I am a professional collector of oddity. I write about time traveling into Marie Antoinette’s memory, ghosts who walk on roads buried beneath the ground, and words such as retrocognition and morphic resonance. So when someone invites me to a workshop that promises: “Watch your intuitive powers magically grow! Marvel as you instantly connect with human beings,” I take the bait.
The Krystal Krunch workshop led by Los Angeles-based artists Asher Hartman and Haruko Tanaka was one part guided meditation, one part psychical exercise, and two parts object-experience (stir with lemon). I found the first two parts enjoyable, but it was the last aspect that fascinated me. After-all, this event has been paired with the Walker’s Midnight Party exhibition– the cornerstone of which is the bizarre “Wunderkammer” room. But before I jump to the art objects, I should go back to the other object-experience of the workshop.
I had invited a friend to help me avoid the promise of intuiting with strangers, but at the last minute I branched out and chose a partner at random. This new stranger—we’ll call her Betty—and I shared the same awkwardness, but we bravely soldiered on. Hartman and Tanaka led the pairs in giving one another intuitive readings. To someone immersed in literature as myself, it feels like slightly-directed stream of consciousness: you focus upon a particular chakra and “read” it aloud to your partner. “Don’t think about it,” we were told, “just say it.”
We began with the eyes and Betty and I use it as a chance to interpret one another. I spout off whatever comes to my mind about what her eyes say (paying particular attention to being positive). It runs along the lines of “Your eyes have a way of latching on to people and speaking with warmth.” We move to the throat, and I try to think through where Betty speaks in her throat. She speaks from high up at the back of the throat—what does that tell me? After this stage, I began to think that I was trying some sort of Sherlock Holmesian method of using a stranger’s tells to help me interpret some sort of hidden self.
For the last chakra, the top of the head (which connects us to god), I tried something else. I cut out all my words and imagined images—what came to mind? In chatting, Betty had mentioned reading a newspaper and as I gave my last intuitive reading, the motion of folding came to mind. I saw hands folding napkins with tight folds. I saw them placed on a heavy, dark-brown table. Then the image cut and for some reason I was imagining a swan on a cold, winter-fog morning. It effortlessly floated over the water, slight waves moving in its wake. No land, no other swans, nothing else was visible in my mind. Even the swan moved toward the periphery and I focused on the silver wake and the image of quiet motion. And then nothing. I had no idea why I was describing the images, but I contented myself with experimenting and letting the meditation upon an object (here, a chakra) do whatever it might want. If it means causing me to imagine folding napkins and a swan on a lake, so be it.
At the end of the workshop, Hartman and Tanaka led the group through the Midnight Party exhibit and I’ll admit I ducked out early. I wanted to beat the crowd and return to the Wunderkammer that I had seen for the first time in November. The “Wunderkammer” directly compares itself to the famous Cabinet of Curiosities of Ole Worm. The Walker’s Wunderkammer is a collection of art objects presented as natural history curiosities. Behind glass, you see oddities such as a toothbrush with teeth for bristles coolly noted with a number that refers to your museum guide (in place of the traditional art museum labels). The effect—and what caused me to fall in love with this room in the first place—is transposing the museum-goer interaction. Rather than confronting an art-object, I engaged with objects. Number 29 in the guide is Sigmar Polke’s Schieferpinselrassel. The word translates to the kenning of the three words: slate, brush, and rattle and describes the object quite literally. It looks just like a bizarre rattle composed of a paintbrush stuck inside a glass bulb filled with shale.
Thinking back to the Krystal Krunch workshop and my eventual embrace of the meditative images of the folding hands and swan, you might imagine this led to a more aesthetic attitude toward the Schieferpinselrassel. Instead, the object-experience shifts toward imagining utility in a bizarre fashion. No, not imagining picking up the rattle and shattering the glass with its shale contents (though this crosses my mind), but instead thinking of this piece of art as a thing. What does that thing do? I won’t answer that question, Hartman and Tanaka called it “intuitive reading,” but that expression still causes me to jump toward interpretation too quickly. It is a different sort of object-experience one sliding in between the poles of formal aesthetic appreciation and utility.
The meditative object-experience of the Wunderkammer comes to its pinnacle as you encounter the room’s centerpiece, which is ironically the most typical piece of art in the room. Odd Nerdrum’s painting White Brick stands out for being just that: a painting. There might be a sense of release for many museum-goers, “a painting,” they think, “I know what to do with a painting!” and they lean in to inspect brush-strokes or nod at the image. But Nerdrum’s piece is itself a lesson in object-experience. The white brick shivers and floats above the background and certainly one could spend quite a bit of time admiring its formal qualities (Nerdrum is a fantastic painter). But at the center of the Wunderkammer, one sees it as another object: a brick. And you ask, “What does it do?” The important thing to remember is: don’t answer this question. The fantastic part about intuitive reading is that involves neither intuition (for god’s sake, don’t try to reason with the art) nor reading (i.e. interpreting). Instead, ask yourself the question and hold it in tension, waiting for the object to answer for you.
Guest blogger, Wes Burdine is a PhD student in Literature at the University of Minnesota, where he spends most of his time reading about bizarre (and fantastic) theories of time.