For several days, a rock wall that has been winding its way across the grounds of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, took the unexpected liberty of flowing across a busy intersection, completely blocking Rockhill Road. I admit, before that, the wall had failed to capture my interest.
The “Walking Wall” is in a constant state of construction and deconstruction, which, according to artist Andy Goldsworthy, is inspired by an inscription about the nature of art on the wall of The Nelson. The wall “walks” at a snail’s pace, rocks being dismantled from one end and and rebuilt at the other end, moving it slowly across the lawn.
To me, its locomotion is less of a walk, and more the slither of one of those water-filled “slippery snake” tube toys that constantly turns inside out, making it hard to hold. But Goldsworthy is the creator, so if he says the wall “walks,” I have no grounds upon which to insist that it’s more of a slither, although I am free to interpret it as such.
When its slow movement had completely barricaded traffic, I took my kids to see it. I hijacked a grocery store outing with a side-trip to view art.
It was dusk, had just rained, and the grounds of The Nelson were a sloppy mess. Our shopping trip was taking far longer than they’d expected. I led my complaining children past the barricades to view the wall, which had exercised no etiquette in its sprawl. It had crossed curbs, sidewalks and even overtook other smaller stone walls.
Incredulous, my son turned to me. “So, I can just build a wall across a street if I want to?”
My kids had easily absorbed the lesson, one I struggle even now to put into words. He’d seen how very powerful creative license can be, and the liberties that one may take in the name of art.
I pointed out that Goldsworthy provided a lengthy explanation of his art, full of rich language, grand ideas and deep meanings. I explained that the art must be elevated in order to get buy-in from those around him. And they pulled city permits.
Just a day or two later, my husband found my son highlighted in his yearbook, in a small, just-for-fun section called “Daily Digs.” Four freshmen had been asked to tell about their favorite daily clothing. A camp shirt, school spirit-wear, a souvenir from a trip, were all commemorated. And then came my son’s poetic ode to his baja: a Mexican woven hoodie. He wrote:
“My baja. I got it from Mexico a while ago. I never felt that way before when I laid my brown eyes on her black and blue patterns. She’s a miracle. She’s an angel. She’s my hoodie.”
There, before me, was my son’s very first public art installation, straight from the Andy Goldsworthy playbook. He’d chosen an everyday item, and glorified it through flowery (if imperfect) language and absurdity. I could try to point out that he got that thing at Silver Dollar City, but he has transformed its origins, and “she” is now a casual purchase from Mexico. The artist has transformed her. That hoodie’s really something now.
And my son, my very own scruffy miracle, has the spirit of an artist, and has been granted the creative license to prove it.
Emily Parnell lives in Overland Park and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org