Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Laundry Art: A Thanksgiving Dedication

On Thanksgiving Day, 2009, the Museum of Peripheral Art (MoPA) inducted its first MoPA site, setting the cornerstone for an international presence of MoPA projects. This MoPA site is the laundry room at my parents' house in northern New Jersey.

Since we moved into the our home on August 15, 1978, my mother, Sandra Martin, designated her laundry room as a gallery for Laundry Art, which is any kind of artwork pertaining to the the washing, cleaning, mending, hanging, ironing and folding of clothes.

I fondly recall how one of the earlier pieces was acquired. We were shopping in the 1970's and my mother picked up an ironing board cover in the supermarket and broke out with laughter. The product design featured a picture of a beautiful young woman at an ironing board and a handsome man embracing her in the woods. Needless to say my mother had this image framed and hung it in the laundry room. (pictured above, right in center)

The artwork in my mother's laundry room includes cartoons, acrylic paintings, watercolors, photographs and one large three-dimensional painting/sculpture I did in high school of me caught in the vortex of a washing machine. The very first piece was a large painting on paper of someone ironing, which she purchased at the Ramsey High School Student Art Show in 1974. Surrounding the cartoon figure and the ironing set up are little people engaged in all sorts of activities, soiling their clothes. They are both the cause for the need of the laundry work being done but also a constant reminder that this is endless work. Perhaps this is what is so fascinating about Laundry Art: it is so closely tied to life itself, while other themes in art are too abstract and distancing to relate to the every day life. Laundry Art can never be too lofty or elitist because it embodies the 'ancient Chinese proverb,' After enlightenment, there is still laundry.

The induction included the dedication of a new piece, the picture shown here of one of my dress shirts drying in my basement. My mother also received a framed certificate from MoPA, which establishes her laundry room as an official MoPA site and mentions the contributions this space had for the foundation of MoPA. This small, brief ceremony followed a Thanksgiving dinner and included the reading of a poem I wrote this morning:

The Barbers of Chinatown
by Drew Martin

The old barbers of Chinatown
spend their days underground
in tiled cellars with walls of mirrors
and fluorescent ceilings

These below-grade shops are symbolic
of their age and profession
in this enclave

Their sons and grandsons
work in glass towers not too far
from their crowded, crooked streets
Which, in some ways are more distant
than the most remote villages in China

The barbers greet me warmly
Their business is not clean
but I feel safe and at home there

I point to the electric razor
then to the side of my head
and say "short"

Then I point to my forehead
move my thumb and index finger two inches apart
and say "long"

We both smile and I relax

They used to watch Chinese operas
on silver, portable CD players at each station
Different ones, simultaneously
Yesterday, these were gone

I think they missed the simple sounds
of dull scissors and the cut hair
falling on old Japanese salon bibs

When my barber finishes
I point to the straight edge razor
on the counter in front of me
and point to the back of my neck

He jacks it open and smooths it on the strop
I close my eyes because this is my favorite part

When I ascend to the wet autumn streets
I pass other salons, shops and restaurants
In one window I notice a
Happy Thanksgiving sign
It seems so familiar i
n such a foreign place
A sign of home, abroad