Within the Great Pyramid the chamber walls are dust dry. Aligned before me stands a row of attendants – perfectly proportioned young men in radiant robes. They smile in knowing ways. Their uncanny expressions compel a sense of wonderment.
Immediately, I know I am dreaming. I ask each one in turn what he sees.
“This is my dream. What do you see?”
“Are you also dreaming?” “Can you see the others? Can you see me?”
Their faces change, turn stolid, and fade away. In that moment, I glimpse a lone acolyte. He is carving figures into the stone simply by moving his hands over the walls. Pointing here and there, he evokes sharp lines. Touching and rubbing with his palms, he smoothes the lines, bunches them up, creates free-form curves. Images appear.
Watching him, I note the utter immobility of his eyes. Though he is apparently sightless, the visions he wafts over the walls are graceful, impeccable, and immaculate. As the figures he creates become more lifelike, they tremble and begin to move. The acolyte stumbles, loses his strength, strains to speak…
Gesturing toward me, he whispers, “Move closer, Art. I need…your breath…”
I awaken in an emergency room of the Reading Hospital. The lullaby played in every hallway upon an occurrence of birth fills my ears. A seemingly huge African man hovering over me grips my left shoulder. An antiseptic odor pervades the place. The walls are bilious green. They sway, move forward, and press in on me.
“This is going to hurt,” he says as he plunges a metal tube straight into my chest. I gasp and hold on fast to the cold sides of the gurney. The servo-mechanisms of the vacuum pump echo throughout my body. I hear the groan, gasp, wheeze of my breathing. A sudden onrush of pressure and I am using both lungs. The room expands. Sunlight streams into the room. I breathe!
I call Keith as soon as I am able to get to a phone. In that year, he rises to art-world ascendency and he sees his friends die around him; I suffer a pneumothorax, lose a professorial post, and succumb to depression. We speak about the world and how it is always ending and always beginning.
I carry forward the project initiated more than twenty years ago between Keith Haring and me for several reasons. Because we conceived of it together, it contains the germ of a collaborative idea – an idea whose existence transcends both of us as separate individuals.
A manifestation such as this is rare and valuable. Human existence is defined by notions of transcendence. Throughout our history as a species, humans have conceptualized sensory and somatic experience in cerebral (philosophical) ways. Our senses provide blind, deaf, mute input in the form of electrochemical patterns of data to our brains. It is our mental process that recreates whatever it is our bodies experience. This subliminal gestalt defines for us the “who, what, where, when, and why” of our lives.
These identities of ours are prisons. Trapped by our very selves, we struggle for a glimpse of freedom – a sense of transcendence. Once that sensation is achieved, it gives meaning, shape, form, substance, and structure to entire lifetimes.
These moments of shared transcendence resonate.
I am not who I was.
I am we.
Image: Project-resampled visual mashup/digital collage with 1986 communiqué from Keith Haring to Tullio DeSantis, 2009