Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Chaos and Stillness, Meijer Gardens - 3/30/10

The annual butterfly exhibit is in full bloom at the Garden and on a sunny day with temperatures in the 50s, I wondered what the crowd volume would be like. The parking lot was quite full and a herd of humans was wandering all over the lobby when I walked in. Yes, the butterflies were back. As I made my way to the conservatory, people were slowly winding their way through various rooms that ultimately lead you to the butterflies. This circuitous route is always set up, perhaps to avoid having a long butterfly line leading back to the lobby or maybe just for the additional exhibit space.

Upon entry, I was told no tripods were allowed. I didn’t have one along but asked why they were prohibited. Apparently in the past, shutterbugs have set them up hindering crowd movement. Fair enough. So I walked into the very steamy greenhouse and was promptly blocked by a family spread out over the path, and not moving. After a couple of “excuse-me’s,” I could begin to look around for photo opportunities. Butterflies and people were everywhere, slowly fluttering or shuffling along. Additional people-barricades occurred, most revolving around inconsiderate groups. A large baby wagon (two babies) completely obstructed both directions at one point. Having taken a few pictures, I had to get out. Moving toward the exit, I ended up following the baby wagon out. The puller stepped out and stopped, leaving the wagon in the exit door so no one else could leave. This was the last straw - I had to leave the building.

But first I decided to check out the exhibit off the main hall, entitled “Spirit and Form: Michele Oka Doner and the Natural World.” The temperature was cool and the room was empty (except for a security guard), making it the perfect antidote to the heated butterfly chaos. The entire room exuded stillness, the exhibit was sparse, and the works fascinating. Although I will briefly describe a few of them, these bronze and silver creations need to be seen to be fully appreciated.

“Root System” looks like its name and is an approximately 6' by 9' sculpture constructed of bronze. Many of the branches held white candles, only one of which was lit today. It’s a striking piece of work, sort of a tree candelabra.

In the middle of the room is a circular building with a sign saying “Soul Catchers” and a warning about entering (if you dare). Enter this room and you are struck by the small porcelain “heads” hanging on the back wall. There was no further explanation but a reference book quoted the artist as follows: “Soul Catchers have been created from raw materials since primitive times to catch the souls of the sick, hasten their return to health, or imprison the souls of wrongdoers until they repent. Positive and powerful missions.” These “heads” all featured large eye socket openings with the rest of the “face” twisted and disfigured in some way. Powerful indeed. (Unfortunately, no photography was permitted.) *

“Beneath the Leafy Crown” is the name given to the floor of the main building, and it was also created by Doner. It probably does not get the attention it deserves (people generally look up and around them, not down where they’re walking) but it is a thing of beauty. Artist-designed elements have been placed into the floor (terrazzo aggregate, mother of pearl and bronze), and the entire walkway sweeps through the building. Look for it on your next visit.

* Meijer Gardens graciously sent me photos of Doner's work to add, and they are featured below:

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