I got a sneak peek at the opening of the Yukon Arts Gallery show today. I wanted to see what was happening…the ad my predecessor had put together for the show was intriguing. It had a green stag in the forest looking at you. It’s Kelly Richardson’s installation. I went into the room where the seven minute video plays, where the stag moves onto the screen, and keeps looking up at the viewer. It’s magical. It had a little Harry Potter feel to it–it glows green with a green fire and smoke coming off it. Check out this Vimeo 50 second excerpt. Imagine it across a full wall.
I once had an encounter with a deer in the forest. I was in New Mexico. I’d just had a very disturbing moment with friends–it doesn’t matter what. I was emotionally upset, and I ran out of the hotel we were all staying in. And I ran right into this deer. The deer just turned to me and looked at me. Just being looked at by something wild, as it takes you in, is mesmerizing. I remember that the whole encounter probably took only five minutes, but it felt like an eternity. It felt like the deer knew me–or could see something in me that I couldn’t see myself. It calmed me down. I know that much.
What is it about an animal–that when we encounter one in the wild, it changes us. Even if for a moment. Annie Dillard talks about an encounter with a Weasel in the forest in her essay, “Living like Weasels.”
The sun had just set. I was relaxed on the tree trunk, ensconced in the lap of lichen, watching the lily pads at my feet tremble and part dreamily over the thrusting path of a carp. A yellow bird appeared to my right and flew behind me. It caught my eye; I swiveled around—and the next instant, inexplicably, I was looking down at a weasel, who was looking up at me.
Weasel! I’d never seen one wild before. He was ten inches long, thin as a curve, a muscled ribbon, brown as fruitwood, soft-furred, alert. His face was fierce, small and pointed as a lizard’s; he would have made a good arrowhead. There was just a dot of chin, maybe two brown hairs’ worth, and then the pure white fur began that spread down his underside. He had two black eyes I didn’t see, any more than you see a window.
The weasel was stunned into stillness as he was emerging from beneath an enormous shaggy wild rose bush four feet away. I was stunned into stillness twisted backward on the tree trunk. Our eyes locked, and someone threw away the key.
Our look was as if two lovers, or deadly enemies, met unexpectedly on an overgrown path when each had been thinking of something else: a clearing blow to the gut. It was also a bright blow to the brain, or a sudden beating of brains, with all the charge and intimate grate of rubbed balloons. It emptied our lungs. It felled the forest, moved the fields, and drained the pond; the world dismantled and tumbled into that black hole of eyes. If you and I looked at each other that way, our skulls would split and drop to our shoulders. But we don’t. We keep our skulls. So.
She goes on to talk about the experience–about how it changed her mind, so to speak.
I would like to learn, or remember, how to live. I come to Hollins Pond not so much to learn how to live as, frankly, to forget about it. That is, I don’t think I can learn from a wild animal how to live in particular–shall I suck warm blood, hold my tail high, walk with my footprints precisely over the prints of my hands?–but I might learn something of mindlessness, something of the purity of living in the physical sense and the dignity of living without bias or motive. The weasel lives in necessity and we live in choice, hating necessity and dying at the last ignobly in its talons. I would like to live as I should, as the weasel lives as he should. And I suspect that for me the way is like the weasel’s: open to time and death painlessly, noticing everything, remembering nothing, choosing the given with a fierce and pointed will.
Read the rest of it here.
The point, though, is that in that quick exchange of looks we are given the chance to be the observed. To be seen, watched, to be the curiosity. I think Richardson’s stag has that to offer to me as a viewer. Yep, I’m sure in her artist’s statement she’s talking about much more than this–about whether this is a dream or not, about whether the green fire/mist around the stag changes the nature of the animal by making it fake, surreal, or even dangerous. But I found it a magical seven minutes.
I hope that in the wild I am observed more often and that I have these moments to look into the eyes of an animal–not to see myself, but to see the animal, and as Dillard tried to do, understand another mind.
The show is up at the Gallery starting Thursday, 5:30pm thru Oct 29. Get observed.