Wednesday, June 1, 2011
MAGNET ARTICLE #13: CONTACT
My final post this week is about places that offer us weary human creatures a place to reflect, react and rebuild. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to see a small piece of the world. Touring in bands, however aggressive the schedule may be at times, still allows you to make contact with people from every climate and persuasion. It also allows a robust amount of visual input, of change. My favorite thing is seeing home after being away, having a chance to renew my perspective. So, here are just a few places that are special to me. Not all of them are places of quiet reflection, but all of them increase human connection and hopefully empathy.
Garfield Park Conservatory
Built in 1907, this 4.5-acre nature conservatory is truly breathtaking. Located in Garfield Park on Chicago’s West Side, this vast conservatory houses thousands of plants and brings together the talents of architects, landscape designers and artists. With an entrancing combination of wildly thriving plants and industrial design, the feel of the Garfield Conservatory is hard to describe. As you walk in from the street, you sense the clamor and bustle of Chicago soften and the throb of quiet thoughts (pleasantly at ease) take over. Honestly, I kinda feel like this is what Captain Nemo’s Nautilus may seem like at more peaceful (non-squid) moments. Remarkably, the Conservatory is open every day of the year, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with rare exceptions.
Cave Hill Cemetery
This is one of the few places my wife and I bring every out-of-town guest. At first, the idea of “let’s go to the cemetery” gets a few sideways looks. But, we do our best to describe the more than 500 species of trees and beautifully manicured landscapes. We talk about the central lake and the somehow timeless swans that live there. We talk about some of the famous inhabitants, the Victorian architecture and how peaceful and reassuring it makes people feel. Initially chartered in 1848, Cave Hill has evolved into a 296-acre working cemetery and arboretum. It’s best if you can give yourself lots of time to explore and enjoy this unique historic site. A well-kept jewel in Louisville’s Highland neighborhood, located near downtown, Cave Hill imparts a stately and timeless grace. Oh, they also have peacocks.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum
When we toured with Shipping News in Japan in 2006, we traveled by van with three excellent young guys: Shino, Yoshi and Takeshi. When we realized that we would be near Hiroshima on our day off, we somewhat tentatively suggested visiting the Peace Museum. We wondered if it could be insensitive or uncomfortable to be standing in that city after what the United States had unleashed there. Thankfully, our friends were interested, and our experience there was, for me, life changing. The Genbaku Dome (now known as the “A-Dome”) was almost directly at the center of the blast on Aug. 6, 1945, and it’s still there. You see it standing in black-and-white photos, an ocean of destruction as far as any human eye could see. Today, it’s still central to the museum, near a large peace bell that people from all over the world ring daily. In fact, the bell probably rang many times today, for the 70,000 dead (in an instant) and the 70,000 more who died of radiation exposure. And those numbers do not include the later bombing of Nagasaki. The museum has a haunting and startling collection of artifacts: news documents and also large recreations of the devastation. The one small item that really affected us was a piece of paper, gently displayed in glass. The heat from the blast had made the ink on the page heat so much that it burned through, leaving sentences of empty space. The resulting years of struggle, the absolute horror of radiation poisoning but also rebuilding and rebirth, are all in full view. The Peace Museum has dedicated itself to working to end proliferation and has a strong activist mission. To stand in that place, 65 years later, is to urgently hope that the lesson will taken to heart before it’s too late. It’s also a lesson that this issue is not in our distant past; we must act. The name says it all—it’s a memorial to peace and request for more connection between all rational people.
This remarkable museum/meeting place in Houston, Texas, was started in 1964 when John and Dominique de Menil commissioned painter Mark Rothko to create 14 large-scale (site-specific) works. While Rothko didn’t live to see its opening in 1971, this wonderful meditative space is a testament to the power of his work. To experience this modernistic gallery room—lit by natural light—is to feel a sense of being submerged in color and texture, although the works at first glance seem to be only shades of black. Magnificent 20th-century composer Morton Feldman created the piece Rothko Chapel (1971) in honor of this unusual creative project. Peter Gabriel has also written music inspired by the powerful personal experience that many visitors describe. It’s located on the same site as the radical and beautiful de Menil Collection (a museum that is absolutely worth your time), so you can spend a full day with transformative visual art and culture, nestled in a leafy Houston neighborhood of parks and local businesses. The large reflecting pool on the Rothko Chapel grounds inspires us to pause and repair ourselves, with the large sculpture Broken Obelisk by Barnett Newman surrounded by a gentle wall of bamboo. It’s interesting to me that so many different types of political groups and artist collaborations happen in Rothko Chapel. It can be an overwhelming and somber place—if that’s what you bring to it. The chapel can be viewed in multiple directions and from many different angles. It feels like a room that doesn’t just offer a visual experience but also suggests to the viewer that they have something to say and create themselves.