Saturday, September 27, 2008

Construction and the Glass Factory

I spent the last three days working on a public art project, as an unskilled assistant to the artist and craftsman who were making the sculpture -- a large concrete, steel, and stained glass arch spanning a bicycle path in Connellsville, PA. My duties consisted mostly of digging, lifting, fetching, and cleaning.

It was a memorable experience that left me with several strong impressions. One was the craftsman Jeff Dardozzi's mastery of materials such as wood, metal, and concrete. His comfort with the material world was inspiring and humbling. I have always felt a sense of helplessness when confronted by large material objects, having not the experience or knowledge of tools necessary to bend them to my design. There was no error that Jeff couldn't think of a way to rectify, using an oxyacetalene torch, hammer drill, cold chisel, or some other tool I'd never heard of.

I pondered the reasons for my somewhat partial engagement with this material world. Could it be connected to my long-standing resistance to joining the Project of Civilization? I am not pleased with my material ineptitude, nor do I find anything noble or spiritual about it. I do not advocate any kind of dematerialization as an alternative to civilization's attitude of domination. We can respect materials and use them as they wish to be used. I imagine that the concrete and steel liked the use we put them to. I think everybody, inanimate objects included, like to be a part of something beautiful. I think my ignorance of material skills is due to my having "thrown the baby out with the bathwater". I rejected the good with the bad, and I want to make friends with matter again.

Even my body reflects a rejection of materiality. I am extremely thin, with delicate bone structure and a very youthful appearance. It is as if I am not fully embodied, not solidly in this material world. I wonder if my body will change when I become more comfortable with materials. I hope to learn from Jeff and others, if they are willing to have someone around who is so unskilled. If I acquire even a tenth of his skills, I can fulfill my dream of building a simple house.

One of the high points of the trip was at the stained glass factory. I am always moved by industrial machinery. It is a miracle that human beings of mere flesh and blood could create such a thing. The giant furnaces, rolling equipment, and so on embody hundreds of generations of accumulated knowledge. For a Stone Age person, to create even a simple component like a steel rod would be an unattainable achievement. This glass factory, and the stained glass it makes, was nothing short of beautiful. The company founder put his entire life into creating it, even designing and building the kilns himself. He developed many new stained glass variations. I thought, as I have thought before in reflecting on various technological achievements, there is surely a place in the world for such a thing, such a factory. Surely an Age of Reunion must have room for something like this. The feeling I got there is, to me, sufficient answer to the primitivist ideologue who, citing the wreckage of civilization and culture, calls for their abandonment. The journey of Separation has not been in vain. In my heart I KNOW that there is a way to separate the gift of technology and culture from the curse.