Allison Knowles’ Homage to Each Red Thing 1996 art installation reads: Divide the exhibition space floor into squares of any size. Put one red thing into each square. For example: a piece of fruit, a doll with a red hat, a shoe. Completely cover the floor in this way.
On a sunny March afternoon, clamber down below the sandstone cliffs into Shakerag Hollow, settle anywhere, and observe one square of the forest floor. List each red thing. For example: a cup fungus, the splotches on the leaf of the trout lily, the lines on the petals of the spring beauty, the stem of the bloodroot, or its distended rhizome that you know lies just beneath the soil. Now, take a fresh sheet of paper. Reflect on how the art installation and the forest floor intersect.
Who, for instance, is responsible for the composition of each? Is it Allison Knowles? Some anonymous art museum curator? The Domain Manager? The wild turkeys’ preference for one plant over another? Or is it the objects and herbs themselves? The undeniable appeal of the red-hatted doll? The competitive zeal of the trout lily? How about an homage to the procreative drive of the bloodroot?
What part does the public — the museum goer or wildflower lover — play? How would they react if California poppies appeared in the installation? Or in Shakerag? What about a stop sign? Or a newt? And how would onlookers respond to the presence of a lazy red helium balloon that refuses to rest in any of the exhibit squares or that floats above the forest floor, dragging its ribbon behind and carelessly pollinating the upturned wildflowers? Revere the poppies? Venerate the balloon?
How about the role of the anthocyanin pigment in the little forest plants? Does it protect tender young tissues from the intense sunlight? Provide camouflage? Maybe signal impalatibility? Did you notice that there’s more red in the stems than in the leaves? In the plants that emerge earlier than later? Those that are closer to the forest floor than the taller ones? Might you extol that sanguine cell sap? Celebrate the green things’ sunscreen?
But isn’t there something a little sad about the color red? Doesn’t spring beauty advertising its abundance of nectar and pollen remind you of Scarlet O’Hara post-Civil War overdoing it in the vibrancy department? And those Red Hat Society gals trying so hard to be perky? What little doll could look happy alone in a square on the floor, red hat or not? Should you at least appreciate the effort? Commend the intention?
And might the truly dark side of red color your essay? The blood of the 65 people killed on Easter Day in Pakistan? The two Vanderbilt grads who died during the Brussels attacks last week, or the Vandy student knifed the week before in Israel? Seeing the delicate bloodroot flowers and cognizant of the fat, fingerlike underground rhizomes, are you reminded of the scene in the novel Bloodroot when that fragile Myra cleaved the digits from her reprobate husband’s hand?
Knowing what you know, how can you give yourself over to relishing these displays? Pay homage to the doll, the fruit, the shoe, the trout lily, the spring beauty, the bloodroot, Scarlet O’Hara, the Red Hat ladies, and even the blood of the victims of violence, each one alone, giving it their best shot?
Completely cover your page in this way.