CARDBOARD CITY SHIP - Alfredo & Isabel Aquilizan, Passage (The Eighth Fleet), transport cardboard boxes and packing tape, 2011
The artists, a married couple from the Philippines, focus on migration in their work. In this case, it’s early Austronesian ship travel and transport, particularly inspired by the migration canoes of the Maori.
This gorgeous piece involving the transit of an entire culture/city/country by canoe, was constructed in the Govett-Brewster Gallery in New Plymouth, using the assistance of schoolchildren from the area.
Is it not totally amazing? This complicated city dangling upside down, the way it sways, the deceptive solidity of something that, in the water, would sink, sodden. I have an urgent desire to live aboard this ship. I’d also like to get up in there and get a whole lot of closer looks. When I was a kid, my grandfather brought my sister a refrigerator box as a present. He labeled it Molly’s House, and cut a door and window. She lived in that box inside our house, emerging for meals, for the better part of a year. It had what it needed: walls, a ceiling, a window and a door. Others in the Actual House were wildly jealous of Molly’s House.
Of course, all this - the city canoe, the refrigerator box - bring to mind other houses made of cardboard, and the way these unhomes are homes for so many. So this piece, too, is a piece about a culture that might be washed away in a wave, or in a heavy rain. We can talk about floods. We can talk about our current culture of Atlantis.
I refer you as well, with an emphatic recommendation, to William Vollman’s extraordinary Harper’s Magazine piece from a couple years ago, Homeless in Sacramento: Welcome to the New Tent Cities. I could also refer you to any number of related fantastical things, cities floating, cities collapsing, but I think the nonfiction is more relevant here. We have a cardboard civilization alongside the bricks and stones. Lots of us are out there in the dark. In some moments in the world, this was simply the nature of living. Now? Cities inside of cities. Though you might be living free, you are also living under the lights of the freeway, inside a collapsible home, under threat of dismantling by whatever city you’re inside.
I met the first god the way everyone meets them. Meadow. I don’t normally do meadows. Swamps have more surprises. But I had to cross a flowery meadow to get to the swamp, and in the middle of all that excess, there he was, staring at me like a dazzled deer.
“What are you looking at?” I said.
In my life princesses and kings lurk in every corner.You can be walking down an alley and right over there, dressed in studs and leather is a princess.
All the marks,superior attitude,lots of time spent on the right look(marginal social skills.)
Look… over there. Hello! Oh! sales girl making you feel foolish about your shoes.
The garbage guys question why your garbage is gross.They wonder if you deserve a red skull this week on the check list.
Monks chastise you for being too independent. Writers blast you for “feeling” your life…the way it really feels.
Agencies look for you because you are inept at something impossible like life and d
I’m in the alley to get some privacy but It’s full of smoke!!!!!!
There are lots of flapping white sheets in the movies.They can’t transfer the smell to an audience raised on dryers.
Did you ever stand in the wet isles and smell the cool clean smell of lavender soap? They kind of cling to you. The light is special.
It’s another world really.Clothes pins break.Children duck under.Sometimes the whole thing falls down.
This is where I was when I got the call. It started in my nose and moved into my throat.I guess it was a scream really,but I had to leave.No one understood what the sheets meant to me.Leaving them meant peace not chaos.These sheets, these pricy, silky,twisted sheets meant slavery.
I ran. I ran and ran until I was behind the rocks. Nothing soft here. Nothing lying about cleanliness.
Rocks are honest. They grow things in cracks. They take care of wayward insects and reptiles.They last. Beauty is in the shadows.You could make peace with yourself in a cave.
A maze of sheets might wrap you like a mummy.
They called me you know for a little while whipping and slapping in the breeze.
Enough to seem concerned ,Really they were relieved. My screams stopped and the cave became my mother. That was years ago before LUcy came.She wiggled from under a bush by the cave entrance.
Grey and small.
Bright eyed and purring.We became friends and life had a little glow again.
Lavender grows everywhere here.If you crush it in a bowl of warm water, a cave becomes a boudoir.
My ability to survive seems to be innate. First I found a soft pink towel and a bar of soap down by the pond.
The Chinese people over the hill leave small offerings to the hill spirit .I also trade them some fruit for rocks I find deep in the caves.
I’m quiet. I leave no clues.The fox follows me . He’s discreet.
I think I just smell like lavender floating around.
Time has passed and Lucy and I are older. For awhile I liked to spy on the tourists from up in the big pine. Now I’m more at peace.They can’t reach me here.
The days come and go .I love the full moon and the big dipper. Oh ,and the spring breeze.
I’m trying to get you ready for the real story. The one I have to tell.The one that the spirits whisper in the spring breeze.
It’s about the children that got away with the circus.There were lots of them.I dreamed that I was one for years after.
I remember the chocolate and the balloons. The circus came that day with the wind.It was Jakes birthday and he made me stay in the house. I was twelve and my mother was still here.She liked to laugh.
Jake bought her balloons and chocolate kisses and they went to the circus.
Uncle Henry locked me in my room and said it was so the circus wouldn’t take me.
“Lots of children follow the dancing bear and they never come back.”he said.!!!!!!!!!!!!!
That day the bear stopped and looked in my window. It looked me right in the eye.I wanted to go.
Twenty children tried to leave fourteen got away.
I think the bear had a cave like mine. Maybe they all got away ,from the bombs and the screaming. From the slavery.
I watched them sneak off from my window. One by one the dancers hid them in their cloaks and costume trunks.
Anyway ,YOu know, the circus came from the North and the ring Master was a tall and beautiful man.He wore a gold earring and a smart dark suit.
There was a fortune teller ,12 monkeys,14 dancers,10 acrobats,one elephant, one lion, and a small petting zoo!
Oh, there was cotton candy and warm caramel apples.(pink soda, and coin toss games too)
One time I saw a man win a big blue bear for his child. I wanted it so much I cried for two days.
When the dancing bear looked me in the eye that day I knew something would change.
I started to growl in the night.Pretty soon I learned to sneak past Henry.I would take a sheet and go to the big meadow.If I spread the sheet just so bears would start to come.
Four of them at first.They would each take a corner and circle to the right. The sheet billowed like a sail. Then the children would start to drift out of the woods.They danced a beautiful dance and brought apricots for the bears.The sheet got stained of course but the children washed it and hung it to dry in the breeze.
For two weeks the summer of my twelfth year ,life was full of magic.My heart was still that of a child.
Keep your soul the breeze whispered.Keep your heart.
When they stopped coming I started to scream. Everyone thought that I was crazy but they couldn’t feel the loss. I guess it was magic, because now I have my cave and Lucy and I whisper songs to the breeze. In the spring some children are still saved.
I’ve seen their toes sticking out of bags on the backs of tourists boarding the ships
Sometimes I find bear tracks and I hope my turn will come to dance.Soon I think because I’ve started to growl again. THE END