REFLECTIONS ON ALEX CALDIERO’S “BAGGAGE”

Friday evening, a week before the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art’s retrospective exhibition of Alex’s work closes, I spend an hour in the Street Gallery with time to reflect on what I am experiencing. Standing at the door leading into the gallery, I hear Alex’s voice from a video monitor inside, an insistent bass drone.

I enter what can only be called a Wunderkammer, a chamber of curiosities. The German “Wunder” also means miracles.

I watch and listen to footage of Alex’s “night work.” Reflections from work mounted on the wall behind me augment the background of what I recognize as Alex’s basement archive (see the bright window well to the right). Between and among the backgrounds and foregrounds, Alex, bewigged and bedecked, lights a stick of incense. Smoke rises elegantly between his face and the camera and he begins to chant.

On the wall to my left perches “Traveller,” the little businessman adorned with a small version of the mask “Holiness to the Lord” that Alex wore for a performance in this very room years ago. He appeared that night dressed in a prim suit and carrying a briefcase.

“Traveller” casts a traveling shadow and I think that the cover of Zarko’s new book, titled “Travel,” reveals what Alex would call a “co-incydence.” Zarko’s and my new book about friendship includes a section called “Amicable Correspondence,” friendly letters between Alex, Zarko, and me. Fellow travelers.

I look down the wall and move slowly from work to work.

The works remind me that for Alex, words are images and images words.

Invigorated by the blues and yellows of the thoughtful “Sonosopher,” I look back toward “Traveller.” Time and space intertwine.

On the back wall of the second room hang eight panels marked with an editor’s decisions and beautifully mottled by light reflected on the slightly warped plexiglass: “Corrigenda.”

From the ceiling in the back corner of the same room, hang books and documents pierced by an avid and evidently literate nail:

Two boxed tables in the center of the room display a set of chapbooks (my copies on loan) and manuscripts, paintings, and collected and painted bones:

With geometric complexity, the next wall flaunts the pages of OR: Book O’ Lights, performs the book:.

Back in the first room, I study a collection of found objects, photographs, drawings, and a bird in a blue box that promises sky even when closed.

An adjacent table presents a collection of poetic bones. A skull laments that “You never kissed me. I never wrote you poems. You never told me how you felt. I never did anything about it. We never knew each other’s secret language. shadows finish underfoot”

Shadows. Reflections. Words. Images. Laments. Celebrations. Remainders. Reminders.

I look back along the wall that blazes with the “In Tongues” series of paintings on birch.

I turn to the right and there stands Alex . . . or rather, when I was here with Alex several weeks ago, there he stood at the door of the gallery. He was wearing a mask, a choice imposed by a virus. Viruses replicate themselves. The works in this gallery are viral replications of Alex’s brain and heart. Alex reads his own words. I too was wearing a mask, but my eyes welcomed the visual virus.

I leave the gallery and sit down with my notebook to gather my thoughts. “Gather” is a good word, but first I must find thoughts to gather.

I’ve been traveling through a Wunderkammer, as I said before, and have found it colorful, surprising, delightful, thoughtful, miraculous, and disturbing.

Why disturbing?

It may be something about the curriculum vitae the retrospective presents, the course of a life. There are previous Alexes here. And even earlier Alexes.

Alex present. Alex represented.

His works are fixed on paper and board, raised from storage in his basement to the discreet and pointed lighting of the gallery. They reflect on one another, distort one another, enliven and enrich one another in their proximities.

To see all these works at once, together, gathered, is to witness a nunc stans in contradictory historical motion. The droning voice continues to mark time. The works stand still in the spaces of the gallery. The plethora of works from across time, difference and similarity magnified by proximity, unsettles me. I have been settled for too long.

The works around me are representative, a few chosen from an infinitely more complex life, almost an abstraction in their paucity.

On my way out of the gallery, I stop again at one of the monitors, Alex appears to be THERE, NOW—there in his basement studio, in his archive, drawing, drawing breath, reading, sounding words across a temporal now.

But he is not there or here now. Like the photo I took of him standing in the doorway, like all re-presentations, the film is “recorded”: “from re-, with a sense of “restore,”, + cor, “heart” (the metaphoric seat of memory, as in learn by heart).” In my mind, the moving images are heartfelt. In my heart they make good sense. The reflections and overlappings and congruences and disturbances and displacements and replacements are miracles of creation.

The retrospective, as the word announces, is about time past. Time is gathering momentum as Alex and I live through our seventh decades. The works gathered here are instructive. And precious. And point to what Alex calls the “next octave of overtones.”

“Here,” Rilke’s persona says in his Duino Elegies, “is the time for what can be said.” Here. Now.

A few days after the close of the exhibition, Alex texts me: “The gallery must be empty. By now the wall is back to pagewhiteness. A reminder of all that is yet to be made.

About Scott Abbott

I received my Ph.D. in German Literature from Princeton University in 1979. Then I taught at Vanderbilt University, BYU, and Utah Valley State College. At Utah Valley University, I directed the Program in Integrated Studies for its initial 13 years and was also Chair of the Department of Humanities and Philosophy for three years. My publications include a book on Freemasonry and the German Novel, two co-authored books with Zarko Radakovic (REPETITIONS and VAMPIRES & A REASONABLE DICTIONARY, published in Serbo-Croatian in Belgrade and in English with Punctum Books), a book with Sam Rushforth (WILD RIDES AND WILDFLOWERS, Torrey House Press), a "fraternal meditation" called IMMORTAL FOR QUITE SOME TIME (University of Utah Press), and translations of three books by Austrian author Peter Handke, of an exhibition catalogue called "The German Army and Genocide," and, with Dan Fairbanks, of Gregor Mendel's important paper on hybridity in peas. More famously, my children are in the process of creating good lives for themselves: as a model and dance/yoga studio manager, as a teacher of Chinese language, as an ecologist and science writer, as a jazz musician, as a parole officer, as a contractor, as a seasonal worker (Alaska and Park City, Utah), and as parents. I share my life with UVU historian Lyn Bennett, with whom I have written a cultural history of barbed wire -- THE PERFECT FENCE (Texas A&M University Press). Some publications at http://works.bepress.com/scott_abbott/
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6 Responses to REFLECTIONS ON ALEX CALDIERO’S “BAGGAGE”

  1. Charles Hamaker says:

    Thanks for sharing the exhibit and your thoughts surrounding it

    Like

  2. Frank McEntire says:

    Scott, envious I am that you have not only a depth of understanding about our mutual buddy, Alex, but get to spend time with him, time calculated in so many ways. Thanks for your thoughts about Alex, his work, and his pekyooler sense of being.

    Like

  3. alex caldiero says:

    scott that image on the cover of zarkos book travel keeps haunting me. there i am in SPLACE in a pluri verse … what lives we each lead!! as we go on our ways. damn!!! hope we get there for there is here.

    Like

  4. alex caldiero says:

    very fine exposition. thank you.

    Like

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