Body Phenomenology Field Trip

On a snowy day in late January a troop of devout phenomenologists traveled many miles to Toronto’s Pearson Airport in order to view an instillation piece by Richard Serra. In order to view sculpture, which is behind security in the international departures area, it is neccesary to apply for permission in advance and secure guards who will escort you past security and stay within your view for your entire stay. The cost of the guards was picked up by the airport’s culture budget this time, but if we wish to return we will have to pay for our own guarding.

Certainly the whole issue with the guards is an interesting aspect of the piece (which as an installation as opposed to an object, which means the art is not the material that makes it up but rather the relation between its material and the material around it, and the people around it, and the social narratives around it, etc…), but I will leave it to discuss the more obvious and representationalist aspects of the piece. The piece is made from four spherically shaped square plates, and is called “tilted spheres”.

You can view the piece from outside, from inside the middle, or from inside either of the passageways made by the distance between the inner and outer spherically shaped metal plates.

The piece is interesting for lots of reasons, but mostly because it is in no simple way symbolic. It can be interpreted in terms of symbolic categories for quite a while, however. For example, the curved arcing plates mirror the shape of the roof at Pearson. Also, the swoop of the curves reflects movements of airplanes. However, what’s really interesting about the piece is not what it symbolizes but how it changes your perception of things around the piece. For example, to the side of the piece is a duty free shop where everything is pilled in neatly ordered displays and prices are dutifully displayed in bold (or is that dutyfreely displayed?). Also, it is next to an airport bar which was playing basketball on a flatscreen television.

The first thing I felt upon meeting the sculpture was a sense of deep awe. This awe, however, wore off after getting used to the sculpture for about an hour. After a certain amount of feeling it out (with all of the senses) I became at dis-ease in the belly of it and decided to leave, to go outside (which is still “inside” the art instillation, which comprises the whole of the “situation’ the art is ‘installed’ in – including people around who are indifferent or even who dislike the art). I decided to watch the basketball for a bit at the bar. When I returned to the sculpture the feeling that struck me was utter terror, terror that such a thing could be allowed to exist in the midst of the veneer of orderlyness. The sculpture began to show up what is “really” going on even at the airport, the flowing forces, the deep of the earth. Airplanes, for example, do not fly on ordered cartesian grids, they flight on lines of flight which are bent by the forces of nature. The airplane takes off and most of us ignore what is “really” going on, but others recognize the immense power and speed of the undertaking. Just like this, the sculpture is ignored for the most part, but others recognize it as a revealing thing, for one thing – it reveals that airports are a form of church. (Being in the sculpture is like being in a church, it’s a quiet place of sanctity, but it is also a place of making games – like sunday school).

I have in no way completed a proper argumentative account of this piece of art, it is perhaps one of the first truly great pieces of art I have seen even a little bit appropriately. So, I recommend to anyone travelling through Pearson’s international wing to go see it.


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