I am starting to downsize. As an aging sculptor and rustic woodworker, I have the expected tools, sticks, logs, driftwood and hundreds of found objects. But what I am also discovering –everywhere - are empty containers: big, small, covered, uncovered, take-out containers, nut containers, wine boxes and fruit crates; cardboard, metal, wood, black, white and clear plastic. Seems my favorite now are those small glass yogurt jars.
Let me try to untangle how this happened. The collection grew quietly. There were endless small choices: recycling? or will I need this sometime? In my defense, weakly, I only saved containers that had some design merit: they were lightweight or trim or sealed well or stacked well or were black and would look good with a white label.
Perhaps I am just a good boy scout, ever-ready, always-prepared to withstand inevitable disorder.
Empty containers are emblems of a hopeful future. They wait, as potential, not deprivation. As long as it’s empty, there’s the possibility it can be filled with the best, the rarest. Always a future promise to manage the disappointment of a regular present.
I have been studying alchemy for the very same 20 years as the containers were collecting around me. Actually, many containers had gotten filled and labeled: lead, mercury, ash, air. Maybe there’s a connection. Alchemy is the elegant combination of head, heart and hand. It’s a process, like breathing, that never ends. It’s the exercise of the intuitive, the spiritual and the technical looking for the “entwined and dramatic life of matter,” as Mircea Eliade, a groundbreaking historian of religion, put it. It involves containers or “alembics” – obsolete for flasks or beakers – to cook, store, display the discoveries. But as any alchemist knows, s/he is really the fundamental alembic. S/he changes as The Work proceeds. The Work is always on your Self.
This very day I am trying to finish these notes, I find myself rummaging through the recycling bin admiring two shoe boxes my wife threw there. I have now taken these wonderfully strong, handsome empty containers to my workshop to join many others.
Obviously, this is not yet over. And listen, I have extra alembics. If you’d like some, let me know.