The Diver

Ponte Amerigo Vespucci, Firenze, Italia

The Diver, Ponte Amerigo Vespucci, Florence, Italy February, 2000 (assisted by Adam) & Fahnstock State Park, NYS for the NOW Festival, June 2000 (assisted by mml). Materials: Empty plastic water bottles, duct tape, rope. 10’ long.

The Myth of the Diver. In ancient times, which were not too long ago, peoples of the earth created and installed talismanic divers near water sources and performed Diving Rites. These commemorated, enacted and restored within their hearts and minds the story of the Rain, the river, the ocean and the mist. The Diver is a mythic hero and heroine who, at the precipice, gathers all fear, anticipation and emptiness into a threshold silence, a magnificent pause, a caress of stillness that opens a bridge into infinity. The leap follows, a daring act, an act of great courage, yet steeped in an inevitability as birth and death. How is one to Dive? Now the great arc of the dive, the great beauty of wave, incomparable, which has arisen and now in endless form, shape and cadence returns to a source. From greater heights into greater depths. A waterfall. This creative play, a celebration, grieving, a tending of the waters within. Young and old enacted the rites with the great divers drawing all into profound catharsis. Spending days overlooking great bodies of water was a treasured rite of spiritual sanity. A talismanic diver, sculpted to great scale or small enough for a personal shrine, served to gather the wisdom of this pure act and its inner meaning. While modern peoples, for the most part, appreciate diving as sport and play, the power of the rite remains embedded in the sensations of the experience.

The Making of the Diver. Winter 2000. With the smell of chlorine strongly flowing from the tap in Florence, Italy, I started drinking bottled water for the first time in my life. I lived in a cold flat on the south side of the city, a mile from my girlfriend who was enrolled in an art history program that included housing. My life was simple and full of observation. This reprieve from the intensity and pace of NYC living seemed to refuel my creative spirit at the same time I felt what I can only call the contraction of winter– that ransom that seems to need to be paid to let go of the past. I walked the city. I wrote. I sketched and painted. I met with a small, growing coterie of expats and Italian friends. 

As the fleet of empty water bottles began to amass in the corner of my room, it took on a visceral power. This endless need for water, this cycle of water. Underlying all these modern complexities, the life of water, of water beings. And yet these empties– unfilled– seemed to hold a strange grief for me, a life passing without acknowledging water. Crossing the Ponte Amerigo Vespucci one day, the Diver appeared, as if already arcing into the Arno River. 

The making was very simple. Bottles, duct tape and string. To install I needed an accomplice.

Adam, a painter from Chicago who I knew from Brooklyn, was also in Florence in an Old Masters apprenticeship program for Italian traditions of painting. (As an aside, Adam forever changed my appreciation of painting when he showed me a work in progress that had echoes of Rembrandt and asked, “Why do you think I painted this?” I made some stab at a poetic purpose then he said, “I painted this to practice how to paint the light on a shirt.” Suddenly, i could see the illuminated folds of his model’s silk-seeming top.) Adam was also an ex-ballplayer, a pitcher and shortstop– exactly the same as me– and we’d both been on the The Doll project act. He was game for the mission.

In the early morning, we carried The Diver through the still empty streets of Florence. It felt like an enactment of an ancient rite done by an art guild. Stepping out onto the Bridge, we were at once secret agents and ritual attendants. We secured The Diver using thin coarse rope and quickly left the scene for the shore where we took the few photos that remain. 

The Diver remained through the day. By the next day, he was gone.

Six months later, I installed another Diver, assisted by mml, up high in an oak tree diving out over a rolling lawyn at the NOW Festival in upstate New York. It was early summer. This Diver had more a feeling of exuberance and daring flight than return to source– as if one could swim magically into the earth. No documentation remains.