preface to monument

     by patti smith

[preface to Monument by Lynn Davis, Arena Editions, 1999]

Travel is its own book, its own reward. Our experiences are internalized, woven within memory. The spoils of our journey may include a cherished image amid a spread of Kodaks - our amateur travelogue. But absent is the spiritual wash, a searing light, a breathtaking harshness, a certain sense of things that we are powerless to capture or to express.

The artist, in turn, sacrifices his leisure, the pleasure of being vague, of drifting half-present or merging unconsciously with the terrain. For the artist is driven, is one apart, estranged from all save his one eye. All confidence, vision, marshaled to secure the shot not shot by us. He must comprehend the equation that produces the architecture and landscape we call sacred. He must be aware, dogged, unable to relax. That is how this artist travels. And only after the images emerge, are washed and hung to dry, can she say, "This is good."

And why is it good? For its own sake. For magnifying the artist's process. For exalting the principles of nature, the acquired wisdom of man and that to which he aspires - illumination.

Where black is bright as dead. Where all things are another. Where the sea is the desert. Where decay is transformation. Where ice is bone is torso. Stone is the mottled skin of a guardian. The spine of a delicate temple. The organs of a ruin. The shadows of Yemen - the musical ribs of the earth. The vast insufferable curve of a wall.

Where external space leads into inner space. Where the spray of a fall is as dense as the mane of a horse. Where a man disintegrates into rainbow. The artist brings the oneness of these poles into focus. Where one looks through the solid. Where emptiness is charged, clothed in form.

A breath of humanity startles one into the twentieth century. A power line. A young tree. A bit of scaffolding. Restoration. Debris. A beat truck. A telegraph pole—a small, very distant electric crucifix. Eclipsed by the plane of the earth. The clouds of Cambodia. The mounds of Syria. A shaft. A structure. A column. An arch. Perpetuating memory. Fashioned by whim, wind or slave.

The artist attempts to be removed, and yet she is laid bare. Her work embodies heartache, prayer, the physics of the sun, the womb. Solitude. Unflinchingly and beautifully cruel. Unveiling the monument's soul, so heightened in isolation, so exposed as art.

As one passes through the leaves of this book, where are they traveling?

Within themselves. And what will they find? The waterfall.

The pyramid. The sloping dune. That which is within us all.

A present yet eternal energy. A sameness. An aloneness.

A dignity so crushingly remote that only a god may rival.

Copyright © Patti Smith 1999

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