Lonnie Hanzon brings the magic back to the art of ordinary things, and not a moment too soon.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think that what a recession - not to mention a global financial crisis - calls for is a little ordinary magic. When we can no longer satisfy each and every whim and fantasy with material pleasures, when we can't afford to jet-set or fine-dine, we need to become sybarites of the mind. And isn't it about time we learn to use our imaginations again?
So go ahead...unfurl those dusty scrolls in the cobwebbed corners of your innermost mind. Crack your mental knuckles, stretch and yawn, and take a dip in the deep and phosphorescent ocean of the imagined world, where the ordinary becomes extraordinary, where the plain becomes ravishing, and where anything is possible.
On Thursday, my little family and I made the trip south to Denver's Museum of Outdoor Arts for an exhibit we've been meaning to see since we first discovered Hanzon's magical mystery tour of a Christmas display in December. The exhibit it called Magic Lantern, and for the past few months it has inhabited the indoor gallery space of the MOA, located in the Englewood Civic Center (where Cinderella City used to be, for you Denverites).
Hanzon, a Colorado native, is known by many for the HGTV Holiday specials he's headlined in recent years, and for his spectacular work on Neiman Marcus' holiday displays. Sports fans may know him as creator of the Evolution of the Ball gateway sculpture outside Coors Field. But his position as self-proclaimed "Wizard in Residence" at the MOA is, to my mind, his greatest contribution to our fair city.
Unfortunately, Thursday was the last day to see Magic Lantern....yeah, I was remiss in my tardiness on this particular occasion. So you'll have to see it all here - fortunately, I'm an obsessive cataloger of visual wonders, so I've captured most of the exhibit here for posterity.
When I enter one of Lonnie Hanzon's imagined worlds, I never want to leave. I could just lie on my back and float there for days. I was a literary child, raised in remote locations with few friends and fewer possessions. The imaginary world is where I lived, adrift in that warm and fertile sea, until I finally emerged into the real world at some point following my college career. I am comfortable in the world of the mind. After all, it's so much more vast and varied, so full of unexpected delights. There are no boundaries in the world of the mind...no borders, no fences, no doors that can't be opened.
Magic Lantern, in fact, deals with the apparatus of capturing reality: film, projecting devices, sound recordings, those things that capture the factual evidence of the world. So it's interesting that Hanzon has taken all these objects, all this factual evidence, and made of them a magician's show of wonder and delight. It is, in fact, the ultimate testament to the imagination, a visual instruction manual on how to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary using only the power of the mind. Here, the pumpkin turns into a coach, the mice into glorious steeds, the rags into ballgowns.
Curtains fashioned by hand from hundreds of photographic slides become a demonstration of the transformatory powers of the passage of time. What was ordinary in another era becomes fantastic, exotic in the midst of our present-day world.
Projectors - so recently consigned to the obsolete - are displayed as the objets d'art.
The bizarre, the fantastic...
...the great circus act of bygone eras...
...is no more than the ordinary, transformed by time.
A wonderful quote from Hans Christian Andersen explains the title of the exhibition:
"The history of the world is like a magic lantern that displays to us, in light pictures upon the dark ground of the present, how the benefactors of mankind, the martyrs of genius, wandered along the thorny road of honor".
But it isn't only for myself that I value Hanzon's transformatory view of the world. One of my greatest goals in parenthood is to foster imagination in my child. It saddens me that recent generations have been raised with so much materialism, so many gadgets, video games, vapid television shows, that the imagination is left to wither and languish. I believe that the imagination is a muscle which, if not exercised, can atrophy.
I can't guarantee that my child will grow to embrace the same values as we do. But while she is in my charge I will take every opportunity to foster this kind of imaginary play in her - this broader, more interpretive view of the world. History is not static, but should be revisited and re-interpreted regularly. It always has something to teach us, and each time we return to it - like the Pevensies to Narnia - we will find there is something new to discover.
In this display, the splashing of a single drop of water is recreated, frame by frame, in frozen glass. I have no idea how they did it.
But the Q was fascinated.
A corridor of historical and scientific wonders...
....and objects that were once ordinary.
A stroll past a painted scene where one can imagine oneself taking a seat in front of an imagined landscape (much like Mary Poppins hopping into the matchman's chalk painting), and spending the afternoon in contemplation of the world's wonders - a journal, a pen, a palette ready at hand to record what pops into the mind. What luxury! And all there at the fingertips if only one cares to venture in.
In the audio room, antiquated speakers projected sounds of objects from our recent past - can you conjure the sound of a rotary telephone being dialed, the whistle of a steam engine? I can, but my child would not be able to identify them.
Hanging curtains of translucent ephemera.
Projected snippets of bygone times.
Q loves to turn a globe on its axis. It's one of her favorite things. She does it with her constellation globe at home, and I wonder...does she realize that she's seeing the planet that we live on, the continents and oceans spinning before her eyes? Surely not. But in some part of her brain she may have already tapped into the collective consciousness and made that connection. Her power over the world that we live in. Her power to change the world through the way that she sees it.
In her young life, Q has already seen enough of the dark side of the world. She has been abandoned by her birth parents, left swaddled on a stoop. Though a healthy child by nature, she was born with what in her birthplace would be considered anything from a disfigurement to a curse. She has experienced massively invasive surgery at an age when she couldn't possible understand the reason that she should be put through so much pain and discomfort.
In spite of all this, she is a child of light - a force of joy unlike any I've ever known. She is pure happiness. A cloud never crosses her beautiful face.
Perhaps she has already learned the transformative power of the mind. Perhaps she knows better than any of us. All I know is that I will go to any lengths to make her world beautiful.
A "building" made out of images of buildings. This is a sculpture I'd be proud to have in my house. If I knew how to weld, I'd make one. That's the other thing about Hanzon's world that I love - he never fails to inspire creativity. I always come away with snippets of ideas, nascent concepts for future projects. Is there any currency more valuable than inspiration?
Well, folks, I hope you've enjoyed my virtual tour. I know I'll be eagerly anticipating Hanzon's next journey into the wonders of the mind. If you're in Denver, I hope you'll stop by the MOA and its indoor galleries. It might just transform your world.