The Detroit Institute of Arts

A Record of Wearing and Worn

Side A – Wearing

1

A tiny, uneven house once sheltered a denim jacket. A girl discovered it wadded up in a garbage bag filled with other hand-me-downs. She rolled back the cuffs and ripped off the patches and wore it, wore it until the long seam across the back only held at the corners, leaving a valley of open space, a frayed tear in the sky.

Her father found it shabby. She looked like a hobo. She had a job, why would she wear something mangled? At night, she would throw it across the hamper or dump it on the floor.

“Put that thing away or I’ll throw it out,” he’d yell.

She loved it all the more.

2

The word is “worn.” As in well-worn, as in worn out, as in weary. Wear on, wear thin, wear off.

A thing can be worn in many ways. It may be that a thing is put on, a show, an adornment, a cover. A lady may wear her clothing or adversity well. Hearts may be worn on sleeves, worn out with tears or trying.

3

The Detroit Institute of Arts displays a bronze casting called “The Donkey.” They call him Artie. From the time of his arrival to this moment, he holds a unique position in the collection. You can touch him. Every finger leaving a bit of itself, every finger taking with it a sliver of luster, for eighty-odd years.

Artie continues his unrestored existence as a reminder to patrons: touching the art will change it forever.

4

Tourists can no longer climb Chichen Itza, one of the most famous Mayan structures. The steps crumble from flocking feet.

What does this say about me? I was there before the ban, and I do not regret being one of the wearers.

5

Three cassette tapes I wore out with love:

Boston, Mass. by The Del Fuegos

Here Comes the Groom by John Wesley Harding

Look Sharp! by Joe Jackson

That was always a sad day, pulling a destroyed tape out of the player, streamers of audio ribbon hanging from the slot, the plastic shell hanging over the gearshift. Back then, I would rarely replace a tape with an identical tape. In fact, for the longest time I wouldn’t even consider buying it again, those songs were so burned into my memory.

 

Side B – Worn

6

Are we changed by what we consume, by what we see, by what we hear, marked forever by structures and sculptures and cassettes?

The music that I still hear in my head, from tapes I wore out as a teenager and haven’t heard since, do they wind through my mind, one long magnetic strand ready to begin again?

7

Days go by. The spools of memory whir. Days come and go and I wind and rewind. I choose to hear it again. I check myself. I buy digital versions and they echo, out from my laptop into the interior of a ’74 Cutlass Salon. I feel myself driving fast. I am singing Don’t Run Wild, I am singing Here Comes the Groom, I am singing One More Time.

8

Some music is tied so deeply to a moment that the two fuse. When we hear one of those songs again, we discover our own fingerprints loom loudest in our memory. The notes weave through our every arch, loop, and whorl, eventually reaching our ears, yes, but never to be new again. It’s art we owned for a time, art we couldn’t help but touch, a voice that spoke in shorthand, a surrogate, but temporary.

Other things stand, continuing to move us as we age, resisting our attempts to entangle them.

9

The denim jacket disintegrated. The lead singer of The Del Fuegos sings children’s music. John Wesley Harding writes novels. I sold my Cutlass. The house no longer stands.

I dance to Joe Jackson and think of Artie the Donkey, his unrestored state, his threadbare body, his whimsy-worn.

 

Thanks to Dr. Alan Darr, Senior Curator of the Department of European Paintings, Sculpture and Decorative Arts and the Walter B. Ford II Curator of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts at The Detroit Institute of Arts for his assistance.

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