I think it was 1997 that I first came in contact with the work of the artist Akio Makigawa. At that time in my life I was traveling a lot as I had started a Melbourne based company (eFone International) that had built and sold email to SMS routing software to a number of telecommunications companies around the world. Some good sales saw me frequently passing through the International Departure Lounge of the Melbourne Airport. Waits were often long and I'd wander around doing what I almost always did in those days - looking at people and jotting down lines of poetry. It was on one of those occasions that I came across a lone sculpture standing in stark contrast to the typically dreadful architecture and furnishings of your modern day departure lounge.
I stood and looked at it for a while as one typically does when studying a work of art. I walked around it. I looked at the whole trying to "grok" it. I looked at each of the parts. I counted them - 5. Hmm, i thought, like the first line of a haiku. Maybe it's like a poem?
What did it mean? What was the artist trying to say?
Let's look at the parts starting with the top piece.
When it dawned on me what it was the whole sculpture then resolved itself into something that is quite remarkable not because it's a cool piece of art but because it is making a statement so hilariously "in your face" and RUDE! Oh yes "rude" as in sexually explicit and very very pornographic.
Oh my God! I laughed out loud right there in the airport. People hearing me must have thought I'd gone a little mad from travel fatigue. How on earth had he got away with it? It was so sexually explicit that surely people would object?
Here's the "deconstruction" for you. First, though Makigawa had titled the piece "Journey North" (to satisfy the dim witted authorities who paid for it), a better title might be "human reality". The sculpture depicts what Makigawa saw as the truth of our oh so human predicament.
The top piece is a scrotum and erect penis.
Not just erect but piercingly penetrating.
There it sits crowning the rest of the sculpture as if claiming the ultimate greatness of males.
But wait! Upon what does this expression of male power rest?
Upon that which is yet more powerful still - woman. Balanced precariously and oh so painfully on the knee of a woman telling you that not only is male power dependent on the support of women but also that our ultimate weakness is to be kneed in the balls by she who is the basis for all our power. We are powerful yes but we are at the excruciating mercy of our women.
You've heard the expression "a woman sits on a fortune"? And you know the one "worth the world"? Well think of those when you see what the woman is sitting on - a sphere. That sphere is in fact the whole world.
Below comes a cone - with the open end upward - this is the statement "that which is above is the essence of that which is below". The box below is the entire universe.
Man, woman, male power, female power - that is the whole universe.
As you can imagine, once I had it in my head that I understood clearly what the sculpture was, I sought affirmation from others. I approached a number of the various shop attendants and asked them what they thought of the sculpture and what it might mean. Never even noticed it. I asked a number of fellow travelers. Nope, no idea, not interested.
Every time I passed through that lounge I'd go and look again. I'd ask travelers and airport staff. I'd even try and help people to "see" it. Nothing. Ever. Nobody was ever interested and nobody ever looked - it was just another meaningless sculpture with no purpose but to add some more glitz to a sterile place.
Well, maybe I was wrong and it had no meaning whatsoever - it's "just art" and can "mean whatever you want it to mean". Hah! No way because you know what happened next?
I turned up on one of my trips to discover that the lone sculpture had been joined by three others! Cool!
Notice that the woman is now laying face down with the man perched on her bottom. She is still resting on "the world" which instead of a sphere is the letter "W" (for "world").
I leave the other sculptures for you to discover and examine but you will see that there can be little doubt that my interpretation is correct.
Isn't it hilarious?
It's worth a trip to Melbourne just to stand there and look at these wonderful open expressions of human sexuality standing stark amidst the hundreds of unseeing and uncaring travelers who pass them every day.
Makigawa was a clever Japanese man who wrote haiku with objects. Beautiful, simple, and there for you to find enlightenment if only you are mindful enough to see.
Seems to me that a fundamental aspect of human nature is the belief that we inherently need the "carrot and the stick".
Whether this belief is innate or is the product of indoctrination I have no idea. Perhaps it's a bit of both.
