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(Regarding Paul Druecke's Whiteboard Poems)
Standard office-style dry-erase boards are meant for to-do lists, brainstorming sessions, presentations, ideation—all fundamentally temporary, to be modified, erased and written over again and again. Unlike the ‘palimpsest,’ a common trope of contemporary art of a certain period, whiteboards are meant as perpetually cleanable slates, without a trace of former scrawlings visible. That Paul Druecke’s recent Whiteboard Poems use dry-erase boards to consider the subject of permanence might be an ironic gesture on the artist’s part, or a protest against how casually we treat our living environments like whiteboards.
In the artist’s reckoning, the Poems are mainly idiosyncratic renderings of his own perspective on the intersection of localized and more global histories, on how public inscriptions on the landscape might disappear or linger, in either case influencing our locales in ways we might just as easily ignore as recognize. Someone (multiple someones) somewhere and somewhen decided the shape of your block, your home, the limits of your locality and its characteristics—and all of these decisions have influenced who you are, how you see, what is available to you, even how you move and think about your surroundings and people around you. In a essay-length rumination on how history seeps between the slats of our built environments, Jennifer Kabat writes:
Cities are full of ghosts. They are contained in the things we walk past every day: the roots growing from the plane tree into the pavement, the string wound round a metal fence, the cement traffic barriers lined up to stop cars driving down a lane that doesn’t exist. They lurk in cracks in the sidewalk, hinting at histories that have long been ignored. (1)
As a friend and colleague of Druecke’s for many years, I’ve long known of his fascination with the conical mound in Lake Park, a barely-visible reminder of ancient forebears who inhabited this land long before colonial civilization invaded and remolded so much of it. However, I had no idea that a similar counterpart exists elsewhere in the city, at State Fair Park!(2) The funniest thing about learning of this second mound was that I would never have discovered it myself, since it’s apparently at State Fair Park, and though I hold nothing against it I would never trek there for what I’d assume is a too-predictable event. This is a stern reminder to be more open-minded about the world around me, to keep my eyes focused outward rather than inward, and to explore the places I’ve rejected as too known or boring for the potential mysteries they hold.
The invisible parts of the world are invisible only because we make them so, as Druecke’s diggings demonstrate.(3) Though our anthropological and archaeological sciences have become dependable outlets for academic research, such idiosyncratic pursuits as Druecke’s are as essential for raising everyday awareness of everyday mysteries. How many of us know who named the street we live on, and who or what the street name refers to? If it’s a numbered street, how many of us know when the city layout incorporated that number, or who decided that using numbers instead of names would be the way to go?
I can hear the skeptics asking, “Who cares?” and it’s true, such knowledge doesn’t pay the bills, put food on the table, or help us get to work on time. But civil discourses are shaped by such threads of commonality, even if we aren’t aware of them. Participation is voluntary in our society, and most of us do what we can. But one moment when you allow yourself to have nothing else to do, look down, and consider the patch of ground you’re standing on. What and who was there before? Why and how are they gone? Most importantly, are they? Someone, somewhere, somewhen, is reading the inscriptions you make upon the world, every day.
1. Jennifer Kabat, The Place of the Bridge, The White Review, August 2016.
2. This knowledge arrived thanks to the inquisitive mind and good graces of Sarah Luther, another friend, colleague and artist. I don’t recall hearing Druecke mention this paired mound, but I can easily conclude that perhaps I simply hadn’t paid enough attention. I’m curious to ask him whether he knows of it, and if so, when and how he found out about it. Also, an odd coincidence: Strangely, though my mother suffers from dementia and lately almost never has had the wherewithal to ask about current events, asked me just a day before Luther’s revelation whether I’d been to this year’s State Fair.
3. Our dauntless state legislature recently endeavoured to make Wisconsin’s ancient history ancient history, via a bill to give landowners dominion over whether effigy mounds are preserved or destroyed in favor of development. Article here:
…with this salient quote, with link, from the counter-reaction:
The leaders of the Ho-Chunk Nation count the mound builders as ancestors of their tribe and they have launched a website* to counter the bill as well as planned a rally at the Capitol on Jan. 12 .
"These are sacred sites and for many of them it would be like churches and mosques are (for other believers). This is how we would consider them," said tribal president Wilfred Cleveland.