As I type that title it feels vaguely pornish, but I’m thinking of a recent trip we made to Pittsburgh. We only had a couple of days to celebrate our anniversary because of work schedules, so we did a mini-jaunt to Pittsburgh to see some things.
Of all the great stuff we saw, the one visit that I think will stick with me the most is Randyland. We were way late to the party as the wikipedia entry on Randyland makes clear, but we were able to hang out in this art space comprised of three combined back yards and a whole lot of found stuff.
The fascination of those of us in the US with collecting stuff forms the centerpiece of what Randy Gibson is trying to convey here, but Gibson isn’t trying to overwhelm and (I think) shame us – he’s arranged all the stuff into coherent masses that speak to moments of joy that we feel. Certainly we as a nation can be a bunch of ridiculously wasteful scoundrels, but we can also embrace the madness of life with a relentless idealism that has to seem at best unhealthy to the rest of the world but which has enabled us to accomplish some truly marvelous stuff.
So, unlike the bleakness that often accompanies the vision of the post-apocalypse as a junk-strewn caravan of things we no longer understand (the above picture is from the game Dead Synchronicity, but there are hundreds of examples), Randyland is a joyful place. That sense fits, since according to urban legend Gibson started this collection in order to try to enliven his neighborhood, which he saw declining.
Perhaps the most compelling quality of the space to me is how it invited visitors to sit down. These aren’t the sort of minimalist seats that lurk in art museums, encouraging you to sit, but briefly, and not-so-gently hinting that the piece that they sit in front of is one you should contemplate. And we partook of those on the next day, when we went to the main Pittsburgh museum of art and saw, among other things, a huge work by Keith Haring, tons of amazing impressionist paintings, and much more of the most meaningful and beautiful work done by Western hands, and I for one often appreciated the hint. Randyland says hey, this is our backyard, come enjoy it, and this type of welcome is one that in our better moments defines us as a nation. It encompasses all the glory, pathos, and sheer weirdness of this American moment by encouraging us to just sit down and look at what happens when a backyard gets transformed in a way that energizes and invites.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m as into post-apocalyptic gloom as the next guy. I think, though, that if we’re interested in courage someone like Gibson (although from what I’ve read I doubt he’d describe himself like this) has it in spades. Seeing decline, he didn’t flee – he embraced and beautified. I’d like to think that he even poked a bit of fun at Disney with the name of the place – Randyland is behind walls, but it’s free, and the walls are simply a way to define the boundaries where we then being our own negotiations with the rest of our sloppy, delightful, and often overwhelming culture.