volunteer

Volunteering at The Dali Museum

Beloved imagination, what I most like in you is your unsparing quality. 

 

– André Breton, The Surrealist Manifesto 

Not too long ago, I wrote about our Saturday Market volunteering career in Saint Pete:

For about two hours each Saturday, we used to help a merchant to load his produce on a truck, and, as a token of his appreciation, he used to give us one thousand pineapples.

(For a more detailed and truthful account of these events, read  The Pineapple Volunteers)

At about the same time as we found a way to fill our bellies with vital vitamins free of charge, I also found a way to satisfy my hunger for culture and art (also free of charge). I became an active volunteer at the new Dali Museum in Saint Petersburg Florida in order to gain access to the galleries, as well as numerous events and lectures. (Apparently, there is no Green Card or any other type of work permit required if one, no matter from which country of the world, is willing to work without remuneration in the United States. Only a background check is required.)

Me running away from the Dali Museum, Saint Petersburg

Mira running away from the Dali Museum, Saint Petersburg, Florida

Salvador Dali, my favourite artist as a child when I was somewhere between Maya’s and Viktor’s age, had a great influence on me. Looking at the colour reproductions of his paintings in a book, I remember feeling the presence of the marvellous, the magical, the outrageous, the paranoiac. When I found out that a museum full of his paintings is just under my nose, I had to do something about it. And I did the right thing, I became part of it. I volunteered.

The museum opened doors in 2011.

“Designed by architect Yann Weymouth of HOK, the new building combines the rational with the fantastical: a simple rectangle with 18-inch thick hurricane-proof walls out of which erupts a large free-form geodesic glass bubble known as the “enigma.” The “enigma,” which is made up of 1062 triangular pieces of glass, stands 75 feet at its tallest point, a twenty-first century homage to the dome that adorns Dali’s museum in Spain. Inside, the Dali houses another unique architectural feature – a helical staircase – recalling Dali’s obsession with spirals and the double helical shape of the DNA molecule.”

http://thedali.org/about_the_museum/the_building.php

Via an internet volunteering system, I choose my days and hours of work, about 2-3 hours a week. My job is distributing headphones to visitors on the first floor next to the gift shop.

Hi, would you like a headphone? I need one ID for each adult. No, I can’t take your credit card instead. Press 1 and the play button for general information about the museum and the collection. Each painting has a number on a label beside it. Press that number and the play button again for more information on that painting. All the galleries are on the third floor. There is a guided tour as well every hour. You can take the stairs or the elevator. The restrooms are just around the corner. You can also watch a 7 minute film in the theatre here on the first floor, it’s free and it plays every 15 minutes. Enjoy!

They take the stairs or the elevator and up they go to the third floor. They return to take back their IDs. We keep them in alphabetical order.

What is your last name? Here you go.

I collect the headphones and place them on a rack to charge the batteries. Sometimes, I listen to the recording punching random numbers. A woman’s voice talks about paintings I don’t see. I haven’t been on the third floor yet. I have no idea how the little labels with the numbers on them look like. Only when I accumulate a total of 8 hours of work I will become a member of the museum with free access to the galleries, events, and lectures.

Two weeks pass.

My two-hour shift is almost finished. This makes exactly eight hours total. I gently place a set of headphones on my head. I take the elevator or the stairs. I burst into an open door and there is a painting before me. And I realize then, with an amazement I have not been able to lessen since, I am looking at a canvas touched by Salvador Dali. The painting is literally a record of the painter’s hallucinations. His body, which was there, touched the canvas which radiations ultimately touch me, who am here, like the delayed rays of a star.

I will not spend one hour rushing through the galleries consuming all 96 paintings at once, unable to digest them. I will take one at a time, savour it, enter it, let it melt slowly before swallowing it. I can visit the galleries every day if I want to, and spend time with one painting at a time. I can also borrow and take home books from the shelves of the volunteering office, all about Dali and his art, Surrealism, as well as other painters, photographers, and art movements. I can also attend all sorts of events, lectures, and shows, some of which are for members only and a guest. And I did take advantage of everything! I borrowed a book on double images, where Maya learned about Dali, as well as Archimbaldo’s portraits made out of fruits or fishes; with Maya we attended a lecture about Tattoo art and Dali; another lecture on Salvador Dali’s childhood and early years; and an opening of an exhibition, members only, including a theatre performance, wine, and buffet. It was amazing!

There are volunteer opportunities in almost every museum or art centre in America, and I was considering signing up at the Ringling Museum, after we moved from Saint Petersburg to Sarasota. For me this is a perfect option to stay connected to art and culture, to learn, and to become involved with the local art scene in the places we visit when we are not in a hurry.

Mira. SurrealIn front of The Dali Museum, before a member-only event

Mira. Surreal
In front of The Dali Museum, before a members-only exhibition openning

 notes, inspirations, web sites:

Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida

The Dali Museum website: http://thedali.org/home.php

Andre, Breton, First Surrealist Manifesto:   http://www.tcf.ua.edu/Classes/Jbutler/T340/F98/SurrealistManifesto.htm

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Categories: art and culture, Museum, volunteer | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Red Tide Disaster

After the second day, things insidiously start to change at the beach.

          10:00 a.m. –  the water appears unfamiliar; lost its transparency.

          11:12 a.m. –  a man sitting on a bench behind us coughs discretely. No one pays attention.

          12:30 p.m. – we eat flounder sandwiches I made with the leftover flounder from last evening.

