Meaningful Balance and the Seriousness of Weight

Collage by Hannah Carr.   Purchased by Jori Sackin at "Hot Hands" a benefit for Front/Space in KC, MO.  Photos by Jori Sackin.

Walking a tightrope requires balance.  The tension of the line.  The strength of our muscles keeping everything in place as we step out onto the high wire.  Scales require balance to, with weights on either side, swinging up and down, before they rest in a fixed position.  

Our lives require balance as well and so we borrow these two physical conceptions to talk about balance in a more meaningful way.   We are asked to balance our work and our social life.  We are asked to take a balanced view of a difficult situation, such as a friend's breakup. Society is asked to find a balance between its desire for growth and the environmental impact that results from it.

Each meaningful conception offers us something unique.  The tightrope gives us the ability to talk about our narrative experience as we struggle to juggle parts of our lives that vie for our limited attention, and the scales provide us with a way to measure, to value, to segment our life into easily definable units that can be weighted against disparate categories of experience, such as our work and our personal life. 

It may seem obvious, but we metaphorically conceive of balance as good, because when we physically fall the results range from being emotionally embarrassing to being dead.  Balance is then something to be achieved, something to be sought, because our physical experience, being a body moving through space, is so dependent on its existence.  

But there are stark differences between the physical balance that exists and the meaningful balance that has sprung from it.  Physical balance is easily discernible.  You either fall or you don't.  When you're stacking blocks it's easy to see when you've defied its laws.  Gravity creates some hard fast rules that act as guides to our experience that are unshakably true.  We either accept the rules that are given or suffer the consequences for misinterpreting them.

Meaningful balance is quite different.  For one, it's laws are much harder to discern.  It's not apparent whether you are doing a good job balancing your work and your personal life.  It's up for debate as to the correct ratio of time that you devote to either one. On top of that, your friends, parents, lovers, may have wildly different interpretations of how you are handling this balance in your life.

Because the lines are fuzzy, and because it is so difficult to measure, it's fitting that we invoke the metaphor of scales to try and grapple with this uncertainty.  What is the clearest way to decide the imbalance of these two distinct experiences in our lives?  Just cut them up and splay them out on a scale, measure the weight of each, and come to a definitive conclusion about which is more valuable.

When we balance multiple things, we find ourselves on the tightrope, holding an umbrella in one hand, a chair in the other, possibly a small poodle perched on our knee.  We have all these things in our lives that have specific weights and meanings, that are pushing on one another, and through the movement of our bodies in relation to this very thin line that we walk, we keep everything together, because if we loose our balance, if we misjudge the intricacies of the complex relations between these objects, we fall with everything we've been carrying.  Sometimes we make a mess, pick ourselves up, and try again, and sometimes we fall from a great height.

Hannah Carr's collages play with these many kinds of balance.  Since she's dealing with flat two dimensional shapes, she doesn't have to worry about the hard exacting rules of gravity, and much like our meaningful balance, she stacks shapes in ways that feel strangely familiar to how we construct these sometimes awkward yet sensitive internal balancing acts.  

Gravity, before Isaac Newton made it a term in physics, meant "serious" or "weighty".  The seriousness of an event in our lives, such as a funeral, has a meaningful weight to it.  We often talk about situations as being "heavy" or "light".  But these meaningful weights, disconnected from the constraints of gravity, are vacillating, in our lives, as well as on the page.  How heavily is the sheet of paper weighing on the leaves of the fern?  If we took the time we could figure it out exactly.  How heavy is that grey circle leaning on that pink line?  Hard to tell.  How heavy is that breakup weighing on you that happened years ago?  It used to weigh quite a lot, but now you may hardly think of it at all. 

Can that matisse-like jaggedy salmony pink really hold up that large red amorphous mouth shape?  Maybe.  It seems like it's doing it.  It seems to be defying gravity, or rather doing exactly what it's supposed to be doing, but perhaps this is just a snap shot.  Perhaps we are looking at a single still from an ever shifting landscape.  Perhaps this image only looks balanced because we are seeing it the second before it collapses.  

The corrugated base seems strong enough to support all that balances above it, and it seems fitting that the base of the piece juts out the most from the page, projecting stability, the shadowy horizontal lines mimicking the strength of prefab steel.

The blue sparkly dot hangs in the air in the upper right corner.  Is it flying or falling?  Will the weight of its fall trigger a chain reaction, where all the shapes crash into each other and lie scattered on the floor?  Perhaps time doesn't play a role at all.  Perhaps each shape sensitively touches the other in a way that's forever frozen.  The tensions between these two realities, as well as the tension of imminent collapse, is what makes these tiny collages so interesting, and it is this tension that animates our own internal worlds, the uncertainty of the weight of all these things we precariously hold together in the fragile state of balance we hope to maintain in our lives.