience that the people who utter such platitudes are those whose life has always gone well and who have everything, material or otherwise, they may ever desire or aspire to in the present—I've never heard a truly unhappy, poor, deprived, depressed person utter such "Zen" persuasions. But here these self-appointed anointed ones would say "But that's why you are depressed, because you can't let go of things, accept emptiness as the only reality, blah blah blah"… Thus precipitating the discussion (if one can even have a discussion with such self-possessed people) into that dangerous territory of "the chicken or the egg", where nothing ever can be resolved.
It would be pointless to discuss this here. We are what we are, and we have what we have, and we can let go only of what we feel we can let go of.
And besides: there is something deeply unnatural about these platitudes—for what human being does not dwell in the past while also simultaneously dreaming about the future?
Isn't it just human nature not to live in the present, not to be contented with it, but to constantly SEARCH—for something new, for something different, for something else? Where would we be as humans if we didn't have this pulsion?
Well, yes, arguably we may in some ways be better off, and I am certainly not a blind advocate of either science nor progress, in the name of which so many crimes against humanity and the earth have been committed. But: we would also have no artists, because it is an artist's nature to be curious, exploring, inquisitive, restless, not contented with what IS, but always searching for deeper, different, other meanings, other notions other senses and other visions beyond and behind and underneath the accepted meanings, the received notions, the common senses and the merely physical visions.
"I see other things" has been my motto for a long time now, but I cannot claim exclusive privileges to it, it is any artist's motto.
And so this light installation by Montgomery made me think of the ghosts inside me and the ghosts inside other people and how we deal (or not) with them: the dear departed, and the not dead but lost loved ones, but also the not-dear-at-all disappeared ones, the ones who abandoned and betrayed and hurt us. Because, sadly, sometimes those ghosts are more haunting than the ghosts of people who loved us, they still sing their wicked song, howl their deceitful cries, and we are still under their dark spells.
Whatever the weight of those ghosts on my soul, on the soul of all of us, this piece made me think, made me want to write a little something—just a few platitudes of my own really, nothing that goes any deeper than the surface of the immense and inexplicable lakes that are Death and Loss—and this too is the power of art: not just to to move us to think and understand and explore, not just to move us, but also to inspire those of us who are artists.