The funny thing is that this sort of belief is incredibly irrational because it only applies to "other" not to self. I will explain with some anecdotes.
I used to travel the world quite a bit and i was a heavy user of taxi cabs. Knowing my way around and knowing some of the cues that marked a driver seeking to distract me I was frequently aware of when we deviated from shortest routes. Being that I'm a talkative sort and a student of religion I'd often asked or guessed (from hanging icons etc) the religion of the driver. I got it in my head that the only drivers that tried this trick on me were either Christians or Russians (I will explain). Not Muslims, Israeli, Buddhists or anyone else (including atheists). Hindus? I’m still deciding there but they have a decidedly Christian feel to them. After a while I got into a habit of asking drivers before I got into the cab what religion they were. If they told me that they were Christian or I detected a Russian accent I would close the door and look for another cab. Application of this rule of thumb has resulted in me almost never having to get into an argument with drivers seeking to divert from best route. Note that this rule of thumb does not work in places like Vietnam where almost every person will scam you given the chance.
(Side track on Russians - I suspect this was mostly about timing - I'm not sure - but most of the Russians that tried to scam me had escaped from the terrible post-Glasnost era of Russia where millions starved and survival rates above niceties such as morals. Habits formed in such conditions die hard).
Next. In every case where I have been severely stolen from the perpetrator has been a self proclaimed Christian - and this usually in areas with low proportion of practicing Christians. I'm talking about professionals - financial advisers, accountants, businessmen - you name it. It has got to where I have another rule of thumb - if a person ever tells me that they are Christian (without me asking) then I flag it as an indicator that there is a high probability that the person is not to be trusted whatsoever.
Don't ask me to explain it - I have lots of ideas but nothing concrete - these are just rules of thumb that apply in my life and in the places I spend my time. It might be about me - maybe I have a face that Christians and Russians see and interpret "schmuck" - who knows.
My favorite guess is that Christians have a belief system (as opposed to other religions which are primarily action (or ritual) and not belief) and that at some level they understand that this belief system permeates their world such that if they employ the strategy of cheating (a la prisoners dilemma) they will outperform others.
In other words, a world of "believers" is a world ripe for cheaters. Look at the USA for proof of that - a nation of believers being ripped off constantly by self proclaimed Christians.
I believe that the carrot and stick (heaven and hell) does not stop people from behaving badly. I believe that it is how much fat there is in the land (a la Solzhenitsyn) - in a land rich in milk and honey everyone can afford to be nice. The tougher things get the more likely people will choose not so nice paths to survival. Those who first adopt cheating in environments that are deteriorating are most likely to outperform. Those who cling to fading belief systems for safety fall further and further behind until at some stage they too abandon their rules of morality. When this happens you have a world of dog eat dog chaos.
Those religions that are “archaic” and lean towards very harsh application of Law (ie heavy use of the death penalty) find fertile ground in places that have degenerated into chaos. We all want a safe place to live and raise our kids. In a world of lawlessness the sheriff who comes in with the six-gun and Winchester rifle and systematically guns down the bad guys is a world we all recognize though even this archetype has been stolen by the God-less Christians in their attacks on the poor peoples unfortunately living on top of vital resources like oil.
I can understand those who so fear what seems to be coming to our world that instead of following the path that seemed to be forming since the time of Nietzsche – ie towards universal atheism – they are retreating into what they falsely believe is a place of safety: “God”. The more the world showers harshness upon them the more they desperately seek safety in the pictures painted by those who can profit from their fears and the more those who need them for their power profess their Christianity.
At some stage the nakedness of their “God” will be impossible to deny. At that stage people will turn on each other as they move from one extreme to another. When this happens there will be no salvation until civilization has collapsed far enough that the imposition of very harsh law (probably taken from another “book”) is imposed at the point of gun or sword or spear.
ps. Note that must be said - some of the most beautifully spirited people I have ever known are Christians. Simple, quiet, humble and not proselytizing or making a big deal of their belief - just living a life of goodness as defined by their belief.