A Tower, Burning

Last Thursday was the opening reception of Crystal Keesey’s MFA Culminating Exhibition at the 1078 Gallery. About 60 people showed up to see Keesey’s installation, eat the amazing coconut cream cupcakes, and then listen to the artist give a talk.

The installation itself was eight feet wide and 20 feet tall. Curtains of a deep, velvety blue hung from the gallery’s ceiling, framing The Tower—Keesey’s three-dimensional interpretation of the tarot card, originally conceived by Pamela Coleman Smith in 1909. The multifaceted creation was made up entirely of pieces of stained glass, which hung by ribbons tied to rafters 20 feet above.

As I listened to Keesey outline the Tower’s inception and construction, I was struck by the sheer scope of the project. So much went into the piece I saw in front of me—so many people, so much labor, so much time—it became clear that Keesey was not the sole creator, but rather the director and manager of an entire crew. Its assembly required days of the artist working in the rafters of the gallery, arranging and rearranging lengths of fabric and pieces of glass until the perfect spatial relationships were achieved down at eye-level. Adjusting the natural lighting of the room required a trip onto the building’s roof, to black out the skylight. The glassblowing process she implemented required five experienced blowers working in tandem for hours.

Only once while writing about all this did it occur to me that no part of this project was meant to turn a profit, or to be of use in any practical way. It took two years, the help of numerous friends and specialists, a healthy chunk of money, and who knows how much else? Beyond Keesey getting her MFA through Chico State, what was it all for?

I can discuss the personal experience I was able to have as a result of it, but beyond that, I could only answer this question of purpose with speculative prose. Even Keesey wasn’t especially clear on the message or purpose of it. From her words, it seemed that she simply had a need to create in three dimensions, and the Muse of Creativity gave her The Tower as her cosmic assignment.

My favorite part of the installation was the physical tower itself. The glass was natural, all of a piece, colored a whitish hue that was streaked through with a sky-blue. A vision came to mind of the artist summoning it from the Earth itself, and the Earth responding with the perfect piece of tower-shaped crystal, complete with windows.

You can see the installation at 1078 Gallery, during their open hours, until June 1st.

Artists and performers of Chico! If you have an original work that’s approaching exhibition, this biweekly column is your resource for making your art and your intention known to the public. Email me.

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Howl was born in the wastes north of Hithlum, where only beasts and witches dare roam. He was raised by two old hags, Tabby and Wiles, who had an unhealthy fascination towards the literary arts. Howl now resides in a well-furnished cave off South Rim Trail, complete with an old iBook and Wi-Fi.