On ‘Hall of Waters’ by Camellia-Berry Grass
In Hall of Waters, Camellia-Berry Grass writes linked essays about her hometown of Excelsior Springs, Missouri, where the sculptor Donald Judd was born in 1928. The Hall of Waters is the name of a building at the site of the first mineral spring the settlers discovered. Of course, “the idea that nobody used these waters from 1,000 BCE to 1880 CE, nearly 3,000 years, is audacious.” A health spa was built there. And the town was “the product of black labor and black intellect, taken by whiteness & celebrated like white achievement.” What is purity, really? Hygiene? Independence?
In the first essay, Accountability: “The empty spaces are what writing teachers call ‘place.’ It is understood by the writing teachers that place is the bodies of water where you are from.” Water might be whiskey, hormone, while “the water levels everywhere else are rising.”
Hall of Waters: “What a place keeps underneath it is actually the thing that sustains it,” and this is the idea underlying a spa: “To pretend that the concept of natural is natural.”
Sulpho-Saline Spring: “I never felt any power in the pastel & stained glass” of church, “but here, at this abandoned well, I wanted to dance. There was just enough room on the slab to dance in a circle around the cistern and I imagined witches.” Consider: “Faith is a kind of evacuation, and the problem with church was that upon emptying myself the spirit did not rush in to replace me. I was asked to refuse myself for the sake of transformation, but I remained empty.”
And does this not make a huge amount of sense? Donald Judd’s Unittled (Stack), Museum of Modern Art, New York City, New York: “People deny my personhood because I am just a symbol.” Specifically, “I am green, I am a monster. I move from room to room, each identity a box, the more boxes the more I am a monster. What we mean when we say monster is ‘symbol.’ What we mean when we say boxes is ‘confine the monster.’” Being put in a box makes you a symbol, ergo a monster; confinement simultaneously creates and traps the monster. To be a monster is to be trapped that way, to be reduced to some concept or label, to be trapped in one’s own being. The firmer the label…