A Changing Lot: The British Museum, The Met, and Memories of Personal Violence

Nereid from  the Nereid Monument  at The British Museum. Museum number 1848,1020.81

Nereid from the Nereid Monument at The British Museum. Museum number 1848,1020.81

Medea , William Wetmore Story (American, Boston, Massachusetts 1819–1895 Vallombrosa),  The Met 5th Avenue

Medea, William Wetmore Story (American, Boston, Massachusetts 1819–1895 Vallombrosa), The Met 5th Avenue

Last week I wrote that lot-line windows, the kind of windows you find on the edge of buildings build beside low-laying or empty lots, are a good metaphor for how our views change over time. But now, after thinking about it while browsing around the Met, it seems an awfully cynical kind of metaphor because the story of lot-line windows is views obstructed; the building becomes closed off further as a neighboring structure is built. 

While people are built like buildings—or our buildings are built like us, reflecting our class, our stature, our values and aesthetics—this is one way we differ inherently from the things we make. We are constantly revised to admit new vantages.

Nereid from the Nereid Monument at The British Museum. Museum number 1848,1020.81

Medea, William Wetmore Story (American, Boston, Massachusetts 1819–1895 Vallombrosa), The Met 5th Avenue

Two years ago I was visiting The British Museum in London and thinking about the ways the human body can hurt. I had been in Brussels just days before, heading to the airport in Zaventem, when the bombs went off audibly close from the train I was on. I had survived because I had missed an earlier train, had survived for no reason at all, when surely, at least one person from an earlier leg, had been killed.

It was an act of atrocious violence, common in the world because that is the world we have made for ourselves. One year later, King Phillipe would say, "let us dare to be tender" but in the immediate aftermath, before the shock had turned to anger and anger turned to a potent political tool for Europe's ascendant nationalist branch, there was no need to dare be tender, every body just was.

And so it was in that state of tenderness that I was looking at the Neried Monument, writing to myself, trying to locate the place where a foot had worn off, where time had stripped the skin of my stomach with gouges.

I don't usually write about this or talk about it all. I am daring to be tender. 

I looked at the three bodies of the Nerieds propped in their displays, dislocated in time and place, and—maybe—memory from the origin of the monument and saw individuals hurt, a nation hurt, and a place being dragged towards an uncertain future which surely would feature the event in their diorama of our age of terrorism. 

Yesterday, I visited The Metropolitan Museums of Art with the closest people in my life, and found a healing I had not expected. There were parallels to March 22, 2016, which I had been afraid of for some time. There were the statues of broken bodies, there were images of Catholicism that made me ache in the heart of my Catholic schooled heart, there was the train ride there.

I knew that in New York that I could not avoid the train forever even though I could still feeling the shaking of it in my chest, and I knew I need museums in my life, even the statues brutalized by colonialists and time. I knew I could not pass up a chance to visit and revisit our history.

I was trying to look for lot-line windows all week, and found many, but that's not what I want to write about tonight. 

Instead of finding myself at another museum and thinking about the ways that bodies can hurt or the ways views can be closed as our cities grow, I found myself thinking about the things we can make. I was looking at William Wetmore Story's sculptures and thinking about how we model and remake history, how we change it too. 

I just started my M.F.A. at Sarah Lawrence this week and I don't think I will stop writing about the way our history hurts but I am more open to maintaining frames over changing views.