Teklanika Sunrise

When I got my very first office several years ago we had the option of ordering office art from a catalog. Every person was entitled to two paintings. I picked a large map of the world for myself since the job had an international component to it and the other piece of art I ordered, after going through the entire catalog and not finding anything except flowers, trees, soaring eagles, all with self-affirmative quotations, I came across the one called Teklanika Sunrise (a Kennan ward photograph). I couldn’t stop looking at it, at the flame colored, roiling clouds in the sky, the evergreens in the shadows, as if in awe. That was what I wanted to look at in moments of quiet contemplation at my very first office.

I remember an older co-worker who used to visit me often, just to shoot the breeze and talk about things. Whenever he looked at the painting he used to ask me to take it down and replace it with hibiscus in bloom or hollyhocks. He said it was vaguely menacing and malevolent and it bothered him to look at it. Of course, I wasn’t taking any requests when it came to office art for my own office.

It had quite the opposite effect on me, a calming effect. Every time I glanced up at it I was reminded of my insignificance, of my speck like state in the universe. All the thoughts roiling inside my head, might have been similar to the roiling, angry clouds in the painting but they didn’t mean a thing in the great time-space continuum. The thought helped me get on with whatever inconsequential urgent matter was dogging my steps that day.

It has been about 14 years since I had that office and that piece of office art. I have changed jobs many times but I could never forget the name of that work or its visual impact. What appears below is my attempt to recreate it:

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Last year as I drove through the southwestern, winter desert parts of this country, where cactii and conifers coexist, through Flagstaff, AZ and Sedona, I came across breathtaking scenes like this many times.

Last night however, it was Edvard Munch’s painting – Scream (Or Shriek – as it translates from the Norwegian – Skrik) that reminded me of Teklanika Sunrise. The most common interpretation of his painting is that it represents existential angst. Munch told the curious that he was taking a walk one day with a friend when the skies turned blood red and that he suddenly felt tired and anxious. The skies that day appear to have had a similar effect on Munch that my office art did on my co-worker all those years ago. What is it about the skies?

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But getting back to feelings of anxiety, I had been contemplating Munch because in a discussion with a friend, about the current state of affairs, in this country of ours, I had said that only two images came to mind, Munch’s Scream above and this famous image from The Clockwork Orange, where Alex is being subject to the Ludovico technique of conditioning:

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One wakes up everyday to see the gas prices inching higher and higher, one screams when one has to shell out thirteen dollars for a salad lunch, a lunch that would have cost no more than six dollars till a couple of years ago. The crisis is global. There was a formerly prosperous family being interviewed on TV. They owned a fairly successful trucking company and now they couldn’t keep their business afloat. They were retrofitting some of their trucks to convert them into tanks. They intended to drive 180 miles every week to fuel up in Mexico and then drive back. They had lost all their savings. The stories are endless.

There are man made crises and then there’s nature displaying its fury with increasing frequency with cyclones, floods, fires and earthquakes somewhere in the world everyday. In many ways it feels as though this is the beginning of the end, the decimation has begun, and we can do nothing but sit there with our eyes pried open a la Alex DeLarge, helpless and hopeless as some of our politicians speak favorably of things like waterboarding, as refugees to South Africa are subject to necklacing, as Mugabe demonstrates progressively increasing levels of madness in Zimbabwe. When we hear about Darfur, child prostitution, AIDS, global hunger, buildings in the middle east pockmarked with bullets, healthcare workers in the US who struggle to provide care to terminally ill patients, at their own expense, because the government wouldn’t, as doctors contemplate giving up their practices in favor of running convenience stores because they can’t keep up with the insurance restrictions, as one sees signs of leaks springing up everywhere, globally, and as band-aid cures fail to stanch the bleeding.

It has been happening, human history is a violent one, none of this is new. We are desensitized – when we think of ourselves as nothing but inconsequential specks in the universe and reassure ourselves that nothing we do will ever have an effect. We can then take a deep breath, discard anxiety and go on with the rest of our lives. Or we can scream in anxiety, feel uncontrollably disturbed, nauseous.

The question is which state will prompt us to take further action?

2 Comments

  1. You always write the kind of posts that make me sit up and think- of course my conversations with you also have that effect.Your "Teklanika" is more friendly than the original photograph though.

  2. For several months now, I've been wondering if I should stop reading the papers every morning. I seem to be sipping anxiety with my tea. You've connected it so well, your office art, your painting, Munch's Scream, and what the world is going through today. Perhaps what it has always gone through down the ages. Now it's in your face all the time. Try as you might, you cannot make yourself become a speck.


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