“Truly with him it began.
Truly from him it flowed out.
All art and knowledge.”
Nuahtl poetry, Codex Chimalpopoca
“He scours the right-hand coasts, sometimes the left.”
John Milton, Paradise Lost, II 633
“…the rest were all
Far to the inland retired, about the walls
Of Pandemonium, city and proud seat
Paradise Lost, X 422-425
“If in sparing my life…you hope
I will be won over…you are mistaken.
My free will…adores my gods.”
Sor Juana Ines de la’ Cruz, Divine Narcissus
Photos on this page by Elsa Voelcker
|Our Paradise Lost is an installation of poetry, drawing, painting, and architectonic constructions by painter Adrienne La Vallee and poet Rodger Martin. The piece alludes to similarities between the cultural shock that Europeans and indigenous Americans experienced over the European “discovery” of the New World in the early sixteenth century, and the early twenty-first century cultural shock we currently experience because of discovery in the new worlds of science and technology.
|This piece has evolved over three years to parallel the relationship between the conquistadors and the peoples of the ancient Americas with the relationship between our modern day technological, corporate and fiscal conquistadors and the peoples of the current Americas. The poetry, for example, was chosen to portray the great cultural battlegrounds of the twenty-first century: wealth, science, art, and religion not as something new but as simple disguises of the battlegrounds for America that occurred in the sixteenth century. From a distance, the text of the poems becomes a design feature in itself. The earthy red of the sixteenth-century quotes was selected to illustrate the blood and passion of artists whose work has survived their time. The gray of the citations represents the rule of law which makes possible the handing down of stories from one generation to the next. The green of the current poetry stands for the new art which, if it survives, would eventually take on the color of earthy red to complete the cycle. The irregular hexameter and rhyme illustrate that though our language attempts to escape its past, inexorably it finds itself drawn back to it.
The gilded archetypes of Mesoamerican temples rise above the cultural debris left from these battles. Each temple is placed atop a cold, gray “skyscraper,” a reminder that in many ways modern American cities reflect the ancient American Empires they replaced: Centers of ceremony, a place to show rather than a place to live. Within the limits of these monoliths lies a field of cultural debris surrounded by a crumbling concrete wall. The crumbling nature of the concrete alludes to twentieth-century builders whose concrete structures became a symbol of permanence only to– unlike their ancient predecessors– to barely outlast the generation that constructed them.
|Glyphic images incorporated in the drawings enhance the concept of written/visual collaboration. Today’s technological bits and bytes are woven into a warm, orderly visual vocabulary from the past so that from a distance it is difficult to distinguish between a glyphic image from the twenty-first century and one from the sixteenth century. The portraits, created with pastel and chips, are timeless and anonymous. They represent the conquerors and the conquered, the inhabitants of Chichen Itza or the cubicles of Wall Street, the anonymous men and women who become our story.
|Savor a sliver of chocolate (in Mesoamerican time, a beverage often reserved for the ruling elite) and contrast the succulent sensations of the chocolate with the sensations one experiences from looking at, for example, the Debris field. Additionally, chocolate also plays a central role in the “Olmec” poem. Like the chocolate you have just tasted which creates a sensual response that quickly fades leaving only a memory, art also creates an image in the hope that after the image has faded, a memory will have been created that lasts much longer than the original experience.
|Both artists have a shared interest in Mesoamerican cultures. That interest has included teaching of Latin American art, travel to Mexico, and lectures in the humanities on the Mexican Baroque and Tequitqui by La Vallee; and a National Endowment for The Humanities Fellowship, a Council for Basic Education Fellowship, plus a major paper by Martin forthcoming in Comparative Literature Studies that links Aztec accounts of the New World and their capital, Tenochtitlan, with John Milton’s Satanic capital, Pandemonium, in Paradise Lost.
|We are grateful to acknowledge the following people and organizations for their valuable support in creating this installation: Chapel Art Center and Saint Anselm College, The American Antiquarian Society, James Avedisian, Trevor Code, Deakin University; Albert Labriola, Duquesne University; Judith Martin, Eugene McCarthy, College of the Holy Cross; Bennet Rolf Erika Sidor, Colleen O’Sullivan, and Paul Taglini. Partial funding for this collaboration comes from a New Works Grant funded by The New Hampshire State Council on the Arts with funding from The National Endowment for the Arts.