Ancestral Spirit Chair

Tag writer: Kendyll Keyes Gage-Ripa ‘12

What if your memory is like a garbage dump—old thoughts rotting like forgotten meat at the bottom of the pile? Things you forget are like old shoes: maybe they’re too smelly to donate to Salvation Army, so you let them slip away. You get a new pair.  The dump is home to things that have slipped away.  Some of these things have been loved—like your pair of old shoes—but most (used tissues, plastic wrap, receipts, orange rinds) slip out of your hands and into the trash almost without remembrance. Things like these have come and gone, unnoticed.

But what happens when you dig in the pile?  What will you find?  Betye Saar has been digging.  She has found things—glass bottles, bones, plastic, and metal—that might have been discarded forever.  We could call her an excavator of bygone days or an archeologist of memory, bringing dark and buried things into the light. Here—in this throne for her ancestral spirits—she has literally dug through the basement of time, pulling objects (old medicine bottles, empty nips of liquor, long forgotten salt shakers, fleshless animal bones) from the rubble and reassembled them in a way that gives them new meaning and new life.  But isn’t that what remembering is?  Isn’t it a process of mining through the deep caverns of your mind, extracting wisps of partially decomposed meaning, and re-composing them into a new whole?

Image Information: Betye Saar, American (Born 1926). Ancestral Spirit Chair, 1992.
Painted wood branches, glass, bones, plastic, metal and dried creeper vine.
60 x 46 x 32 in.; 152.4 x 116.84 x 81.28 cm. Purchased with the proceeds from the sale of a work donated by Mr. and Mrs. Alexander Rittmaster (Sylvian Goodkind, class of 1937) in 1958 and with funds realized from the sale of a work donated by Adeline Flint Wing, class of 1898, and Caroline Roberta Wing, class of 1896, in 1961.  SC 1992:42a-c

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