Monday, August 13, 2012

Some art should be destroyed

I went to the Mint Museum this weekend to check out "Passage: Waterway," one of my favorite outdoor sculptures in Mecklenburg County. It's going to be torn down Thursday, almost exactly a year after it was installed on the front lawn at 2730 Randolph Rd.

I get the idea. Sculptor Tetsunori Kawana meant to show the natural cycle of life: The Madake bamboo had aged from a supple green to a stiff yellowish gray over 12 months, and the annealed metal wire holding it together had weathered along with it. Kawana was born in Japan the same year we dropped two atomic bombs on that country, so he knows about the impermanence of icons.

But I'll miss the sculpture, which I've walked through multiple times. It vaguely suggests life itself n a number of ways: The spiral shape can get you thinking about a DNA helix, a maze, even the wooden supports beneath an old-fashioned roller coaster. (Now that I approach 60, I have aged out of those, too.) I even enjoyed the signs beside it, explaining the "dos" and "don'ts" of dealing with the sculpture: "Please do not eat the bamboo (like a panda bear)."

But maybe some art ought to be impermanent. I first encountered this idea almost 20 years ago, at Spoleto Festival U.S.A. Tibetan Buddhist monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery in northern India were constructing a large, intricately patterned mandala of sand, dribbling colored grains out of cake-decorating machinery.

They explained that the mandala would be finished by the end of the festival, then washed into the Cooper River. My eyes bugged in disbelief. A monk explained that Buddhism teaches us not to be too attached to things of this world, even things of beauty we have made. A natural cycle of creation and destruction is always at work; it may take a couple of weeks in the case of a flower or a couple of millennia in the case of a mural, but all things pass away. We have to let them go.

So I said goodbye to "Waterway" Saturday, deciding at last that it reminded me of the fortress the good guys erected to repel bandits in "The Seven Samurai." It went up to serve its purpose; it did its job; it can be taken down again. And I noticed green plants, paler than the grass around them at the sculpture's base, thrusting themselves skyward to start another natural cycle.

"Ars longa, vita brevis," said the Latin teacher at my high school: "Art is long, life short." But neither lasts forever.