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A poet peers at Fish Tales

A poet peers at Fish Tales

February 16, 2016 // by Denise M. Reagan

MOCA Jacksonville has always inspired creativity for Jason Dean Arnold. He wanted to share this experience with his nephews, who had never visited the Museum.

Arnold, associate director of e-learning, technology, and creative services at the University of Florida College of Education, was certain Ian Johnston's Project Atrium installation Fish Tales would be the highlight of their January trip, but he was uncertain how his nephews would react to the work.

“My oldest nephew, Julian, was completely transfixed. He stood, watching the work 'inhale and exhale,' listening to the sounds of trains and water. I knew immediately he was transported to a creative space in his mind,” Arnold wrote in an email. “It reminded me of my first experiences with art and the amazing energy I felt. After the experience, we discussed the potential of creative expression, the symbolic nature and importance of Fish Tales, and Julian's own writing.”

1115 Project Atrium Ian Johnston Preview a
Image courtesy of Thomas Hager.

He captured all of this in a poem that examines the moments while they viewed the work.

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Filling the cavernous museum foyer,
a large, pale cocoon
turns slightly in suspension.

Within their elevated womb, shopping carts struggle
for space to share their emptiness,
twisted silhouettes against white flesh.

My adolescent nephew, Julian, wants to watch the creature breathe,
a long inhale that gradually increases its size
& holds his attention captive.

He stands silent & apart, changing
with an undefined restlessness, accompanied
by the sound of speeding rail wheels & sloshing water.

In this moment, Julian is again four years old, fascinated
with Thomas the Tank Engine
& hitting the strings of a small guitar.

His eyes move from the massive body to me.
I know he is no longer four.
I know how much time has elapsed.

I know he is accelerating now
& wondering why his uncle is moving so much slower
than light.

1115 Project Atrium Ian Johnston Preview b
Image courtesy of Thomas Hager.

He sent the poem to Johnston, who shared it on his Facebook page. When MOCA contacted Arnold, he wrote back to share the context for the poem. “Viewing the piece was a wonderful experience for my family that inspired several discussions.” Arnold also has submitted the poem to a local literary publication. 

“There is little explanation for the final stanza, which takes the poem in a very personal direction,” Arnold wrote. “In that stanza, I am attempting to see myself from my nephew's point of view. In this way, the entire poem is about perception, reflection on experience, and the difficulty of communication.”

Learn more about the ideas behind Fish Tales during the Third Thursday Tour on February 18. RSVP to reserve your spot.

1115 Project Atrium Ian Johnston Preview c
Image courtesy of Thomas Hager.

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