Google+ Followers

Friday, August 21, 2015


air bellows drive thru art museum
For a number of years I've been making photographs inside the tunnel under the Blue Ridge Parkway at Air Bellows Gap. The walls were plain concrete since the beginning of the Parkway until one day somebody wrote something on a wall with spray paint in the 1980s. Then another and another until the inside was covered with graffiti  by winter. The next season, more writings and images. Then, of course, a middle-class Flatlander objected, called the Parkway office and pled a prosecutorial case about it being offensive. Parkway maintenance painted the walls an ugly brown, covered the beautiful growing abstraction on the two walls, about 30'x10'. I loved it when the new markings began to cover the brown. A few years later, somebody complained to the Parkway office again and they painted it over again. It was covered up in a year. Then came the Reagan Revolution and transferring money from the Dept of Interior budget to the military. Hence, minimal maintenance since the 1980s, large sections of pavement needing repair. They seldom mow along the sides of the road anymore, which is ok by me. I like to see grass grow and go to seed.
As a result of the budget cuts, the Parkway painted over the graffiti no more. It grew and became beautiful after some years. Then one of my neighbors caught a kid adding to it. He knew the kid's mother, called her, got the kid in trouble with a zero tolerance mom, who got with the Parkway office and they had the kid paint the interior of the tunnel gray. I was so irritated with my neighbor I never said anything about it, because I could not address the subject without getting red in the face and a bit aggressive in tone of voice. What the hell. A fresh canvas. Nobody has painted over it since. Maybe it has been ten or more years that the colors and lines grow on top of themselves, colors galore. Writing on top of writing such that new things appear on top of everything else, then new words and colors appear on top of that, on and on until colors and lines become an abstract canvas. It has no plan, no design, no unifying anything except the space, itself. The patterns are purest chance. Somebody goes in there with a spray can, chooses a spot, scrawls whatever comes to mind and leaves in a hurry to avoid getting caught.
The place seems to me an important spot for the community of the county. Teenagers have no voice in adult society, are paid no attention to. They are nuisances, because adults don't want to be bothered by them, certainly don't want to listen to them. So kids evolve a culture among themselves that concerns offending adults. Pink hair, turquoise hair, tattoos, music adults can't tolerate, graffiti,  slang, sharp sticks in the eye of disapproving adults. I see the impulse to scrawl words and lines on the wall in the tunnel a small gesture of defiance, a rebel gesture, shooting the bird to adult society, the people that look down on them, talk down to them, pay no attention to them, dismiss them as irrelevant. Of course, this is not all the kids. It's largely the outsiders and the ones that feel left out. Only a few can be star jocks and cheerleaders, the only ones with any significance in and outside the school. It's like Miss America. One winner, forty-nine losers. The kids left out listen to hard metal music or punk and wear the most offensive tshirt images they can get away with. The style image is aggressive offensive. The graffiti is another expression of this attitude. Like John Lee Hooker sang in his song, Boogie Chillun, It's in him, it's got to come out. I feel like a localized spot for graffiti functions something like a pressure release valve.
Almost two weeks ago I parked off the road outside the tunnel and went inside to get some photographs. Beautiful walls, but I was not satisfied with any of the pictures. I try to compose them by colors and find compositions of lines in relation to the colors, yet am unable to catch what I see, or what I feel. It finally came to me that what I love about the walls is the spontaneous random chance of every jotting, an abstraction created by pure chance. Cy Twombly is good at making a canvas that looks like chance. These two walls are composed by chance itself. No one artist's mind composed it. It simply happened. Finally, it came to me to make photographs in the tunnel by chance. I drove through it yesterday. Opened the camera ready to go, held it pointing out the driver's side window without looking at the image. Driving slowly through the tunnel, I clicked the camera over and over until I came to the end. Got five images. The images are here, from top to bottom in the order they happened. These are the most satisfying images I've recorded in there. Before, I was looking at it with mind. Take mind out of it and I enter the spirit of the thing itself. I do feel like these five images capture the spirit of the place like no other photographs I've made in there. In a way, I feel like I've found the spirit of the place. It has a spirit I feel driving through it, for me a happy spirit. I don't look at it with judgment and desire to punish. I'm happy it is located so close to my home.

1 comment:

  1. Superb! Love what you've written here about that unique and compelling little tunnel. Next time I'm there, I'll see it with new eyes. Thanks!