Sunday, January 20, 2013

terracotta warriors | funerary art: a writing date

(photo taken from MIA website)

I learned:  these statues were commissioned by the first emperor of China, meant to be brought into the next life.  Qin Shihuang began to plan his burial parallel with has ascension to the throne at the age of thirteen, around 3rd century BC.  From the New York Times:  "The history goes back to well before the third century B.C., when north-central China was a chaos of feuding states, all intent on domination. The one called Qin, ruled by horse breeders whose main trade came to lie outside China, seemed least likely to succeed. But when, after centuries of clashes, the dust finally settled, the Qin was left standing, and in command.  ...  Having subdued immense tracts of China’s geography he set about conquering its history too. He gave orders that all chronicles other than those that flatteringly documented the Qin family line be destroyed. Once he had the past under his thumb, he turned a control-freak eye to the future: he would colonize heaven."

These warriors, horses, and menagerie were buried in three pits, and the maps of these pits are remarkable.  Estimate:  8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses.  Also:  acrobats, musicians, strongmen, and various pieces of tile, mirrors, stone armor, and such.

(photo from Google images)

These warriors were found in 1974 when farmers were digging a water well.  But before the warriors themselves were discovered, a necropolis was found.  Wikipedia:  "[the] necropolis complex was constructed as a microcosm of his imperial palace or compound. It consists of several offices, halls, stables and other structures placed around the tomb mound."  The tomb itself has not yet been opened.

Also on the placards were notes about concubines and other servants being buried with the emperor, and the artists themselves were said to be closed up in a facility, never to leave again.  This implied death, though I'm not certain if this death was immediate, or if these places were internment camps, keeping the secrets of construction in.

 (photos from New York Times article)

We weren't allowed to take photographs or sketch, which we presumed also meant we really couldn't pause to write; even if I wanted to take notes like a brown-nosing high school freshman, I couldn't.  The rooms were packed, and I imagine, as I've seen for other exhibits, there might have been a sketch night, where artists could buy special tickets to go in and linger.

This exhibit is already lingering for me.  Not often will something trial me like this, especially if I have company I'm giddy over, but my brain has lingered so many centuries before, thinking of what it was like to live then, and thinking of what it must be like for those archaeologists to slowly uncover this impressive find:  juxtaposing these art forms, creation and revelation.

I will admit, I wanted some women warriors too.  Perhaps there were ones in the audience.

I went with my dear friend Meryl, where I told her about the documentary I saw on the Science channel about a dying man's gift of his body to scientists to be mummified, how I was working at a poem about it, how I would probably have a terracotta poem too and that I might have a little assembly of strange burial poems at some point.  I've already written about my grandfather's silty ashes--why not turn outward too?

After, we watched Doug Aitkin's film migration, which I adored and took notes for a poem, as well as a shorter film called, I believe, Three Women, in which the artist, who nearly drowned when he was younger, films three figures as they move from background (ghosts, then, grainy and black-and-white) to foreground (full color and crisp) through a sheet of water.  I told Meryl the three figures made me think:  I'll never have two daughters.  To me, it was almost as if the filmmaker was the father, the middle figure the mother, the two others his young daughters, each wearing a gauzy dress, unremarkable, possibly pulled from the closet, and this was his gaze.  Meryl said it was funny how each person filters these things; what struck her most was how each woman was clearly in a different stage of her life:  the prepubescent, the just-post-puberty, the middle-aged woman.

This, as we wound our way back to the main displays, was when I got a bit eight-months-pregnant wonk-a-doo, so we parked ourselves off and on until we settled with chai (or, in my case, chocolate milk and a sandwich I think I may have paused breathing to eat) and simply caught up, which is always such a nice thing to do.  I won't share it until she makes it public, but she had some really fantastic news about her manuscript, one that makes me truly believe it will find a home soon, and we spoke of mental health, of teaching prospects, of child-rearing, of exercise as a calming tool, of hot water jets and swim diapers.  We also spoke of our collaborative project, of summer plans.

It's in the single digits outside and I cannot seem to dress my enormous self in the most appropriate gear, even though my nesting instincts have organized cold weather accessories fairly meticulously.  This doesn't put the shelf any closer to my height range and with a confusion of gravity as I have, I leave those hand-knit gloves be.  It's snot-freezing weather.  I have serious fantasies about a cabin in the woods while writing with my dear friends, minus the bowling-ball stomach.

No comments: