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Claes Oldenburg’s Torn Notebook

Another example of “Pretentious City Pretend Art” is Claes Oldenburg’s Torn Notebook currently found marring the campus of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Claes Oldenburg created some magnificent and provocative pieces of art over his career but Torn Notebook is not one of them. I have felt that way from the moment the monstrosity was first described in the local Lincoln newspaper many years ago.

Here’s why: The good people of Nebraska have an identity crises.

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Linoma Beach, 1955

by Steve Gaines

He came up like a blue rag
from fifteen feet of cold water
like a diver in reverse
unaware of the faults in his form
draped in lake weeds
and no longer
among the living

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Lincoln After Seven Years

We live in disposable times. Our lives are wispy and temporary. I suppose this has always been true, but in the present Age of Momentary Relationships and Passing Glances, I consider myself blessed that I was able to live the first 23 years of my life in the same house. Because of that rock-solid start in a community, I have an indelible sense of home and of belonging and of being a valued and of being a rooted member in the city of Lincoln, Nebraska.

Movin’ On Up
After living in the same house Lincoln for 23 years, life changed. I moved to Washington, D.C. and I lived in two different apartments in no less than eight months. I then moved to New York City and I lived in one apartment for 60 days and then four other apartments over the last ten years. It’s a difficult task to move the essence of your life into cardboard boxes, deciding, after each move into new digs, what you want to keep and what you don’t mind throwing away and losing forever to the trash heap of former experiences.

This redaction of our lives into “save” and “don’t save” piles gives the body of who we are less volume with each move — our experience has been paged through and edited down to the basic nuts and bolts of mere survival.

Murky Bottom Memories
Memory and experience are the only threads back to our past, the physical touchstones have been pitched upon the lakes of our rippling lives and they’ve sunk to the murky bottom never to be retrieved or held again.

There’s a sliding scale of importance that is always prevalent when deciding what to take with you. Something you throw away now that you kept the last time you moved is a large mark defining who you are and where you came from: It is yet another ring in the tree of your life, for once this object had meaning and now it has none except as a breadcrumb of where you at a moment in time.

Continue reading → Lincoln After Seven Years