Bushes are like letters, unknowns, clouds. Some are unruly, others so absolutely, eerily neat. They are rampant, distant, and right outside, prepared to be ignored, poised to be inspected and changed. Both built and grown, bushes exist somewhere between the worlds of plant and object, jungle and property. Exempt from the term sculpture, vessels of the most basic stories, they are in dialogue with their makers, the dirt below them, passersby, or nothing at all.
In towns, cities, and suburbs, bushes sprout up as physical expressions of the interminglings of mystery and intention, relaxed into form. They are like handwriting or the way someone dresses. Rooted in both the Large Looming Nameless and the Tangible Obvious, they stand for 1) all that I can’t possibly understand or explain about things that grow out of the planet and live, 2) what it is to sit down and cut a piece of something from its source and know it will fall, and 3) everything else.
Bush is a comical word, short and dense, unapologetic, erotic, rushed and stable, a little clueless but strong. Push, mush, hush, and tush could also be described in this way. Something bout the shh lol. Like any word, when repeated, bush starts to sound aggravating, absurd, and louder than it is.
A bush is also an uncleared place where few people live and plants mix wildly together. A branch hung as a sign, the tail of a fox, a cat, a disease, a weed, a buffalo, a cricket in East Anglia, a doe, a dog, an appliance store, a fourteen ton elephant, a hat, ivy, hair, a grape. It makes fruit and dust, shade and little shards of space. It shows up in the air-conditioned lobbies of various downtowns and in old, majestic, valuable paintings. There is a dark cuboid bush, a couple feet wide, outlining in sharp turns the McDonald’s across from Golden Gate Park. There was George W., there is George W. I remember sitting on some cold white tiles listening to “Glycerine” in a now alien era. There is all the other stuff linked to this word that cannot come close to encompassing this thing. It has not enough memory to care.
Bushes block things behind and below them, but usually what’s there is nothing too great – some dirt, the least interesting part of a house, a little trash, weeds, a fleeting rat, asphalt or plain glass. If forced into certain shapes, they can look stern or protective, but ultimately they can’t stop much. As great sculptures and buildings do, they balance aggression and stiff fear, boldness and tenderness, delicacy and strength; they present movement and stillness, life and death intertwined. They maintain their cool in fierce weather while weaker, less stable plants waver and get torn to bits. Snow sits on them, and they hold it up calmly, drinking what they can from the ground.
It’s not rare to come across stretches of dead in otherwise healthy bushes. There is a bush in San Francisco that seems to have been spray-painted pale and thirsty, in one perfect rectangle on its side. A beaten down bush in the pit of winter, living out just through the scraggly lines of its dilapidated frame, with snow through its center, certain to thrive again after a few brutal months, is something I understand. I get why these strange things take so long to grow, and once they have, so staunchly hold their form, given the sculptural influence of the people who’ve chosen them. That they are guarding things it would be easy to expose. I appreciate their efforts to extend themselves across, up, and over long brick walls, around corners, to the edges of the property or not always elegant container assigned to them. That they sometimes appear poured uphill, or to have crashed into a foreign plant that lives tangled throughout them, and that they hover, as if with magnetic pull, just far enough from the closest surface to remain separate.
Bushes are individuals, and when they’re situated in strictly organized front yards and boxes outside of buildings, their opportunities to blend with other plants are limited. When you spot a vine from elsewhere over their carved sides or the rods of a fence coming through their tiny gatherings, it is beautiful. To stand and stare at a totally lush bush, the kind with breathing room between bright, waxy leaves, is like looking at joy.
Bushes [almost] stand exquisitely apart from our knotted, distorted and devastatingly narrow definitions of value, wisdom, and success, from the motions of rampant violence and discrimination, the assorted poisonous fears of human variety coursing around, paving over a mutual respect that is always in reach and frequently overlooked, and capitalism’s stifling of many things that matter. They did when I first wrote that sentence. They are indeed in touch with the urges of people to arrange and control presentations of clarity, neatness, flourish, value, safety, normalcy, whatever. They are also in touch with people’s creativity, pride, joy and delight, of course. Bushes are def free from the temptation to navigate, understand, resist, or alter the structures that push us around. It feels good to just walk by and see them. When you get very close to a bush it’s like looking at a tree from far away.
There’s no such thing as a lackluster plant, in the way there are unsuccessful poems. All plants are complete. A bush is only one exemplary vessel of the enchantingly positive and sharp, reflective power of natural and constructed forms, just everywhere, covering the globe, offering themselves to our automatic and largely unconscious anthropocentric similes. Because they’re not using language or built by it, there’s no need to attempt to choreograph the experience of witnessing them with words. They give you all they are. They’re never wrong. That’s it. It’s thrilling to meet them.
