MAY 2016/ HUDSON
MAY 2016/ HUDSON
Lazarus got me back in a hole.
A friend, J, is producing an art event in Hudson, New York. The event is called The Lazarus Project.
The Lazarus Project press material poses two questions: “What if we have been largely sleeping through life, and one day are called to wake up? What would it look, sound and feel like to arise from our slumber and ‘come forth’ into the world, awake?”
That sounds like a good fit for Hole Earth. I need to wake up. Rise again. I like the sound of “come forth.”
But I haven’t dug a hole in nearly a year. I thought maybe I was finished. Seemed like maybe I’d hung up my shovel and suit for good. But sometimes all it takes is an invitation. I say yes.
I decide to beef up my presentation. I make a five-minute slide show, photos of holes and of me digging in various places with some music in the background. The slideshow can run on a loop on the wall in the gallery space. The gallery is by the railroad tracks near the train station in Hudson. My hole is to be dug across the parking lot, a stone’s throw from the tracks in a scraggly vacant lot spiked with weeds and a few scrawny cedar trees.
I start digging at around 4 in the afternoon. I’m set to give a short talk with a Q&A at 7. Within minutes of digging I sense that this dig will be long and painful. It seems as if someone dumped a wet gravel and concrete mix here long ago. It has hardened into stubborn chunks along with various other hard to dig waste. I am out of practice and my attitude sucks. Must adjust.
J moves around, takes pictures and engages me in a conversation about my relationship with “recognition”. He means in relation to my “art”. Uh oh. I try to wax wise on the subject as I dig and pick at the earth. I say things like, “I think the act of creating is a kind of recognition, in that it is the recognizing of self, the creating of self through the work,” etc. I basically declare that I don’t need recognition and each hole is its own reward.
He probes deeper on the recognition subject, trying to find out how much it matters, or helps, or hurts. He’s making me think. The earth here is starting to smell bad. I must be near a septic situation. I am sweating freely, body at work. I look up from the dig and see that there is one other person here with us, a man with strong arms folded across his chest, watching me with a grave expression. We nod at each other. After a while he leaves, and then someone else arrives, an intern with the Lazarus Project. She takes some pictures. I forgot gloves so my hands are blistering.
Railroad sounds fill the air, trains hissing, and rumbling up to speed. I lose focus on the recognition conversation and my answers get shorter and shorter until they are just grunts or shrugs and then the questions stop and I am muttering to the foul depression, deepening at my feet. This hole is getting recognition.
The hole is not inviting. It does not want to exist. This neutral looking location is some sort of abandoned toxic dumping ground. I am digging in a dead zone. I am disturbing the peace. Someone has found small knit gloves for me to wear and I pull them on over torn blisters.
I finally get to the bottom, to the depth I need, and I fling my shovel down with a clang. I’m feeling toxic too. I look up at the glorious late afternoon sky. The sky. The constant masterpiece. The ultimate witness. But I’m going the other way.
“I’m getting in now,” I announce to J. I was thinking I might have an actual audience. I realize as I settle down into my little pit that I was really hoping some people might be gathered to see this. I invited some friends but they won’t make it. Expectations are a mistake in this Hole business.
Curled up in a ball I curse myself for wanting an audience, for desiring recognition. Then I start to curse the polluters of this earth and the man, me, in the earth and the whole ridiculous situation. I vow to never do this again. Never! I shut my eyes and count to five hundred while the sun slips down and shadows stretch across the ground.
After a long time counting I lose my meditative state and fester with new rage wondering if people have gathered. I can’t tell. I can’t see anything but my knees jammed up into my face. Is anyone getting an overhead shot of this? I feel like a landmine.
The hole is squeezing me, trying to get me to admit that I want some sort of recognition.
It is silent up above. For all I know I am completely alone. Maybe J is gone too.
“Hey, man, are you there?” I call out pathetically from my scrunched up fetal knot.
J approaches and answers yes in his soft-spoken earnest manner. I have a panicky pinched edge in my voice.
“Is anyone here?” I say.
“There was… someone…” J says.
“Well…is there anyone over in the gallery who might want to witness this?” I ask, trying and failing to sound casual.
He says something about a couple people that stopped by and not wanting to mess with the natural unfolding of the event back at the gallery etc. Fair enough.
I count one more time to one hundred and then I get up and fill the hole back in. The hole reeks and now I reek too. I ache from the contortion and lack of circulation in my extremities. I am dizzy and feeling broken as I walk unsteady across the parking lot into the raw space warehouse gallery. I politely refuse an offer to wash up.
Soothing Lazarus related art is everywhere on the walls but I can’t see it now. I’m too pissed off, self absorbed, and disoriented. I can hear the spooky friendly Bill Frisell music from my slideshow. Maybe a dozen people are assembled and ready for my “talk”. They take seats and I stand before them.
The plan is to read some excerpts from past Hole Earth writing and to answer some questions. But I suddenly want to move in a different direction. I can see J’s moderator face register this fact with a trace of worry. The music is off now and the space is silent.
“Hello.” I say and raise one bloodied hand. “I was just wondering—how many people here saw what just happened outside. Raise your hand if you saw me in the hole.”
Two people raise their hands and the rest look at each other sort of confused and sheepish.
“Right. Well….I just dug for two and a half hours and got inside a hole and… it was worth a look… but we have the slideshow pictures, right? And I can tell you about it. I don’t want you to feel bad. I don’t.”
People watch, waiting. It’s not clear to me where I’m going with this.
“I bring this up because our host J and I had conversation as I was digging… about Recognition,” I say.
“I think I said that it doesn’t really matter to me. But now I think it does. I realized when I was out there in that hole that I wanted you to see me. Not ME exactly, but THE THING. I wanted to show you a man in a suit in a hole. It is sort of embarrassing to admit, but its true. Like a kid. Look what I made! We all want or need to be seen…right? At least once in a while. I just thought I would say this to you now. Recognition…is real.
I’m groping for my next point, scratching my head. Some dirt andgravel spill out of my hair onto my shoulder and down to the floor.
People laugh a little, nervously. I sniff the air and make a joke about how bad I smell and the mood lightens a bit.
I sit down and do my reading of selected Hole writings. Afterwards the Q&A brings out a lot of questions and conversation about how I got into this and about physical work and art and ritual and the value and meaning of recognition. People seem sparked and eager to share their thoughts and questions.
For my final offering I take out a guitar and sing my song “Dig” about digging a hole.
The song ends and people clap and stand up to leave. A large woman hugs me for a few seconds and then introduces me to her shy grown daughter. A few people apologize for missing the main event. I make a few jokes at my own expense. Then I am facing the serious looking man whose arms were folded over his chest as he watched me dig my hole. He shakes my hand firmly like a farmer and lasers me with his eyes. “Thank you,” he says. “We need more of this. Especially now-- with what’s going on…”
Later I am crossing the Hudson River alone in my car. My body is sore all over, hands raw on the wheel. I need a hot shower and some food. I have come forth once again. I suppose tonight I am some sort of Lazarus, in my filthy tattered suit, driving west through the darkness.
The next day an invitation arrives from The Dark Mountain Project. An important gathering is happening at the end of the summer in Devon, England. They want me to come and dig.
That man’s words are in my head: Especially now—with what’s going on…
I am bound for another hole.