Piedras en el Hielo

I was terribly tired after work – futzed and dutzed around too much and was late getting to the Arts District downtown. Luckily, I caught a train quickly and made it only a few minutes after the unveiling. I would have liked to see it opened up, displayed, unveiled… whatever… but still, walking up on it in the dark, seeing the crowd, the bright lights reflecting off the ice was excellent enough.

In a little gritty disused space on the corner of a parking garage across the street from the Wyly Theater a local artist, Shane Pennington, had hauled in some gravel and raked out a temporary Zen Garden. The beautiful kicker is that the stones were embedded in giant sculptures made of ice. The idea was that as the ice melted, the stones would drop into their proper place in the garden. The work was called Transcendence.

The crowd was awed and impressed. At first, there were a lot of men in suits (apparently sponsors) and serious looking folks wearing ID tags. It was hard to take photographs – it was dark overall and the light glancing off and refracting through the ice looked fantastic – but didn’t surrender to a static recording. Still most folks hauled out their phones and snapped something. There were some professional photographers out with heavy tripods and huge lenses. Most folks walked around and around, but a few clots of people developed along a concrete wall, simply standing there and staring.

There was a big Christmas celebration going on, so it didn’t take long for families to start drifting over. The kids, of course, were mesmerized. Their parents would try to speak to them about what they were seeing, but the kids ignored their words. I heard one mother extolling her toddler to look at the, “piedras en el hielo.”

I left the sculpture and wandered the area for a few hours – ate at a food truck, heard some jazz, and stumbled across a unique and wonderful troop of Aztec dancers rehearsing down by the Cathedral Guadalupe. It wasn’t really very late, but I felt like heading home so I decided to stop by the ice sculptures one last time before I hiked to the train station.

How long does it take ice to melt? Big blocks like this take a long time. I remember when I was a kid there was a stupid game show and part of one episode was the contestants were given a huge block of ice, matches, towels, and such – they were going to get paid by how much ice they could melt in a half-hour, plus they made bets on how much would melt. It was shocking how little ice melted – only a couple of pounds. Large hunks like those sculptures might last days.

I loved watching the water drip off the noses of the two human forms, but drops won’t get it done very fast.

But I was horrified when I reached Transcendence. Earlier, everyone had moved around the installation in an orderly fashion, respecting the waves of raked gravel that made up the Zen Garden. Now, however, there was a different group there. They were younger, louder, and drunk. Most had plastic cups of wine teetering in their hands, hauled up to their giggling faces, while they trod willy nilly all over the place.

They were walking all over the gravel – the carefully sculpted shapes long trod into nothing. They were posing with the sculptures, licking the people, pretending to hug them, or worse. I saw one guy kicking at the blocks.

It was disgusting. They had no idea what the artwork was about. Unless I’m wrong – maybe the artwork was about how people would fail to respect the garden, in retrospect, it was to be expected. To these upper-class-twits the sculpture was about their own crass amusement.

I couldn’t stand the scene, so I walked away as quickly as I could.