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Hiding In Plain Sight

The Inspiration

Sand Backpack by Marilyn Levine

Gallery L3, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City

The Matter

This, of all the pieces in this particular museum, is probably the most deceptive. No matter how closely I inspect it, I can't tell that it isn't a real leather backpack. So flawless is its sculpt that my mind literally can't see it as any other material, let alone stoneware.

From the folds in the not-fabric to the convincing stains and weathering, particularly on the seams, edges, and corners to the staggering level of detail on the faux rope, this is an exquisite example of how skilled some people can be at building believable fantasies. The best lies are those grounded in truth, after all. The bag is a lie, but it's crafted out of half-truths and partial-honesties.

On second thought, perhaps calling the sculpture a lie isn't quite right. It represents lies (to me), but it isn't one itself. After all, the info card three feet away lays all cards on the table. "This is stoneware. Not leather. We promise." (That's a severe paraphrase...)

But it calls to mind those breathtaking, still-believable lies that some people fashion by combining the best parts of the truth with the close-enough misdirections that are designed to pull us in and provide the verbal illusionist with plausible deniability if they should be caught in their fabrication. How many times have I - have we all - fallen for sweet words in a syrupy tone that hid duplicitousness?

This work of art is a magnificent reminder that we never know the whole truth. Everything in life is like a civil court; we believe or disbelieve based on a preponderance of the evidence. Even when we are told that we know all there is to know, there are minutiae that escape us. This bag was molded and shaped out of stoneware clay, so I know that means it should be hard, fragile, breakable. "If I threw that on the floor, it would shatter," I think. And yet I'm starved of the sensory info that would lend credence to that logic. My eyes and even some part of my heart want the backpack to be soft, supple, pliable, smell of hide. These two thoughts war with one another. And so are the details we pick up through our daily experiences. No matter how much information we are privy to, there are scads of specifics that we remain ignorant of or disregard, taking for granted that they may be crucial to understanding what's standing right in front of us.

Our interpersonal relationships are a lot like this impressive sculpture. As much as we may know about the people in our lives, the image we hold of one another will never be any better than a slightly obscured or distorted printed representation of the real them. We fill in some of the blanks, but we may never know for sure what's hidden in the background covered by omissions, assumptions, and intentional misdirections. Even when one considers one's own self, there are so many things we don't see clearly. Many believe that no one - not one single person - can ever be truly and wholly known, not even by themselves.

And perhaps it's that mystery that makes people so beautiful, so terrifying, so fascinating.

The Art

Always Never

by jpk

What is real? What is just for show?

What do I assume, and what do I know?

What do you reveal? What do you withhold?

What is held forth, and what is untold?

You tell me you're hurt, but I see no marks.

You speak your truth, but I see only parts.

How can we trust and believe

If there's always something hidden behind the scenes?

How can we embrace our place together

If you and I are always never?

What do you hoard? What do you lay bare?

What is concealed? What do you share?

You tell me you need me, but I see no proof.

You half-heartedly love me; this is the truth.

How can we trust and believe

If there's always something hidden behind the scenes?

How can we embrace our place together

If you and I are always never?

If you and I are always never...

The Portrait