Friday, June 24, 2011

FENG SHUI OR BUST (an excerpt from "A Thousand Beautiful Things")

Brief Synopsis: "A Thousand Beautiful Things" is an evocative hybrid of essay/memoir. Its subheading reads: "A life in two hallways and four small rooms." The book is set up as though the reader is taking a tour of this living environment, beginning with the entryway and concluding with the bedroom. Along the journey, objects or "things" spark memory and reflection so that the living space itself becomes both character and philosophy.  The narrator of this work itself is a mixture of Emily Dickinson and Quentin Crisp.


Goldfish are said to be important to successful Feng Shui, especially in groups of nine. This is why, of course, the entryways to so many Chinese restaurants feature pristine tanks. Both the hue of fish and clarity of water are vital symbols of prosperous good fortune. If one does not have a tank, an oriental scroll or painting of fish being caught, the more in the net the better, is said to work just as well.

Having two rambunctious cats in a place already hazardous with clutter, I naturally forfeit the live fish motif. Instead I have strategically tacked up wood block prints. The fish in these, however, are free to swim without nets in sight, this, perhaps, another reason I have no great financial empire. Still, I do have two ten gallon aquariums, neither containing water or fish. One is in the bedroom and the other in the hall just outside the bath. Both are used for the setting up of tableaus.
The hall aquarium does contain an ocean theme, but instead of liquid I imagine it housing a sea of air. In the center are remnants of a plaster sculpture project I once did, the idea having been to take clay reliefs of myriad textures and morph them into a whole. Over time more and more of the piece has broken away, but I keep large chunks of it here and there for they bring to mind the impressions of some lost continent. In the hall tank, surrounding that bas relief, is a collection of shells and beach pebbles, some fresh water, some salt, and all amazing. There’s a certain truth that no two snowflakes are alike, but what of sea shells? Surely the whorls, discs, spirals and obelisks I have seem curiously unique. Many are souvenirs given to me by others after their trips, while many more come from a local museum shop.
At one point these were stitched to a large pearlescent crepe curtain bunched and stapled into an amorphous organic shape. Tucked in the fabric’s folds again were postcards from loved ones depicting various spots from all over the globe. “Time of Days, Time of Nights” I believe that collage was called, but of course not being particularly practical for carting around, it was eventually disassembled. Still, from what has survived, the hall tank makes for a great show case, especially given its plaster centerpiece. In so many of its crannies again there are cards, these depicting paintings mainly of landscapes, or mindscapes really, the familiar unfamiliar terrain of people’s dreams.
On one plaster peak is a pin which reads: “Not all battles are fought with a sword”. This is superimposed over a photo of a needle pulling a thread in the shape of a red ribbon. The aquarium also holds maybe a half dozen canary yellow feathers which fall out intermittently from the duster I clean it with. These curl over a plastic sign pressed to the front of the glass. I can’t exactly recall what black plastic contraption this cracked away from, but the splinter reads: “90% Angel”.
The bedroom aquarium has a similar function. In the middle of that one is a cut glass vase filled with eucalyptus leaves. This, in turn, is surrounded by candles, predominantly white and red, in a multitude of holders. There is also a small bell from a New Year’s Party Long Past and an equally small evergreen pillow embroidered with the word: “P E A C E”. All of these things are backed up by yet another “found” medicine cabinet mirror to double the view.
At Christmas I decorate the whole shebang in tiny clear lights interspersed with pine branches and the cards I receive. Quite often, as opposed to a holiday tree, I’ve set Poinsettias and a pumpkin in front of it. This year, however, the pumpkin rotted so I had to settle for squash gourds, a cornucopia carry over on the idea of Thanksgiving. The best part of the season to me, though, is often the wrapping paper and package string, even better when people give the fancy kind of glitter star cut outs or perhaps even actual miniature walnuts. These are terrific to use again in some fashion, as are the festive stickers. Snip away the names of the gift givers/receivers, and you have ideal decals suitable for covering up wall blemishes or to be used as stencils.
Yes, I know the idea of Feng Shui is newness so as not to tote around the baggage of dead energy, as if one might be infected by a Mummy’s Curse via a satin pillow case picked up at the Salvation Army, but to me, if you can wrap up your surroundings like a present with the presence of others, than the sky’s the limit.

About Stephen Mead:
A resident of NY, Stephen Mead is a published artist, writer and maker of short collage-films.  His latest project, a collaboration with composer Kevin MacLeod, is entitled "Whispers of Arias", a two volume CD set of narrative poems sung to music.

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