How concrete everything becomes in the world of the spirit when an object, a mere door, can give images of hesitation, temptation, desire, security, welcome, and respect. If one were to give an account of all of the doors one has closed and opened, of all the doors one would like to re-open, one would have to tell the story of one’s entire life.
Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space
I stand starring through the open doors of a 40 foot long shipping container that has been altered by Norbert Attard and turned into a work of installation art. The bottom of the container is filled with water pumped from the harbor of Kaohsiung, which I see carefully framed through the opening cut from the other end of the container. The water falls endlessly through this opening, returning to the sea from whence it came.
The doors of the container hinge like the ligament connecting the two halves of a clamshell that conceal a pearl. The space behind these doors has been made precious like a pearl. As the pearl begins as one grain of sand this container began as one among hundreds of thousands. The pump, the water, the opening at the rear framing the harbor is the concretion that defines it as a work of art. Lights, which hang from the top in the front and rear, reflect off the water and the silver interior illuminating the space creating an internal luminescence. This, too, is similar to the way light appears to glow from the inside of a pearl. But unlike the translucent luster of the pearl Attard, by cutting out the rear section, has made his container transparent. As a result, I am allowed to see through it and experience the difference that this mediated space presents of the world beyond.
Attard’s open doors, although they are real, are in fact a metaphor. They open to a space that cannot be entered. They open from the outside, but what is inside behind them is as much what is visible outside before they are open – the sea, the harbor, the container. There is at once nothing behind these doors but yet everything, simultaneously. The metaphor is opening, closing, re-opening, passing through, entering, and leaving. The doors are an intermediary, a metaphorical space in between the here and there, the past and present, the present and future, life and death.
As I look through the open doors out across Kaohsiung harbor at Chichin Island I imagine the early 15th century Chinese commander Zheng He sailing his Ming Dynasty armada of junks from the South China Sea to dominate the Indian Ocean and bring countless commodities back to the emperor – turmeric, cumin, curry, the finest Indian silks, horses from Arabia, and giraffes from Africa. I then think of this standard shipping container, this corrugated steel box that is so symbolic of 21st century global commerce; how many countless miles it has traveled across oceans and seas and what has been sealed behind its doors, what it has transported from the third world to the west and back again – car parts, clothes, shoes, televisions, plastic toys of all kinds, radios, all types of packaged goods, and even possibly people in search of a better life.
The water pumped from the harbor that fills the bottom of Attard’s container falls almost imperceptibly back into the harbor. The water in the container visually merges with the water beyond making it look as if the container is in the harbor. It is a magical fusion of reality and illusion, of fact and fiction. By creating a pool of water in the bottom of his container and merging it with the water of the harbor Attard almost makes his container disappear; it becomes intrinsically connected to the place where it exists. This, as a result, suggests the possibility of the self merging with the other. As I stand looking through the doors I experience my self, my conscious being, extend out into the world. My past and future are condensed into this moment. I may not know exactly where I am going, but I know, one day, I too will fall back, like the water, into the sea from where I came.