Meraki

Calvin woke early and started plotting his way through the day ahead. He’d already planned it. Everything was ready but experience told him that things wouldn’t go exactly as written on paper.

He checked the weather on his phone and out of his window. The two matched. It was an overcast day with little wind. That was one uncontrollable worry ticked of his list.

He’d met the artist just once. That was at the conceptual stage where everything and anything was possible. He’d been copied into subsequent correspondence where reality imposed restrictions on the artistic temperament. The emails were a lot more convivial than many that he’d seen in the past.

Calvin dressed and went down to make coffee and a more substantial breakfast than usual. Although he’d take a packed lunch, eating it didn’t feature on his timetable. He’d scoff it in one of the inevitable delays. Today he’d more than likely be waiting for cranes, forklift trucks and flames.

You couldn’t control the weather but you still had to anticipate it. Having no wind would make shifting the immense wooden blocks easier. It wouldn’t help the fire. For that he’d commandeered and adapted four leaf blowers that could drive air into the wood pile at just the right strength.

He was an hour early and first to arrive. The sun hadn’t even peeped over the manicured hills. He flicked the switch and lit up the warehouse and yard.  It was rare that he got to drive a fork-lift himself any more. He started with the pallets of fire wood. They’d been stored inside to dry out unlike the actual artwork which had been left outside and had needed to be doused with water since it hadn’t rained for two weeks.

He was thankful for the dry paths. He’d managed six round trips before the rest of the team arrived and hooted their approval. It didn’t take long for him to remind everyone of their assignments and become redundant until the crane arrived.

The artist and crane arrived simultaneously. He prioritised the crane driver and directed the artist to the site where he’d be out of the way.

The first snag occurred forty two minutes later. The crane was not the exact model anticipated and was wider than the gateway. He decided that simplest solution required subtle pressure on the crane driver, accepting responsibility for damage and letting the crane continue as if there was no obstacle. As he anticipated the gate post happily lay down in the face of twenty tonnes of crane and sculpted tree trunk.  He heard it splinter under the wheels and used his radio to ask the park’s team to check if there were any spare posts on site.

The artist bounced around like a husband attending his wife’s labour, wanting everything to be perfect but worried sick that something might go wrong. Calvin’s team were the professionals. They’d installed fragile porcelain towers five meters high. They’d moved bronzes so heavy that whole new roads needed to be built. They’d balanced rocks as heavy as cars in tree trunks taller than buses.

These wooden blocks were simple in comparison but no birth was trivial and no artist would condone carelessness. Calvin knew that each facet had been carefully observed and sliced at a precise angle. It might appear random but it had taken months to achieve that uncontrived look.

He called a break. The large pieces were installed. The crane had departed and the new gatepost was already looking down on its Crushed Forebear. Calvin couldn’t help giving artist’s titles to natural occurrences around the sculpture park. His favourite was Goose Droppings on a Wooden Bench. His younger self would have installed a sign.

The artist chose to continue positioning smaller items. Calvin read the body language and could see that he’d appreciate the moments of solitude away from the jovial banter.

On return buckets of sawdust and bundles of twigs were quickly distributed. Calvin carried off-cuts and provided instant direction for each large slab of sacrificial wood.

As the sun set the wood pyre was finally ready. The film crew were in position. Fire hoses snaked down the hill. Leaf blowers and gas flame throwers were poised to ignite.

Everything was ready for the artist to perform his final act. The act that gave the piece its title. From what Calvin understood, Meraki meant putting something of yourself in it. Only an artist would take that literally.

Calvin placed his hands on the one remaining wooden block and steadied it as it dangled from the arms of the forklift truck. This block had been carefully carved to match the wisdom tooth Calvin could see in the felt lined box open in the artist’s hand.

The artists placed the box at the bottom of the hole and nodded to Calvin. Calvin signalled the forklift driver to slowly lower the wooden tooth. This operation took over twenty minutes. Calvin’s calf and thigh muscles were protesting long before the artist finally approved the orientation and allowed the straps to be removed. There was a cheer and applause from the rest of the staff. The artist glowed.

It was the moment they’d all worked towards. The culmination of fifteen hours of labour. This was Calvin’s moment. The artist had designed, planned and created, but it was Calvin and his team who made it happen. It was their muscles that ached. Their sweaty prints that dampened the oak tusks.

Everyone watched as Calvin took a final circuit around the pile, as he wetted his finger and raised it to check for wind, as he shifted a chunk of bark to provide better access. He directed the flame throwers into position and held back the leaf blowers as a katabatic breeze flowing down the hillside made them redundant.

Within moments fire had encompassed the whole structure and the artist was able to speak to the camera while silhouetted against the orange flames.

Calvin discharged those he could. The film crew remained focussed on the artist, who intensely watched the blackened tooth judging the precise moment of critical decay. The fire wardens remained, with pumps primed ready to damp down when required.

Wood burned slower than anyone anticipated. The sky had the slightest hint of light before the artist was satisfied and the hose-water broke over the smouldering logs. The film crew were delighted to capture the steam clouds billowing around the rugged, tired face of the artist that had put so much of himself in to the work.

Calvin waved everyone off and was alone once more; covered in soot, with aches that reach into his bones, with scorched boots and a head that desperately wanted to lay against a soft, clean pillow.

He raked the required circle in the soot and stood back. He was the first to observe the finished piece. Tomorrow it would be revealed to the waiting world.

He found himself contemplating the sculpture’s title; Meraki.

He’d seen the artist pouring his soul, his creativity, his love into this thing but more than that he’d done the same himself. Like he did with every installation.

The sun lifted into the clear sky and Calvin sat on the grassy bank and gazed around with satisfaction. Another job well done. Once again he’d put a bit of himself into it – and he knew that’s what made it perfect.

He lay back and closed his eyes. Sleep caught him. He was woken by the official photographer, but not until after she had taken a whole set of pictures that she later went on to display in an exhibition. For once he was pleased that someone else was given the responsibility for the installation.

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