Capturing humanity in the passing of time

What happens after we’re gone?

It’s a question that plagues generation after generation. Humans have always been concerned about the legacy we’re leaving behind. Will we be remembered for more than global warming? Will our contributions matter to anyone but our relatives? Will the people we respect miss our presence?

It’s hard to know, but photographer Romain Veillon makes a beautiful stab at it.

"Sands of Time" by Romain Veillon

The artist spent a week in a town called Kolmanskop in the Namibian desert. Now abandoned, the village was once home to German diamond miners who settled in the area in 1908. The article that led me to Veillon’s work explains that settlers said diamonds were so easy to find, they sparkled in the sand at night. The town grew and along with it, the accouterment of settlement: a bowling alley, a casino, an ice factory. The town hospital was home to Africa’s first x-ray machine, which Veillon says was used mostly to make sure miners weren’t swallowing their findings.

But with World War I came a decrease in diamond prices, and by 1954, Kolmanskop was abandoned.

Veillon’s series of photographs, titled “Les sables du temps” (“The Sands of Time”), shows the reality of the town as it now stands: A collection of buildings filling slowly with sand. Once brightly painted rooms are now peeling walls boxing in mountains of desert.

The results are hauntingly beautiful, dreamlike even. The play of light on the sand is almost welcoming, but it’s clear that humans are no longer welcome.

These works demonstrate that the fleeting constructions of man are no match for the quiet strength of nature. Though humanity has tried to impose its will in this quiet corner of Namibia, the earth — which has infinite time — simply outlasted the settlers and took back control.

At first, I thought the images were a little disheartening, a reminder that no matter how hard we try, we ultimately fade into irrelevance.

"Sands of Time" by Romain Veillon

Then, I went to Veillon’s website. He explains that to him, the photographs capture the inevitable passing of time. The fact that one day there will be nothing reminds us of the importance of enjoying life right now.

Maybe we won’t be remembered. Maybe our contributions won’t mean much. Maybe the people we respect will slowly forget us. But right now, we’re here, and Veillon’s photographs urge us to make the most of it.

Meet me halfway

As much as I hate to admit it, I rarely take on projects that aren’t assigned to me. I always intend to break the Mod Podge out of the craft closet or teach myself how to code a brilliant website, but I never end up making something until I need a last-minute gift, and I didn’t start learning how HTML works until I enrolled in a class. For some reason, I need that voice of authority to bully me into putting my half-formed dreams into action.

This week, my friend sent me the perfect get-yourself-in-gear YouTube channel. I’m not a huge video watcher, though I can sure get sucked into cat antics when responsibilities roll around, but with a name like “The Art Assignment,” I thought I’d give it a shot.

The show is a weekly PBS production that revolves around curator Sarah Green and author John Green introducing different American artists who propose a project for viewers to complete. It’s a great concept, giving those of us who desperately want to be artistic a way to join the dialogue. In the first episode, the Greens bring Douglas Paulson and Christopher Robbins (not of “Winnie the Pooh” fame) to talk about meeting in the middle.

Robbins is a proponent of international growth and has built structures all over the globe. Paulson tends toward collaboration, finding people passionate about design projects like creating a city for kittens. The two met when Robbins started reaching out to artists who were “using art for an excuse to have an adventure.” One day, Paulson got one of Robbins’ emails and responded with a proposition that the two meet halfway. Robbins, being devious, said the two should meet literally halfway — Paulson was in Serbia, and he was in Copenhagen. To his surprise, Paulson was in, and the men agreed to meet at the exact middle point: the center of a lake in the Czech Republic. They set some rules, and all communication stopped until the men found one another.

That’s the assignment they propose to the viewer: Find someone, draw a line between you, and meet in the middle.

John Green steps in, wondering how this can be considered art, which leads Sarah Green on a discussion about art that doesn’t end in a tangible object. She points to a quote by Roy Ascott, a British cyber artist: “Stop thinking about art works as objects and start thinking about them as triggers for experiences.” The project forces participants to turn a place that’s taken for granted into an adventure and, by extension, an artistic experience.

It all reminded me of a class I took a couple years back in a relatively new art movement called relational aesthetics. It’s all about human interaction as art, begging the age-old question of whether putting something in a gallery setting suddenly makes it worthy of the label. The prime example in the class was a show where an artist set up a spread of Chinese food in a gallery and invited people to eat. That was the artwork. Trying to explain the concept to people not in my class always got a little dicey, but I found it fascinating. If art is meant to capture the human experience, then why can’t the experience itself be art?

So, as the show ends with Paulson and Robbins cracking open a beer on the rooftop that’s the halfway point between their stateside homes, I felt the itch of wanderlust. Anyone in? I’ll meet you halfway.

Finding love at the bottom of a soup can

My place has always been with words. I’m a talker, have been since I said, “Dada,” to my father as he walked into our house after a long day at work. He was, as is convention, quite excited, though after a couple of decades of listening to me chatter, I wonder if he wishes I would have put it off just a bit longer. Eventually, I learned to channel that constant dialogue into writing and the occasional side job in retail.

But as much as I live through language, what I live for is design. I fell in love with art when I first saw Andy Warhol’s bold soup can at the age of 11. I copied it every way I could: watercolors, screen prints, even a valiantly attempted but questionably executed tissue-paper collage. Quickly, I learned the hard lesson that just because you really want to be good at something doesn’t mean it’s meant to be.

Instead, I resigned myself to picking up a minor in art history, roaming around my university’s fine arts complex, pretending I belong and seeking out beautiful design wherever I can. My social media feeds are full of artists I love and fabulous typography and ingenious packaging. I take pictures of clever signs and have spent many an afternoon losing track of time in a gallery.

With this blog, I intend to share a little bit of my aesthetic. I’d like to think after a year spent interning at the local art museum, the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art, I’ve developed a pretty decent eye for things worth seeing. I’ll gush when I discover an artist I don’t know how I’ve lived without. I’ll discuss new innovations I’m still in awe of – probably from, to be honest, my go-to design/ technology/ everything cool guru. When I’m lucky enough to end up reporting on something artsy – like last week, when I had the pleasure of hanging out with the staff of Gallery Protocol, a little operation with a lot of gumption – we’ll talk about that, too.

I definitely can’t draw, but I like to think that through journalism, I found my way of being an artist. I tend to shy away from writing about art because the only time I seem to be at a loss for words is when it comes to something I love. However, it’s about time I forced myself into verbalizing the things that make my imagination whir, so I’m stepping into the blogging wilderness, hoping I don’t get distracted by something pretty on the way.