Prime's Vanishing Trailer

By Ta-Nehisi Coates
A Painting.jpg

Last Saturday I did something that I probably should have done a long time ago--I went gallery-hopping with a few buddies through Chelsea. It's really sinful to live in New York for almost ten years, as I have, consider yourself a creative person and not take the ritual tour. At any rate, I was motivated by much of the art I'd seen while away this summer in the Woods. There were all kinds of people there--painters, sculptors, photographers, singers, composers, poets, novelists, essayists, printmakers, architects--really an entire range of folks. In the evenings, an artist would usually give a presentation of their work. I think I understood, at best, 20 percent of what I saw, though I was moved by quite a bit more.


That got me thinking about something I've talked about here--the vast and blissful ignorance of childhood. As a kid, there was so much that I didn't understand. I can remember being five and hearing my Dad saying to his friends, "I can dig it, I can dig it" and thinking "Dig what?" That's just a small thing, and there seemingly hundreds of those small things. And then there were big things--Did the Human Beatbox really have a heart attack? Was Scott La Rock really shot? Is wrestling actually real? What did Gwen Stacy look like? Where does Optimus Prime's trailer really go when he transforms? Why does that girl in pre-Algrebra keep punching me in the arm?

Of course as a kid, I hated having all those questions, I hated the not knowing. I took to imagination as a kind of coping mechanism for my ignorance, in much the same way that early societies took to religion to explain the night. If you can't know what actually happened to Scott La Rock, why not find your father's old Rand McNally atlas, flip to a map of New York and stare really hard at that yellow portion marked "Bronx" in red lettering, and try to divine what happened. You fill the gaps for what you can't know with your own imagination, and then some decades later, that filling in process becomes an essential tool of your life.
When I was in the Woods, and I'd see those presentations, it was that old feeling again. I have no capacity to understand jazz, classical or opera. But I was lucky enough to be in the company of about twenty fellow artists, all of us assembled to hear this woman sing for an hour. I was lucky enough to be in the company of other artists and hear this dude play for an hour. I knew they both were big deals, and when I heard them, I could tell they were enormously talented. But I had no context to explain why. I couldn't tell you, technically, why they were great in the way that I can tell you, technically, why Fitzgerald or Black Thought are great. I was left only with emotion and imagination.

I grew up without the internet, and in that world, where literal truth could not be readily verified, emotion and imagination was often all I had. I want to get back to that feeling, to a place where there are gaping holes in my understanding which do not hunger for literal fact.. So I went to Chelsea and saw a lot of stuff that I did not understand. So I went to Chelsea and got unconscious and got uncomfortable. 

The piece above is at Slag, and I encourage everyone in the area to see the whole exhibition. (The screen can't really carry the piece's incredible depth and weight) It's an oil painting, "Funeral," by Mircea Suciu, a dude who I'd never heard of. That's my loss. His stuff really stuck with me. But damn if I can tell you why. I'm not even sure I need to know. Sometimes knowing is beside the point.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2010/11/primes-vanishing-trailer/67225/