Saying goodbye

January 26, 2011 at 11:59 pm

Last week, artist Brent Green was in town to dismantle his wild and wonderful installation Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then. We were sorry to see it go. For the four months that it occupied the Museum’s top gallery, it provided a portal onto another world, one where love and the desire to protect and hold onto those we love are primary.

Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then, at the ASU Art Museum. (Photo by Craig Smith)

During the course of the installation, just outside the gallery itself, we invited visitors to write down their own desires for their loved ones on pieces of paper shaped like little houses. Hundreds did, and many drew pictures too.

Here are some of the responses:

“A puppy”

“Amor”

“No limitations on food to give to all the people who live in poverty.”

“I would make and give hope to those without any.”

“Limbs for people who have lost them.”

“No mas guerras, no mas hambre, mas paz sobre la tierra. No mas descriminacion. No mas.”

“A clone of myself because I’m awesome!”

“I made a unicorn out of popsicle sticks, but I never got it to be good enough, so I never gave it as a gift. I should.”

“Wings (metaphorically)”

“A home of monumental architecture and art.”

“My heart. It was returned to sender broken.”

“I would give everyone someplace to live, something to eat and meaningful work to do. And someone who loves them back.”

“I would make a machine that showed people how to appreciate what they have.”

“I would go back in time and save my Dad. Love you Dad.”

“A bubble of happiness for my daughter.”

“I would make a house where I was allowed to be married to who I loved…regardless of their gender.”

“A touch of enlightenment”

And here’s Brent’s favorite:

  

As difficult as it was to see Brent’s exhibition leave, there was a special urgency to this particular deinstallation, because there was to be a memorial service for our friend and colleague Susan Ables in that same top gallery, just hours after the last piece of art had been crated.

Thanks to single-minded teamwork on the part of the entire Museum staff, by 5 p.m. on Thursday, January 20, when the memorial began, the gallery was filled with flowers, food, and seats to accomodate the overflow audience. More than 160 people gathered that evening to pay tribute to Susan. Many of them had also attended a service for her at a funeral home in north Scottsdale earlier that afternoon; the Museum had closed to the public so that our entire staff could go to the earlier service as well, if we chose to. We all chose to.

Susan’s was a life well-lived that ended far too soon, and so abruptly that her relatives, co-workers and friends couldn’t help but have trouble making sense of her absence. Together, in the space that had just housed Brent Green’s bittersweet ode to faith and to love, we shared memories and told our favorite stories, and thanked Susan’s family — her beloved children and grandchildren — for sharing her with us. We celebrated the extraordinary person we knew her to be.

Of the many heartfelt hand-written responses to Brent’s work that speak of the strength of love and the precariousness of life, one stands out, especially now. It seems like good advice, the kind of advice Susan might have given us:

“In the vastness of this world, a life can end in a flash…an instant. All we can do is love. Love every moment until the last.”

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