The Gift of Time

At Cooper Union, the crucible was second-year design.  If you could survive Eisenman, you were home free.  Sadly, this meant that fifth year, thesis year, was something of a joke.  Most of the projects were abstracted to the point of nothingness, the product of overworked minds and a cynicism that had worked its way into every pencil stroke.

I only watched one fifth-year crit, and it was because I wanted to see John Hejduk in action.  As project after dismal project was presented, he vacillated between explosions of rage and a silence that was even more frightening.  At one point he sank back into his chair, shaking his head with an utterly defeated expression.  "No, no . . . " he repeated, over and over.  Finally, he looked the slacker student right in the face, his large frame imposing even when folded into a too-small seat.

"You had a year.  A year of time.  Do you know what a gift that is?  And what do you have to show for it?"  His hand waved, taking in the hurried sketches, photocopied multiple times to look artistically grainy; the models cobbled together from found objects; the art prints and essays pinned up through the justification of "inspiration" for a project that was never given a fair shot.

His words were sadly prophetic, as he did not have a year left, himself; cancer claimed him the following year, two days after the end of the term.  It is difficult to describe the kind of influence he has had on me -- words do not do it justice, certainly not here -- but something about him felt heavy, significant, and his words seemed to sink in deeper with each passing year.  I have never forgotten this remonstration.  "A year of time."

I feel it most keenly at the start of the summer.