Diagram of A Silent Garden
All white 3D render of an alarm clock
All white 3D render of an alarm clock
All white 3D render of an alarm clock
All white 3D render of an alarm clock
All white 3D render of an air plane
All white 3D render of an air plane
All white 3D render of an air plane
All white 3D render of an ATM
All white 3D render of an ATM
All white 3D render of an ATM
All white 3D render of an ATM
All white 3D render of high heels
All white 3D render of high heels
All white 3D render of high heels
All white 3D render of a mailbox
All white 3D render of a mailbox
All white 3D render of a mailbox
All white 3D render of a piggy bank
All white 3D render of a piggy bank
All white 3D render of a piggy bank
All white 3D render of a traffic light
All white 3D render of a traffic light
All white 3D render of a traffic light
All white 3D render of a traffic light

Diagram of a Silent Garden is an open call for a group show, using the title for a prompt and general invitation. Intended to reflect a range of practice in flux with Covid-19, we hoped to create a space to reconsider making work in our new condition. Initiated to be printed matter, not for sale, and distributed solely to the contributors, as our participant pool expanded the project naturally shifted into online form. We are proud to publish these pieces and thankful to those who took the time. This site has become a wide index of these practices, and in an ever-growing nature will continue to be open to new submissions, with the spirit of open discussion.

Core Team: Brian Sing, Jared Fellows; 3D Identity with Ted Youjong Kim; type design & web development by Jake Brussel Faria.

no di­a­logue, all ex­po­si­tion

Cooper Halpern

Fading in on a broad moun­tain-range, with a sliver of sun­light ac­cent­ing its peaks, the first im­age is as still as a paint­ing. Sharing an aes­thetic qual­ity like American lu­min­ist paint­ings of the mid-nine­teenth cen­tury, the dra­matic light­ing draws view­er’s at­ten­tion to na­ture’s strik­ing beauty in its purest form. It is im­pos­si­ble to ig­nore the unique majesty of the American West fea­tured in this open­ing shot. The ti­tle fades as a ve­hi­cle pen­e­trates the afore­men­tioned oil paint­ing from the very bot­tom right cor­ner of the frame, break­ing the ahis­tor­i­cal fan­tasy and ground­ing it in a mod­ern rural America. As the sun rises, fol­low­ing the semi-truck to a stop, the cam­era cuts to a close up of the front of the truck. Nature’s raw beauty is nowhere to be found, but dom­i­nat­ing the screen—and the im­plied world around it—is the bru­tal­ist ephemera of post-in­dus­trial liv­ing. As the face­less pas­sen­ger ex­its his hitched ride, he am­bles over to a stoop out­side a trailer, flank­ing an empty park­ing lot. Asphalt—manufactured and re­pur­posed stone—has re­placed the rus­tic charm of the film’s first frame. A ti­tle ap­pears on the screen:

1963
Signal, Wyoming

Finally, giv­ing us a spe­cific time and place, Brokeback Mountain be­gins, long af­ter the end of the imag­ined Wild West.” Cowboys and Indians has gone from fan­tasy to myth, to Topps trad­ing card and HASBRO game night.

We see Ennis Del Ray (Heath Ledger) as he’s ap­proach­ing adult­hood; he’s grown up in stark con­trast to time’s mer­ci­lessly un­wa­ver­ing pro­gres­sion. The Marlboro Man be­longs on his ranch, not a park­ing lot. He is the (literally) spit­ting im­age of the con­tem­po­rary cow­boy; raw and nat­ural, yet forced to con­form to the ar­bi­trary struc­tures of mod­ern America. In or­der to drive cat­tle to make a liv­ing, he has to ride in a car, to get to an of­fice, to sign a con­tract. Physically em­body­ing this con­tra­dic­tory ex­is­tence, Del Ray pro­jec­tion of pa­tience is met in equal mea­sure by his phys­i­cal rest­less­ness, stem­ming from his psy­cho­log­i­cal tur­moil. Waiting in the park­ing lot, Del Ray leans against the build­ing’s ex­te­rior wall with his large-brimmed hat ob­scur­ing his vis­age and one heel of his boot ner­vously dig­ging into the toe of the other. Underneath his stoic ex­te­rior Del Ray har­bors an oil well of emo­tions, which con­tin­ues to fill over time. As he comes of age, Del Ray’s ef­fort to hide him­self of­fer no re­lease un­til he’s met by a match, ex­plod­ing, un­able to sup­press who he re­ally is any longer.

Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) ar­rives with a huff, slam­ming his pickup in park and kick­ing its tire af­ter jump­ing out of the cab. His grandiose, com­pen­satory per­for­mance of mas­cu­line rage ends abruptly as he looks over Del Ray from be­neath the brim of his hat. Del Ray re­jects Twist’s oc­u­lar ad­vances, re­cal­i­brat­ing his own gaze fur­ther in­ward—his eyes have to land some­where, and any place not be­long­ing to him­self is un­known and un­com­fort­able. As Twist feigns re­lent­ing, he slowly turns around, al­low­ing Del Ray to ex­am­ine him on his own terms, which Del Ray does, coyly. As Twist turns back around to face Del Ray, one hand on his hip and one on his truck, star­ing straight back at Del Ray, then look­ing down. Cleverly, Lee in­cludes an in­sert of Twist’s dri­ver-side mir­ror show­ing Del Ray, in­di­cat­ing Twist’s dis­crete trans­fix­ion. In only a few min­utes, Ang Lee el­e­gantly and clearly es­tab­lishes both the world the prin­ci­pals ex­ist and their terms of en­gage­ment be­tween them with­out re­ly­ing on a sin­gle word of ex­po­si­tion. This ab­bre­vi­ated non-ver­bal ex­change de­fines the pat­tern of the next twenty years of their re­la­tion­ship as de­picted in the film: Twist at­tempts to draw out Del Ray, which he out­wardly re­jects de­spite a sup­pressed urge to meet Twist in the mid­dle. Though Twist’s able to oc­ca­sion­ally cat­alyze Del Ray’s al­lowance to be him­self, their re­la­tion­ship is never able to ex­pand be­yond their pri­vate haven of Wyoming’s Brokeback Mountain.

