Artist’s Statement: Sometimes the past keeps intruding, presenting itself at unexpected times. For years, the image of my grandmother’s bright, inexpensive yellow blouse that she often wore has popped into my mind. After listening to RadioLab’s “Colors” episode, I jotted down a few notes about color, and the first image that came to me was this yellow blouse from the past. Nostalgia, a desire for what has been, can be a curse sometimes, a kind of addiction, a crutch. “The Mantis Shrimp” is a meditation on augmented perception, the many things we can not see, and a turning away from nostalgia.
The Mantis Shrimp
I remember her yellow blouse.
My grandmother often wore a yellow blouse
when we visited, maybe twice a year.
I remember her sitting in the kitchen
of their red house in Wisconsin,
sitting by the open window,
smoking a cigarette, wearing her smooth,
nearly shimmering, bright yellow blouse.
And when I was young, my dad often wore green “work” pants.
Working outside in the yard, or in the barn on the old truck,
he’d always wear these dull green, faded work pants.
And white — he wore white V-neck t-shirts with his green pants.
And he still wears white V-neck t-shirts, though he’s slower now
when he works outside, and he stays out of the heat in the summer.
My mother, on the other hand, has lots of different colors and patterns
of clothes to wear, and most refer to three things, specifically:
quilts, flowers, or the United States flag.
Yesterday, I learned that dogs
have only two color-sensitive cones in their eyes.
They see blues and greens and a hint of yellow.
But no reds. None at all.
Red looks gray to them.
Bright red is a medium gray.
There are no reds in their world.
And we humans, we have three cones:
red, green, and blue.
Every color we see is deciphered and created
by these three cones in our eyes.
Yet the common butterfly has eight cones
and can see more vivid rainbows than we can.
Rainbows, for butterflies, start earlier and last longer.
Butterflies can actually see things we don’t see.
And then there’s this shrimp — the Mantis shrimp —
that has 16 photoreceptors in its eyes.
16. That’s 13 more than we have.
So this morning I woke up wanting to be a Mantis shrimp.
I feel a great desire for more and more colors today.
I want to see the complex, hidden color variations
of a simple yellow blouse from the past.
But we live in the present, in this moment and place,
and nostalgia can be a silly, addictive vice,
like reaching back in time and grabbing
handfuls of empty air.
So I return to the concrete present as much as I can:
the kitchen window glowing with summer-blue sky,
too many red tomatoes rotting on the counter,
a hawk calling outside in the sky.
The past can keep its hidden colors.
And the mantis shrimp can stay in the sea.