Memento Mori 2: Hope Chest Full of Sand

Memento Mori 2: Hope Chest Full of Sand

Memento Mori 2: Hope Chest Full of Sand

for string quartet

Program Notes

This is the second work inspired by a multi-media installation at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art that my wife and I saw in the summer of 1992. The work, entitled Memento Mori, was by Karen Finley, a performance artist as well as visual artist and writer. She gained notoriety as one of a group of controversial artists denied funding by the National Endowment for the Arts even though their proposals had received favorable recommendations by the panel charged with evaluating them.

I found Memento Mori one of the most moving artistic experiences in my life, and was similarly impressed by her book, Shock Treatment, a collection of essays and scripts from her performance pieces. She is a passionately articulate person, as well as an inventive artist. If her art is often angry and confrontational, it is also an honest reaction to a world in which such anger is often justified.

Memento Mori occupied two large rooms at the Museum of Contemporary Art. The first room contained a variety of objects that dealt primarily with feminist issues The second room contained pieces about the loss of friends and loved ones, especially – but not exclusively – those lost to AIDS. Every time I try to describe the experience words fail me, in part because art like this exists precisely because words are inadequate to express the necessary depth of emotion. However, I can say it was the only art exhibit that ever moved me, literally, to tears. I was by no means the only visitor that day who was so moved.

Many of the components of the exhibit were designed to encourage interaction with museum visitors. Memento Mori 1: Red Carnations in White Lace Curtains(1993, for cello, piano and percussion) was written in response to one such part of the exhibit. This work is a response to another: at one end of the second room was a carved wooden box, filled with sand, labeled the “hope chest.” Visitors were encouraged to write messages in the sand to anyone they had lost, which would then be obliterated by the next message someone else wrote. I wrote several messages, especially to my mother, Charlou Thomas Satterwhite, who committed suicide in 1983.

This is a single-movement work of about sixteen minutes duration, all in the same slow tempo, although with very dramatic changes in dynamics, tone colors, and density of material. It attempts to capture the various emotional stages that the exhibit provoked in me, from rage to resignation, and all the stages in between.

found on Marc Satterwhite’s CD,¬†Spiky Epiphanies: Chamber Music of Marc SatterwhiteListen¬†