Brokeback Mountain de­votes the first third of its run­time to this ini­tial en­counter, be­fore rac­ing through each sub­se­quent mu­tual en­counter or de­vel­op­ment in their re­spec­tive lives. It is that first meet­ing, and sub­se­quent sheep drive, that lays the foun­da­tion for the re­main­der of their days to­gether. In Brokeback Mountain, overt ex­po­si­tion is sup­planted by re­strained, quiet, and clear di­rec­tion—telling an emo­tion­ally po­tent story with as few words as pos­si­ble. Ang Lee uti­lizes un­de­ni­ably gor­geous in­serts of Wyoming’s” moun­tain ranges (the film was ac­tu­ally shot in Canada), but never for more than a few sec­onds. These shots quickly ground the film’s sense of place and move right along. These shots give us a tan­gi­ble sense of awe that must come from be­ing in the phys­i­cal pres­ence of these moun­tains.Lee quickly es­capes with­out dis­tract­ing from the dra­matic thrust of the film or com­ing across as mas­tur­ba­tory—some­thing so many other film­mak­ers would do; falling in love with their own work to the detri­ment of the film. Placing the in­cep­tion of Twist and Del Ray’s con­nec­tion in a de­tail-per­fect de­pic­tion of na­ture’s vast beauty not only grounds the plot in a fully re­al­ized world larger than the film it­self, but makes an im­plic­itly po­lit­i­cal ar­gu­ment about the film’s opin­ion of their re­la­tion­ship. Without com­ing across as pan­der­ing or heavy-handed, this vi­sual link­age be­tween their re­la­tion­ship and the wild makes the ar­gu­ment clear with­out need­ing to state the ob­vi­ous: their love is nat­ural, and it is so­ci­ety’s un­nat­ural im­po­si­tions that need­lessly com­pli­cates their bond.

As the film goes on, the duo’s re­la­tion­ship to the wild also changes. As they as­sume nor­ma­tively do­mes­tic mas­cu­line iden­ti­ties with all of the ex­pected ac­qui­si­tions—kids, wives, in-laws, etc.—their lit­eral bag­gage in­creases with each trip to Brokeback. Twist’s ex­is­ten­tial tor­ment comes from his in­abil­ity to ac­qui­esce to so­ci­ety’s ex­pec­ta­tions of a Modern Man, sur­rounded by a world that is con­stantly re­ject­ing him. Del Ray’s pain, though sim­i­lar, comes from his in­ter­nal­iza­tion of these ex­pec­ta­tions and sub­se­quent self-tyranny. Del Ray pro­jects an im­age that so­ci­ety can eas­ily di­gest, but it tears him up in­side to do so. Del Ray’s life is par­tic­u­larly weighed down by his self-op­pres­sive men­tal­ity, and his truck bed be­comes a phys­i­cal man­i­fes­ta­tion of this weight. With each trip, his phys­i­cal and emo­tional loads in­crease. Del Ray en­ters the pic­ture with a fi­ancé and ve­hi­cle-less, but over time adds a wife, two daugh­ters, a pickup truck, and even­tu­ally a fully-loaded util­ity rack. These ac­cou­trements ed­ify his his nor­mal­ized per­sona, but weigh down his true self. One of the few oc­ca­sions we see Del Ray ex­hibit un­fet­tered joy in the lat­ter half of the film is a scene where he skinny dips in a river with Twist, lit­er­ally shed­ding their ex­ter­nal ar­ti­fices to em­body their most nat­ural, truest selves.

Lee uses the first few min­utes to lay down an emo­tional frame­work for Del Ray and Twist’s re­la­tion­ship to be built upon, and then em­ploys dense vi­sual sto­ry­telling to ex­pli­cate time’s at­tri­tion on their pure en­joy­ment of each other with­out ever lazily re­sort­ing to ob­vi­ous ex­po­si­tion. Their phys­i­cal re­la­tion­ship to their ex­ter­nal worlds per­fectly ex­plains who they are to the au­di­ence. Both Del Ray and Twist ex­ist in un­com­fort­able re­al­i­ties due to their in­abil­ity to sim­ply be them­selves, whether it is so­ci­ety or their own ideas of who they should be that are in their way. When they are to­gether, Twist is able to ig­nite Del Ray’s pas­sions, re­liev­ing him of his self-fla­gel­lat­ing mind­set and be­com­ing the place of ac­cep­tance that Twist has been un­able to find else­where. However, their sym­bio­sis is fleet­ing, as time erodes what was left of their youth, op­ti­mism, and life, they are never able to ex­pe­ri­ence the magic they find to­gether in the moun­tains of Wyoming for more than a few days at a time, or trans­port it back into a world that has no room for men like them. Though Twist dies for try­ing, at the hands of mur­der­ous big­ots, Del Ray never even gave him­self a chance to live free.