That Sublime Nudge
the art of unhinged relaxational possibilities
On a spring day last year, I went for a walk around my LA neighborhood. The sky was periwinkle, the palms wafting. Drug dealers and furniture purveyors hung out in their habitual places of business. Things were as they always are, with an exception: As I rounded a residential corner, a sturdy, homemade, fifteen-foot bamboo ladder had been set out on the curb. The contraption was leaning against a very high, ivy-obscured garden fence, leading skyward into foliage and unidentifiable backyard realms. It struck a jaunty, intentional pose, like some kind of strange invitation.
I’d passed the place many times, but had never really taken in the scene. Several giant trees spanned the yard, and amongst the leafy green a sprawling, tree-top construction project had long ago taken hold. A twenty-foot-plus-helix tower of bamboo loomed at one end, with a rambling network of connective bamboo struts swirling through the branches across the rest. For a week or two I walked past the ladder with mounting curiosity, until one afternoon I finally scampered up.
The ladder led directly to a recliner in a tree. Several recliners, in fact, were sewn into a patchwork quilt of wood floors at various levels, assembled from off-cuts, wedged among branches. You could clamber anywhere via thick bamboo poles laced together with rope, or just enjoy the view. The primo floating chair looked out across ivy and red roses to the sunset. It was a tree-fort magical kingdom, and, a couple times a week, my special email office.
Once, as I attended to remote work, Stephen “Rey” Reynolds—the artist—came out the back door of his family’s apartment building and said hi, and that’s how we were first introduced. In years prior, he’d worked across Asia for architects who specialized in bamboo, and he appreciated the flexibility and imaginative possibilities of that practice. His work since cannot be categorized. He told me about the installation he made for the model and actress Cara Delevigne’s house in the Hollywood Hills—a vagina tunnel. The network of bamboo that races among the treetops of his backyard is actually a functioning roller coaster. Like Watt’s Towers or Alice Könitz’ Los Angeles Museum of Art, Rey’s tree house experience is a highlight of outdoor artworks in LA (it’s since gone invite-only) but it’s not on any maps.
When I pass by Rey’s place, I’m reminded me of Sweatwat, an insane artwork by the Austrian artist collective Gelitin, which gave me art high that lasted for weeks. In the dead of London’s winter, you entered into a pristine, cavernous white gallery, and signed a legal release form. Then, you crawled through a tight passage made from cast-off wood furniture—there was an Alice-in-Wonderland vibe with definite danger notes. After about twenty feet of scrambling, you emerged into a huge gallery, half-occupied by a gigantic mountain of tables, chairs, dressers, and so forth stretching almost to the ceiling, through which you’d just crawled. In every direction, half-naked fellow art viewers perched atop the furnishings. The atmosphere was steamy, the gallery entirely submerged in eighteen inches of standing water. In one corner, a sculptural “sauna pod” (fit for two persons, you can imagine the awkward conversations) made from cast fiberglass had been jerry-rigged directly above a dining table with multiple electric hot plates boiling water. Viewers lounged in the sculpture hot tub. The artists had constructed an architectural, two-story functioning toilet in the corner. It was an otherworldly hangout, a carnival-sauna of unhinged relaxational possibilities. No one wanted to leave. That Gelitin had somehow convinced Gagosian, the most staid and blue-chippy of galleries to do this still boggles the mind.
This is what I love about art: The delicious, sudden slanting of the rational plane of life as we’re tipped, headfirst, into dimensions that have always been here. We just needed that sublime nudge. On the most quotidian of walks, I was shifted merely ten feet up and three to the left by a simple bamboo ladder, and entirely new vistas of experience appeared. The default mode network drops, every sense is fresh. The scuffed chains of norms about garden fences we don’t cross dissolve. And it’s contagious. It bleeds across my days and conversations, rewriting stagnant rules. After getting into a mild hose-fight with one of the Gelitin artists across a hot tub made from junk furniture, I can’t quite forget that life is a playground where we make the rules.
Preview image credit: Stephen Reynolds
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