          1:34 p.m. –  we haven’t caught a single flounder.

          2:00 p.m. – a small dead fish appears on the beach. Everyone likes it. We use it as bait.

          2:17 p.m. – a young couple is walking aimlessly along the shore. Both coughing.

          2:22 p.m. – a second dead fish. The kids play with it.

          2:23 p.m. – a third dead fish.

          2:48 p.m. – everyone is coughing.

Soon, we realize that something very peculiar is about to happen and we even suspect, it is already happening! As more and more lifeless fish dreamily swims out of the sea, more and more people start coughing. The beach fills with an endless cough. It feels somehow like a prelude to a symphony.

Rumors of ocean tornadoes and biblical interpretations of apocalyptic events start circulating among coughing vacationers.  Until someone explains with authority the unusual and most inconvenient situation  as a phenomenon called RED TIDE. I know that sometimes the things I am writing about sound fantastical, and often they are, but Red Tide is real, I promise. Here is some scientific facts about it which I found at www.mote.org

A red tide, or harmful algal bloom, is a higher-than-normal concentration of a microscopic alga (plant-like organism). In Florida and the Gulf of Mexico, the species that causes most red tides is Karenia brevis, often abbreviated as K. brevis. To distinguish K. brevis blooms from red tides caused by other species of algae, researchers in Florida call it “Florida red tide.”

Many red tides produce toxic chemicals that can affect both marine organisms and humans. The Florida red tide organism, K. brevis, produces brevetoxins that can affect the central nervous system of fish and other vertebrates, causing these animals to die. Wave action can break open K. brevis cells and release these toxins into the air, leading to respiratory irritation. For people with severe or chronic respiratory conditions, such as emphysema or asthma, red tide can cause serious illness. The red tide toxins can also accumulate in molluscan filter-feeders such as oysters and clams, which can lead to Neurotoxic Shellfish Poisoning in people who consume contaminated shellfish.

Karenia brevis, or Florida red tide, kills fish by producing a potent toxin (called brevetoxin) that affects the central nervous system of the fish. The toxin can also affect birds, mammals and other marine animals.

The next day, the sea is dark, the sky grey and low; there is nothing left of the beach but yesterday memories and dead fish of all kinds lying among pieces of corals and beautiful seashells. No vacationers.

Red Tide Fish Kill

Red Tide Fish Kill

I grab the opportunity to photograph dead fishes of all kinds. It is like snorkeling in the coral reef with colorful fishes swimming about, only we are not underwater, there is no coral reef, and the colorful fishes are rather grayish and miserably inadequate. I also find them beautiful, paranoid, strange, scary, grotesque, sympatiques(fr), curious, morbid, familiar, funny, alien, worried, mysterious, sad. (At the end of this post, you will find my Dead Fish Portraiture Gallery.)

One more day passes by and the fish starts to stink badly. Nobody knows who, when, and how will take care of it.

Ivo tells me: “Let’s clean up the beach ourselves.” And I am all for it. So we volunteer to do it, Ivo and me.

Sharon, the woman who cleans the park, gives us some garbage bags, fourteen I count later, and some latex gloves, and then she leaves. With this scarce equipment, we head to the carnage scene. The smell, should I even mention it? DEAD FISH!

We start filling bags scooping the carcasses by hand, trying to fit as many as possible in the bags, as fourteen bags is not much for the amount of fish we have to collect. Some of them, the sail catfish, have poisonous spikes in the fins, and we have to be careful.

Ivo collecting dead fish

Ivo collecting dead fish

It feels like a fish genocide. Hellish eyes full of terror and sand, teeth crooked, discolored skins, gaping half rotting bodies, sea snakes twisting around gooey scaly corpses, mouths gasping for water. I am not eating sushi any time soon…

This first day we clean a big portion of the beach in front of the park and the campground. And we continue the next day. Ivo does most of the job; when he works nobody can keep up with him, everyone who knows him can confirm this. Finally, the beach is clean, there are more than thirty garbage bags lined up away from the waves waiting to be picked up. Local people and campers passing by all congratulate us and thank us. We feel proud with our work.

We have self-sentenced ourselves to community work usually done by Offender Programs and we feel we have served our time to pay for the overnight stay in the park, sneaking in the campground showers, using the free internet, and some other minor offenses. Our conscious is now cleared. Plus, we are now famous among the locals as “the crazy Canadians who do nasty job for free.” In reality, we do get something out of it. Knowledge and experience. We learn all about the Red Tide phenomenon first hand, and we learn about the local fishes.

All is left now is for the county to send some people here to pick up the bags.

The following day the sherif department calls, and not only they don’t thank us for the initiative and the free work, but they tell Sharon that we didn’t do a proper job, that we filled the bags too much and they are now too heavy to pick up… This brings us down a bit.

Anyway, they send people, collect the bags, and the Red Tide is now history.

New campers arrive in the campground and go to the beach, enjoy the warm weather, the soft sand, the cool waves. But I remember another beach.

No monument here to commemorate the departed. Only black ravens high in the air like demoniacal kites still slowly savour the smell of death.

Only this and nothing more.

DEAD FISH PORTRAITURE GALLERY

Alian

Sad

Paranoid

Beautiful

Morbid

Mysterious

Sympatique

Grotesque

Strange

Funny

Scary

Categories: adventure, art and culture, beach, disaster, family, fishing, Florida, motor home, natural phenomenon, Nature, off grid, parks, photography, RV, Sarasota, travel, volunteer, wildlife | 10 Comments

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