|A Conversation With Michael
-By RINKER BUCK
Preserving The Unknown
Every piece I've ever created seemed impossible when I first started out, and that's what I look for now. This is not the pursuit of the gratuitously unique. What achievement in art and life is all about is preserving the unknown for as long as possible. It's the uncertainty that creates great work. Uncertainty forces me to get out of the way, to get my body out of the way and just let what's possible, what the piece is really saying to me, to emerge. Uncertainty also taxes my skill base, my physicality, so that I've really developed new skills, explored all the possibilities, by the time the piece is mature. My hardest invention was the triangle piece. It took me four years. That piece got started because I was researching the history of juggling and learned that no one had ever bounced balls inside a shape. That just fascinated me because it was a complete reversal of the geometry of juggling. The idea of moving shapes inside a confined space seemed more like pool, or the relationship of ball bearings. It had to be done, because it would teach me something important about the nature of my craft, what I was really doing while throwing balls in the air. Now I would confine them. And so I just said to myself, 'Well here you go again, crazy Michael, you have to do it.' I started out studying, exploring wedges and the pyramids of ancient Egypt -- all the different ramps and wedges they needed to get those stones way up there. It drove my wife crazy. 'Michael, what are you doing in the library all the time? Nobody juggles in a library.' Then a sculptor friend of mine made me some wedges of different sizes, and I started playing around with them, doing video and photo studies, juggling them around all the time.
The big breakthrough came when I happened to lean all the wedges together, take a hot glue gun, and fabricate up a triangle. I had a little ball like the one kids use for playing jacks, and I started bouncing it around inside. I heard this rattle of the ball in there, and then I just knew, and I was scared. The triangle had me, owned me, and I knew I wasn't going to give up, and it would be hell figuring it out. So I built a lot of small triangles and just tested them out, then slightly bigger ones, until finally I was working with the biggest sheet of plywood I could get, 10 feet. I constructed this immense black triangle, and I started throwing balls around inside. It was a great and difficult time in my life.
I began to learn all sorts of things about the behavior of balls inside a confined space. For example, speed was very important, and I had to throw the balls with a lot of spin, English, because thrown at the right angle, the balls would travel depth-wise and come off the walls of the triangle in a transverse way that allowed me to catch and pass them on. But it was awful. It took me four months of non-stop practice just to throw more than one ball inside the triangle.
Sleeping With a Triangle
I felt so strongly that I belonged in that triangle that I started sleeping in it. You can imagine what this did for my home life. But I just slept in the triangle every night for a while. I had to believe that there was a union between me and the triangle and that, no matter what happened, I was comfortable inside it. It was unbearable, sleeping in a plywood triangle, but it led to breakthroughs. In the middle of the night, I would wake up because the plywood dug into my shoulders, and then I would start tossing balls around while I was still lying down and it just taught me so many things about the characteristics of this new environment I had created. But here's the great thing about it. I've been performing with the triangle now for almost 10 years, all over the world, and the uncertainty is still there. It's an incredibly fast act. The balls are just flying at 50 miles an hour or more. But if you did some stop-action video on me, you see that all kinds of mistakes still happen, that it's not as balletic as it looks. Balls come flying off the wall and get stuck between my fingers. Balls come toward my ead. It's a challenge every time, no a stage routine and I'm always trying new angles and speeds.
The uncertainty is still there. The triangle that I was afraid of, the triangle that I slept in, taught me to live with uncertainty. Never try to conquer uncertainty. Embrace it.
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