The Artist as Diplomat

Robbi Nester

USA

After American Mihrab, an installation in ceramic and wood by Sandow Birk and Elyse Pignolet

When the ordinary has become too safe,
too stale, we are advised to make it strange,
to look again, and magnify until the edges blur,
revealing all we’ve missed, beautiful as bones
beneath the skin, and strangely, as surprising.

The opposite procedure also sometimes applies,
when we view the alien via what’s familiar,
until it seems our own. So Birk and Pignolet,
by rendering the strange in a familiar form,
dispel the shadows, showing us
what we already know: the merely human.

Masquerading as a doorway in some faraway
and ancient mosque, a blue and white ceramic ATM
dispenses currency more suited to our times.
The ever-seeing camera never looks away.
Blue script flows like a river on a topographic map,
like veins under the skin. At first,
because of what we think we know,
it seems illegible, but then it gradually evolves,
just as graffiti scrawled on subway walls
rewards the passenger with gnomic messages,
this work surprises us with wisdom
from an unexpected source.

The world’s a text, and this is metaphor,
in its most radical sense, a vehicle for meaning,
translation, carrying from one medium
to another an ancient message
garbed in newfangled form.


Robbi Nester’s work has been published in Poemeleon, Quartsiluni, and The Greenfield Review, among others. Follow her on Twitter.