It is September now. It has been almost half a year since I last conducted an interview with Gardiner.
Times flies, literally… Life goes on and things change and don’t change…
Now Gardiner is back in Chicago, back to being a teacher with the new year unfolding.
She says life has been very busy with teaching. What a change of pace, I could only imagine, from being an artist free as a bird to being responsible for many young students.
So I asked her in this interview for her thought on the sabbatical year she had.
As for me, it has been invaluable moments that I got to spend time with Gardiner virtually, though I would have loved to in person. What surprised me the most through the year long dialogue with Gardiner was that not only I got to know her better but it also gave me a chance to have an internal dialogue with myself through the experience of Gardiner. I did not see this coming…
So here is the last interview question I gave to Gardiner!
Sumie: I am curious how it was for you in the beginning of the sabbatical, middle, and now. Was it anything you planned? Has it changed anything in your life? Do you have new realization having done the sabbatical?
Gardiner: Your question is a good one and there are so many things I think about when I consider how to answer.
In immeasurable ways, the work that I did and the people whom I encountered have changed me. I don’t think I will be the same kind of teacher now that I have been in the past. In some ways, I understand better what my father has always said about being a teacher: “I don’t have anything to teach anyone; you have to be your own teacher; everything worth knowing, you have to teach yourself.” We can go into this in greater depth perhaps at another time. It’s probably the more interesting answer, but also a more difficult one to craft well and clearly. For now, I’ll offer the below anecdote instead.
To answer your question, I returned to my photo album as a way to sort the events of the past year. I recalled a moment this spring when my sabbatical took shape, in my mind, as an “out-and-back journey”. It won’t surprise you that this shape appeared the moment I transitioned from “out” to “back.”
“It’s mid April, I’m on my way from Topaz to Minidoka in order to make Silence (Tarpaper Totem) at those two sites. I decide to take a detour to see Spiral Jetty by Robert Smithson. (I teach this work to my Art History students every year. I hope that seeing it in person will lend credibility to my lectures.)
Spiral Jetty is in a fairly remote location but I am able to reach it early in the morning before many other people get there. There are only two other people there when I arrive. It’s low tide and very dry this year; the water in the Great Salt Lake has receded far beyond the jetty. The shore is sand, big black rocks, a few yellow flowers. The salt hardens the sand at low tide and a thick crust forms on the surface of the lakebed. It crunches and glitters when I step on it. I wander way out to the water’s edge, where the salt gets thicker. In some spots; crystals pile up like rock candy. From the water line, I look back at Spiral Jetty. Seeing it in person is like seeing an old friend. I think about what to do, now that I am finally here.
Every year I remind my students that spirals are a universal symbol: that wandering along Smithson’s Spiral Jetty could be experienced as a contemplative or even a spiritual act.
So I start at the shore and make for the center. It takes a long time! But as the arc tightens, time also seems to speed up. I get to the center sooner than I want to. It’s at this point that I decide my sabbatical year is folding back on itself. It’s time to prepare for the return. I still have so much to do, but it’s time to start moving my thoughts back towards home.
I start walking the spiral back to shore and as I begin, the sound of tires on gravel; a van pulls into the parking area. Three young people and their dog get out. Their voices carry, breaking the silence. They walk down to the beach, pointing toward the water, laughing, taking selfies. The dog runs ahead of them, smelling everything and stopping to pee on Spiral Jetty. I’m sure
Smithson would have laughed. I walk towards the shore, taking in the changing view as the spiral turns.”