Saturday, March 10, 2012

Our glimpse of a Levitated Mass (aka the LACMA rock)

In the hours before dawn this morning a 340-ton boulder rolled into mid-city Los Angeles, completing an 11-day, 105-mile journey from the desert. Its destiny is to become part of a tremendous sculpture at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), to be made by artist Michael Heizer and called "Levitated Mass." And you can click on the links to read more about that if you're interested. This post is about the experience my wife and I had involving it a few nights ago.

On Tuesday night I happened to see a photo posted online that caught my attention. It featured a red metal structure with a oblong white object in the middle. I found it to be the transportation of the aforementioned boulder. It was wrapped in a white covering and suspended from some girders that were pulled by two semis. Reading a bit about it, the "LACMA rock" was taking a circuitous route to its destination, traveling over closed streets during the late night hours and stopping at 11 predetermined locations along the way, becoming an attraction while on its way to the museum.

As of that point Tuesday evening it was moving, obviously very slowly, and would be stopping in the Bixby Knolls part of Long Beach (only about four miles from where we live), where it would sit until around 10 p.m. Wednesday night. It turned out my wife already was aware of that fact, and had planned on picking me up from work Wednesday evening and surprising me by swinging by to see it on the way home. However, checking the route on the museum's website, I discovered after it left that location the behemoth would be traveling down the street right next to our place.

So in the span of minutes I went from vaguely recalled kind of hearing something about a big rock, to finding out about a secret plan to see it, then realizing there'd be a point the next night when we could walk to the nearest street corner to see it as it passed. That became the new game plan. Were it not going to pass so close to our place we would have driven what would have been maybe ten minutes to have seen it while it was stationary in Bixby Knolls, but why do that when one simply can walk out one's front door and take fifty paces?

So Wednesday night we were determined to stay up and watch it pass near us. I saw from the rock's Twitter feed that it started leaving Bixby Knolls around 10 p.m., and I estimated that it should get to our area around 11:30. While that may not seem late, we have, um, you know, jobs, so we tend to go to bed around 10 on "school nights." Around 11:15 I put on shoes and a jacket and did a little recon, walking to the corner and looking down the direction from which it would come. The street had been cleared of any parked cars (I saw two stragglers that were being loaded on to a flatbed tow truck), as well as a vehicle with yellow lights that appeared to be responsible for making sure the path was clear.

There were no crowds. I saw an older couple sitting on a bus bench a little down the street, but otherwise it was as desolate as the street presumably is at that time of night.

I went back upstairs and reported the situation. It at least seemed like it might be coming soon. Now, the reality is that we'd likely be able to hear it coming from inside our unit, but still we decided to go down and wait on the street. We'd built up some modest level of excitement.

So we stood on the street corner, out in the very cool night air (My wife had on both a sweatshirt and a fleece jacket and that was not really warm enough), and waited. Time passed. More time passed. I took some shots of the empty street. I took a few shots of the full moon overhead. More time passed. We saw the silhouettes of a few others down the street but on our corner we were the only people.

After about 45 minutes she crossed the street and walked down to where the clearing vehicle with the yellow lights had stopped and asked the guy inside about the status. After she returned she said the guy reported they had run into delays and were over an hour behind schedule, and probably wouldn't get to our spot for an hour or two.

At which point we easily decided to choose getting out of the cold and going to sleep. Being part of something had been a kinda neat idea when it was just staying up a little late, but it was not worth staying up to the wee hours. Allow the record to show we tried.

Our fancy view.
But here's the thing: Around 2 a.m. I was not in a deep sleep and I was kind of awakened by the sound of a voice coming over a loudspeaker telling someone "Stop. No, stop there!" I got out of bed and walked to the patio, which has a glimpse of the street in question between two other buildings. I spotted a yellow-lighted truck and a highway patrol car, which I presumed were leading the trucks. I returned to the bedroom, where my wife was sort of awake (she tends to notice when I get out of bed) and I told her I thought the rock was coming.

We went back to the patio and saw between the neighboring buildings a portion of the hitch between the trucks and the lattice. I grabbed my camera, and using the railing as a quasi-tripod I started shooting . Although the whole thing was going slow enough that people on foot could keep up with it, its speed was still fast enough (notice the photo at the top of the post) that I had to adjust the exposure to be about 1/8 second in order to get some clear photos. I got that done just in time to capture one image of the white-covered boulder as it passed in front of our limited field of view.
There it is. Well, part of it.
And there it went.
(I spotted a few people on the sidewalk who appeared to be following it, but as to how much of a crowd had assembled down on the street outside of what we could see I have no idea. But I doubt it was much.)

At that point we were awake but still in our pajamas. The speed of it was still slow enough that we could throw on some clothes and jog after it before it got too far down the street, to get a better look at it. But it took us only a collective two seconds before we both agreed, at that hour and with as cold outside as it was, the glimpse we'd just gotten was enough.

Dorky as we are, in the end, sleep trumps art—or, perhaps more accurately, spectacle; I'm not sure it will qualify as "art" until it gets to the museum, as at that point it was just a huge rock being slowly paraded throughout Southern California. But that's not something you see every day, especially from one's own patio balcony. Surely there must be some value in taking a few minutes for that.

Had it been a warmer night or had the procession not encountered delays and passed when first we were down on the street, who knows how much better an idea (and better photos) we'd have. And had it not been passing so close, perhaps we'd have stuck with the original idea of seeing it while it was still parked in Bixby Knolls. But that wouldn't be the same story.

Sure, some people saw it closer up, but how many people can claim to have seen it and then two minutes later were back in bed?


This would have been the second time my wife would have surprised me with something involving LACMA, of course. The Urban Light exhibit was much easier to see (and still is). There's certainly something to be said for art that is not moving.

1 comment:

So, what do you think?