Lever House and Laos, linked by a dream symbol

14 Jun
Carol Cassidy

Carol Cassidy

On April 14, I was struck by the synchronicity of discovering that Carol Cassidy was here in New York, halfway around the world from where her traditional weaving company, Lao Textiles, is based in Vientiane. It was just a couple of weeks after I had first heard of Cassidy while reading online about Laos, which I was doing because I’d been contacted by someone based there, a friend of my late friend Nicole Carstens.

A Weaves of Cambodia weaver

A Weaves of Cambodia weaver
(photos from Weaves of Cambodia)

Immediately after seeing the calendar listing on the 14th for Cassidy’s appearance at the Asia Society, I hurried into Manhattan to meet her. Later that day, I wrote a post about her and the “meaningful coincidence” I had experienced.

Unexploded land mine (Photo from CSHD)

Unexploded land mine (Photo from CSHD)

That post included some information I learned about her after meeting her. The post mentions that Cassidy also runs a textile workshop in Cambodia, Weaves of Cambodia, which employs local residents who have had limbs amputated after being injured by land mines still buried in the countryside from the war in Vietnam and the Cambodian civil war.

A few days later, I emailed Carol Cassidy to tell her the post was up, and she replied on April 17 with this observation:

So much of our traditional weaving is animist imagery. They are complex designs and have layers of meaning. I have come to believe that many of the designs are graphic depictions of dreams, dreams shaped by beliefs and how the weaver interprets the universe. Most Lao see this world and the spirit world directly linked. I often refer to the complex brocade imagery, like the noble Siho or the agile climbing monkey that represent this link as “Woven Dreams.” Lao-Tai weaving is about as close to dream imagery in weaving as you can get. Creating these woven masterpieces, thread by thread has helped me understand the thoughts and beliefs of their creators.

Later that day, my friend Judy Gardiner called and told me I had made an appearance in a dream she’d had the night before. (Judy is a New Yorker and the author of Lavender, a novel based on her life-changing, epic experience of what she calls cosmic dreaming.) One element of the dream Judy had had was a gift bag that she described as having a red ribbon hanging from the bottom, like a tail. Because I had read Carol Cassidy’s email earlier in the morning, the image of a monkey’s tail came to mind, and I told Judy that association. She found a variety of resonances in the monkey association, which I hope she will write about here in a post of her own.

Red-tailed monkey

Red-tailed monkey

[I can’t resist passing along a few other wonderful images of red tail monkeys: …Josephine Sumner’s linocut print…enkima, the totem of the Ffumbe clan in Uganda…a photo by a participant in a Kenya safari…the startling “Wife Cuts Off Red Monkey’s Tail” by Paula Rigo…and a photo in a post by Raymond Hu, graduate student in animal behavior at Hunter College in Manhattan, titled “Cheek Pouches: Cercopithecines’ Arsenal for Global Domination.”]

The setting of Judy’s dream was Lever House, a skyscraper at Park Avenue and 53rd Street in Manhattan that’s famous in part for its cantilevered look. It was completed in 1952, according to Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the prestigious architectural firm that designed it, and “with its façade of blue-green glass and stainless steel mullions—was one of the first glass-walled International Style office buildings in the U.S.”

Lever House from the east on 53rd (photo by DTH-LJTK)

Lever House from the east on 53rd (photo by DTH-LJTK)

Lever House's base (photo by DTH-LTJK)

Lever House’s base
(photo by DTH-LTJK)

I was familiar with the building because at one time I worked across the street from it, but I had never been in it. A little online research informed me that part of the public space in Lever House is used as an art gallery.

A couple of weeks later (April 27), I went to take some photos of Lever House for this post. (Coincidentally, I found out later, Judy went there for photos on the same day.) The art gallery, it turns out, is the lobby itself, although I wasn’t sure at first that that’s what I was looking at. The lobby was filled with unusual plantings, including one that incorporated a large, funky beaker–shaped aquarium with a big, flexible tube extending from it.

Aquarium at Lever House (photo by DTH-LTJK)

Aquarium at Lever House (photo by DTH-LTJK)

Other flora was grouped into flexible potting bags.

Plant bags at Lever House (photo by DTH-LTJK)

Plant bags at Lever House (photo by DTH-LTJK)

And on one wall hung a round-ended, white plastic tube, about nine feet long and open on the front to show hundreds of succulents planted inside.

Wall slug at Lever House (photo by DTH-LTJK)

Wall slug at Lever House (photo by DTH-LTJK)

On a coffee table in front of the wall terrarium, I finally came upon a small stack of handouts: the artist’s statement by Paula Hayes. The title of the installation was…

…“Land Mind.”

Carol Cassidy (from LaoTextiles.com)

Carol Cassidy
(from LaoTextiles.com)

There was no obvious meaning connection between “Land Mind” and land mines, and maybe Hayes chose the name based solely on how it sounds, the way magazine and newspaper editors often write headlines that play on the sound of familiar phrases without referencing the phrases’ meaning. But “Land Mind” clearly has a sound similarity to land mines, circling back to where the Lever House series of synchronicities started for me, at Carol Cassidy.

In the video below, Hayes talks about the exhibition’s location in Lever House—an iconic example of modernism—as a way to ask if we’ve been able to move past modernism to questioning our role in the earth. Certainly war needs to be questioned as a way of living in this world.

The homonymic echo between “Land Mind” and “land mine” got me thinking about the ways in which war does violence beyond the horrendous physical injury and economic devastation to human beings. If we live on a living earth, then in what ways does an exploding land mine wound it as well?

Land mine warning sign

Land mine warning sign

One Response to “Lever House and Laos, linked by a dream symbol”

  1. DTH-LTJK July 12, 2012 at 9:01 am #

    U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Laos and Cambodia this week. The New York Times reports:

    “At the center that provides artificial limbs, known as the Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise, Mrs. Clinton viewed a map embedded with red dots that showed where bombs were dropped along the Ho Chi Minh Trail and on the Plain of Jars. There were more than 580,000 bombing missions by the United States Air Force, making Laos the most heavily bombed country on a per-person basis, the text said.

    “At the end of the war, more than 30 percent of the bombs remained unexploded, leaving Laos with a deadly problem in rural areas that persists today.

    “Each bomb contained about 600 bomblets, and in recent years about 100 people have been killed by unexploded ordnance, 40 percent of them children.”

    “Vietnam War’s Legacy Is Vivid as Clinton Visits Laos,” by Jane Perlez, July 11, 2012
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/12/world/asia/on-visit-to-laos-clinton-is-reminded-of-vietnam-war.html?_r=1&hpw

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