Please consider forever what you have said
An artist built a box and while he was building the box—cutting the pieces of wood, fitting them together, measuring and sanding, later, nailing—he made a recording of his work. Then (probably after some time passed, and many conversations, hard work or hard luck), he put the box in a show in the Green Gallery. Inside the box, playing in loop, was the recording of the making of the box.
And one wonders whether, while listening to the sounds, the box was sad. Now if you’re the type of person who does not believe a box could be sad, you should stop reading now—for surely your time would be better spent contemplating a book on carpentry or measuring the average height of the blades of grass on your lawn.
It may be true that the box will have a life longer than the tree it came from. That is, longer than the tree it came from if the tree was never cut down in the first place to make lumber for houses, for coffee tables, for plain, simple boxes.
Perhaps the box was sad at night when the lights of the gallery were snapped off, the doors shut, locked. Or perhaps this was the only time the box was happy in its new state—listening to the sounds of its own making, because the darkness reminded the box of the dark of the forest at night and it could even convince itself that the sound of the saw was the sound of its own leaves rubbing against each other in the breeze which sounded nothing like the part about the hammering which didn’t hurt as much as you may think—and like stitches, contained a hope of wholeness in the pain.
Some have said that the recording reveals art as mere carpentry, some have said the box is a Marxist statement, others that the recording is the box’s memory. The artist said it’s a way of both splitting and joining process and object. The box, of course, listens to the sounds of its own making and has had to listen to what viewers say of it. In this way, it is much like the polar bear at the zoo. Sometimes one viewer leans toward another and says, uninspired, uninspiring—as if the bear or the box has no way to hear this, understand it. The box, of course, has made some viewers cry and the box immediately understands these tears as tears of deep comprehension, connection and concern. I cannot tell you what you should say to the box should you come across it displayed in a room, tucked in the corner of a studio, in transit from one to the other—but I should like to advise you to whisper.
Karen Carcia is the author of On Subjects of Which We Know Nothing (New Michigan Press 2011). She is currently a Research Assistant at the University of Iowa Center for the Book.