I like to believe it waits just for me. It is, after all, only a few blocks from my house, with parts of it almost hidden. It is an old brick wall of undetermined age. Cloaked beneath heavy ropes of wisteria and ivy, it is slowly falling away, clutching pieces of itself together with decaying iron bars still inset in its impotent sides, protecting nothing.
Not far from there is another favorite wall of mine. This one hides in deep shadows, behind old trees. It is arched and angled, hovering along the edges of a one-time driveway – a once grand yet welcoming entrance, now lost to grass and moss and forgotten purpose.
I often sit on the ground and lean against these special walls and just listen. We keep each other good company. The dog likes their smells and shade. I appreciate their vague remnants of memory, their ragged beauty and silent stories.
There are a number of photographic artists who go about finding all kinds of old abandoned places and things, such as these walls, and capture their haunted, haunting images – at these unique moments in time – and display them as works of art. The implication of light and shadow, the hint of color, the suggested narrative and almost audible whispers of these images take my breath away.
I have heard the term “urban explorers” applied to these folks who travel all over the world discovering such objects and places. Perhaps I should have been one of them. Perhaps I will be yet. For there is, indeed, something deep within my heart or my soul or my immortal memory that truly loves these old, abandoned things. Especially because they have been abandoned. And they are something like a secret – intimate and shared with only a select few. And so lonely, even the ghosts don’t live there anymore.
They may be buildings overgrown with vines and roots and shadows, crumbling back to nature. Or piles of abandoned cars – now nothing more than rust and classic outlines. A library chair of old leather, worn through to colorless threads; a kitchen table, swayed from generations of plates and elbows and scrubbing up; even a bit of crystal, prismed by light reflecting through its chipped edges. Old books – thick with innocence and truth and words that age but ideas that don’t.
Perhaps it is such treasures that draw many of us to Aiken in the first place. And keep us here, in harmony with the past. Because beyond the old walls of Aiken, there are outlines of mansions and footprints of tiny cottages, indoor tennis courts with great stone fireplaces mildewed with damp; and bowling alleys frozen in time, confused and silent; old restaurants where fluorescent lights still flicker at odd hours, and horse barns and polo fields that echo with hoof beats in the night. There are stone-cut equine-mounting steps tucked beside overgrown riding paths and empty stables – steps so worn the slabs of stone slope steeply inward, rather like hand-carved statuary. And there are numerous family cemeteries with sad rows of tiny headstones grouped around a mother or father, with loving messages carved in them to remind the living they once belonged to each other and were terribly loved and missed.
I suspect there are many explanations for the draw there is to these old, abandoned things. Perhaps it is the chance to touch the past and feel the ache of energy left behind. To witness the beauty in the randomness of collapse. To experience the connection between vision and disillusionment. To simply believe that what we do today will matter to generations yet to come.
This may be what Leonardo da Vinci meant when he said: “Art is never finished, only abandoned.”
Perhaps nothing truly becomes art until it is abandoned. After all, I know of at least two old brick walls that wait in silent testament.