I am never more aware of my nationality than the moment I slam back raw emotion which has bellowed up out of my center, leaking from my eyes, throat, and ears, threatening to spill down the front of me. With one long whoosh I breathe the lot of it back in and glance furtively left and right to see if I've been caught. I back up from the wall of The Disappeared so that my nose isn't right in it. I wipe that nose on the back of my hand and sniff a little. The immolation man on the way to the hospital in Greece to have been treated for something (surely not for the need to self-immolate) recedes into the background as well as the child who either was or was not with him. The Disappeared go around a corner and fill another wall. This is just a few pages from the book. I'm not sure about which book because I've stopped processing anything other than the raw feelings associated with this thing, strings of events which are suddenly real. The Disappeared, talked about in conversation, read about in novels, articles, it's never real until there are a million names, dates, and actions, right? It was like a precursor to the Holocaust; people mill about, stopping looking, not looking, I turn away from the wall and look at the people. I don't want to do this. I don't want to do this more than I don't want to look at the exhibit although that part isn't really true. I do want to look at the exhibit, I'm just afraid I'll embarrass myself without reasonable explanation.
Elizabeth and I have just come from the exhibit called The Ballad of Sexual Dependency which was raw and the sort of brutal which hurts the base of your skull. We walked slowly past most of the photographs and sat through at least fifteen minutes of what turned out to be a forty-two minute slide show. I wondered about the people who had to sit in that dark room and watch that thing over and over again all day. Does it become normalized or does it rub their skin off a little more each day? I cried freely in front of the photographs which reminded me of my last relationship, the photographs of lovers suffering one moment, clinging to each other the next as if to do so they could keep the world from tearing them apart - not so much from each other as from themselves.
That exhibit is part of the acceptable human condition no matter how many envelopes it pushes and regardless of the sudden appearance of penises and kissing men which we are all meant to understand at least on some level. The more you are moved, the better you are. Not so much with refugees.
The word normalized is new to me. Maybe it is new to everyone; I don't know, don't care. What I gathered from the Displacement exhibit is that displacement, global homelessness, being disappeared, blown up, living in tents, having a shortage or complete lack of food and water, desperation over generations to find a way to survive has become normalized. For us. Maybe it's normalized form them too but I don't really know how that sort of thing can be normalized. I think about the Thirty Years War and how I felt when I was reading about that and the fallout from it in Europe. Not just the economic and ecological fallout (the forests were disappeared) but the damage to the psyches which took generations to repair. The Thirty Years war was actually a series of religious wars which took place between 1618 and 1648 which didn't let up enough for any sort of recovery. It resulted in the loss of over eight million lives. One of the things that became normalized during this time period was the sale of black market meat. Given that livestock was by and large gone at that point, what do you suppose they were selling? Nothing so nice as rats, cats, and dogs.
How do you recover from that?
Religious wars. Thank you, God.
In all fairness, I don't blame any sort of god whatsoever. I blame in the name of religion.
Oh, by way, the answer is babies. Live ones. We almost wiped ourselves out.
So back on the exhibit both human and fixed. I choked back the agony of the Disappeared and followed my daughter into the room. I can never tell what Elizabeth is thinking at any point in time unless she decides to communicate directly. Later if she needs to share she speaks or I'll ask and she'll tell me if she's so inclined. When David left she cried a lot but then she stopped and a bit less than a year and a half ago she stopped almost entirely. The hole in her heart over dance never stood a chance. It doesn't mean she isn't feeling things, I'm quite sure she is. The thing about this room is people seemed to want to touch. A lot.
Listen. It's been this way since the dawn of time except for special cases like children's museums.
DON'T TOUCH A DAMN THING.
Seriously. At what point did the don't touch that shit sign, and the stay behind the line sign stop meaning anything? I'm pretty sure you people have been to museums before. Did you just stop giving a shit? Is it because it's not a painting and just an installation that you think you can disregard and put your paws all over it? There were four guards (I still think of them as Docents) in the room, probably forty people and they were effing busy. They were also exhausted and cranky. People were giggling. I noticed that right off. They gathered in the shelter set up in the middle of the room and had group shots taken and my stomach flip flopped. I was trying to read the map of the tent city which was projected on the floor but people kept walking through it. One mother hop-scotched with her three year old. In the brief space where it was quiet I read about the men leaving daily for construction work, the women not being allowed to work construction and so waiting many long hours in line for food coupons and I hung my head and let the tears fall on the floor. Later on the other side of the room I read that
The average length of stay in a camp is seventeen years.
Shut the front door!
Shut. The. Front. Door.
The average. Not the longest time. The average.
That's how many and how long. OhmyfuckinggodIhadnoidea.
I stood in front of that one and let the tears fall on the floor too. People gave me a wide berth.
Elizabeth Mom, people are staring.
Me I don't care. I really don't care.
At least I was whispering.
I moved over the the last exhibit I could take. If the Big Game photo hadn't happened I might have managed the rest of the room (there really wasn't much left) but it did.
The photograph above represents all the lines of communication, transportation, obstacles, warnings, blockages... of people trying to find a place in the world to survive. The photograph isn't good enough to make out the yellow barbed wire I don't think, but even if you don't read the little placard to the left with the brief explanation, if you've been through the room the damn thing ought to be bloody obvious.
There were people photographing it. I understand that. Normally I just don't get it about photographing anything in a museum because 1. it never comes out particularly well, 2. if you like it, buy a freaking print, 3. if you're photographing it, you are not looking at it and therefore not having the experience, and 4. you are in the way. Installations are something else entirely. So one at a time we took our shots of this thing and as I was getting ready a perky blond woman with her three year old (the hop scotching pair) jumped right into the middle of it and posed very much like a big game hunter with her foot on a rhino. Her smile was beatific. I looked at the woman to the right of me who was waiting her turn. Her jaw was open. The little girl wasn't cooperating so they did it, again! no, again! no, again!
Later Elizabeth said, maybe they just didn't know what it was.
Somehow that made it worse. I think.
We needed to see the Warhols last but we almost didn't have it in us. As we were leaving the room I turned back and looked at the guards with their watchful eyes and their hands behind their backs and I always think of them as Docents because how can you be in a room like this day after day and not know everything there is to know about it even if only by osmosis?
The exhibit which poured in and out of the room all day long, day after day was heartbreaking.
The docents aren't smiling.