Some art has this power. I love this painting by Forrest Bess called “Symbol of Flowers,” hung below one called “Burning Bush.” Both were included in the exhibition Seeing Things Invisible at the Berkeley Museum of Fine Arts.
To recognize a form that reaches you and acknowledge it again, to search next for other forms that relate, and subsequently continue to expand the universe of the first one, is, like reading, a way to feel surrounded, by magic not danger. Some of these characters have been so embedded in my routine that once they’ve fallen away, encountering them out of the blue reminds me of how a person’s face, so physical and alive after a long period of not seeing her/him, feels like an HBO star’s on public transportation, or a roommate’s after a lengthy power outage, or my own after a life-altering day – large, close, deeply known, distant. On these walks, there are also the things that were never bushes that start to become part of the bush story, to find a seat along the bush spectrum. These trash cans looks like bushes, and like the closed, green mailboxes that sometimes live beside the open blue ones.
The pale tree in this photo is not a bush or a Christmas tree, but it reminds me of both, as it holds onto winter and summer. It is also linked to the body of a drunk homeless man who was asleep by the river. And to various programs on my computer, including my Tumblr which alternately bores me and feels like a relative place. To Preview, the program I relied on heavily to double and grid the bushes above, because after trying to illegally download Photoshop, and getting through to the part of the stealing process where you put in a serial number, and encountering the next step which was to open another Adobe program (to lie to the internet within), which I of course do not have, not having the Adobe Suite, I gave up. I also printed copies of this image at the photo store on the corner of the main street of the town I lived in for the last five years, and gave them to people as Christmas cards, so it has taken on, albeit weakly and temporarily, the status of icon of Northampton People & Time, December, and July, the month of my birthday. It’s just, and it is, a pretty dead tree . . . associated with thoughts about the declarative nature of a holiday, and how that insistence on meaning, an attempt to gather in and label celebration, tends to not only fail, but also, as it buckles and proves false again, open up channels of glass history and fling out bits of absolute pain. How it seems everyone acknowledges this, and yet our loyalties to the powers of label, symbol, title, and tradition loom large enough to suggest that this year Christmas might actually be fun. Or rather, that the imprint of this estimated emotionally-centered result is so deep we wouldn't have to do anything, exhibit any attitude, travel in any awe-inspiring vehicle to any certain place or exchange gifts of any price, color, or significance, to sustain it, so that we expect to expect what we expect of it, falling into it, looking up at it, so struck by it, encountering, with each subsequent settling wave of our attention into it, nourishing, saddening, enlightening, lovely, huge, and very complicated returns. It’s powerful and athletic that way, like a living thing.
My source number 2 was going to be Juan Amaya, an artist-writer-comedian-keen observer whose voice immediately mattered to me. One of the many things I admire about him/his practice is that he is so seriously good at taking in the details of the world that part of him is set free to laugh at its every facet. This space is gold to me, and I think a place where many of the best comedians and artists live, lighting up sentences/pieces of their audience’s thinking that felt previously private or unregistered, allowing these things to relax out in the open, so that they, in an instant, connect everyone who has a history of bothering to look around. Juan does this every day in various modes (mindflayed.biz, mindflayed.tumblr.com, twitter.com/juan_amayah). His thoughts and images are also his own, of course – particular, generative, and striking. As an artist trucking along with debt, little scraps of cool fabric and shoe inserts that look like faces you can’t bring yourself to throw away, many books by dead people and strangers, piles of drawings, 8 yr old sticks, and a whole lot of sensitivity sloshing around in great rushes as you make your way down various dappled streets and aisles of colorfully labeled excess for sale, welling up at the sight of a lovely row of rubber bands at Walgreen's, or a charming potato living in the shadow of a bent twilit boxspring on the sidewalk, so cosmically linked to the conversation you’re transcribing in the middle of the road, in a brief break from Instagraming your lush journey home from the Medicare eligibility office, stumbling upon meaningful dialogue with a fellow artist you admire is so nice. It’s a little struck match of a feeling when you meet a person in the world, and they say or write even three words, and you know in that moment they’ll be in your lasting, portable audience-in-the-head. Juan is one of these people for me.
Emily Hunt is an artist and poet living in San Francisco. Her first book of poems will be published by The Song Cave in 2015. She posts images and poems to ehunt.tumblr.com.
The phrase near translatable thing comes from H.D.’s poem "Chance Meeting":
heaven is a near translatable thing;
it’s there . . .