Alec Soth, the creator of “Patrick, Palm Sunday, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 2002,” is a Minnesota native, internationally acclaimed artist, and local creative (check out his publishing house, Little Brown Mushroom). This particular photograph can be found in WAM’s current featured exhibition from RBC Wealth Management, The Human Touch. The collection features a variety of works that explore the human body in different forms, themes, and practices, provoking contemplation of diversity, identity, and the human condition.
When I walked into the exhibition on Tuesday morning I decided, rather than over-stimulating myself with all the pieces at the same time, I would devote myself to Alec Soth’s image.
Studying a select piece for an extended period of time is a tactic I picked up from the Slow Art Movement. The idea behind the movement is to rediscover “the art of seeing.” It promotes an exhibition experience focused on a genuine discovery and appreciation of art, rather than a mindless checklist of every piece in a gallery.
After spending almost four years on a campus overflowing with people, individuals begin to fade into one amorphous crowd of bodies. Because of this, I find a collection based on human identity to be particularly compelling and relevant. Maybe an exhibit like this will remind me to pause and take note of the infinite number of unique differences and similarities that exist between myself and the girl I brisk by everyday on the Washington Bridge. Taking the Slow Art approach seemed appropriate.
Taking time to get to know this photograph gave me the opportunity to meet Patrick.
Patrick stands alone in an oversized taupe suit. His slacks drape down on his splayed feet, which are encompassed by large black shoes. He holds a hefty bible and tall palm branch. Everything around Patrick seems enormous in comparison to his wiry frame and thin face, including the empty and forlorn demolition site in the background. His disparate size in comparison to the rest of the photograph befuddles me. His squinting eyes and scrunched face seem to mask any true communication of his character, and I’m left to wonder if he is motioning me to listen to his good word or if I am being warned not to look any further.
At his feet lie organized piles of wood, steel, and cinder blocks; presumably the remnants of destroyed houses. Durable materials that fortified the structures were no match to whatever force obliterated them. The occupants have vanished. As I scan over the wreckage, I feel as though I can empathize with their sense of uprootedness and despair. Why did this happen? Where do they go now? What happens next?
Patrick rests, Messiah-like, amidst the clean up of a disaster. He represents the calm after the storm, or maybe the warning of something bigger to come. After all, if Palm Sunday prepares one for Good Friday and Easter, maybe Patrick is prophesying something as well? Is he warning me? Or is he predicting hope for the future?
My eyes finally gaze upward and see the vines of light purple flowers that droop over Patrick’s head. Many of the petals have been swept away from the tree. The remaining delicate flowers hold on audaciously to the branches. Their resilience and inevitable fall to the ground is beautiful and melancholic.
Big and small, durable and destroyed, death and life, dischord and calm, fragile and resilient; the contradicting imagery disorients me and even as I leave the photograph, I am left without a firm resolution. Maybe that conglomeration of mismatched entities is what unifies the piece. I don’t think that there is a definitive answer that Patrick or I could offer.
After spending time staring at Patrick, the exchange that we held in each other’s gaze transformed into an acknowledgement that we are part of something chaotically beautiful.