Night at the Tang Museum
(photo provided by Tang website)
Something just happened to me that I still cannot comprehend. Even as I write this, I cannot be sure the events I will soon describe were not side effects of bodily exhaustion combined with caffeine abuse. Yet I write anyway. Because maybe if someone finds this, that means it happened to them too -- that they saw the pictures move.
I was in the Tang studying. I often get distracted by people, so I find the colorful yet secluded yarn exhibit to be the best place to pull out the textbooks. Since it’s currently second-round-of-midterms on campus (or at least it feels like it), I was at the Tang a bit longer than normal.
It was getting close to 9 when I realized the woman at the front desk was making her rounds. Quickly, I packed up my things and headed to the toilets. I always go to the bathroom before leaving as I live literally across campus, and if I don’t take precautions, I will regret it.
I guess the woman did not check the toilets because next thing I knew, the entire museum went dark. Walking out of the pristine silver doors, I noticed there was no one else around. No front desk woman, no one.
I tried to walk out the front door, but it was locked. After trying all the doors on all angles of the goddamn building, I had to give up. I was locked in the Tang. I was about to spend my night at the museum.
But that was not even the craziest part.
If I was going to stay at the Tang, I was going to make the best of it. I started pulling the yarn chairs together into a makeshift bed. The exhibit was stacked with pillows, so that made things at least a little better.
Just as my eyes were adjusting to the darkness, all the lights flickered on again. And out of the corner of my eye, I saw something I will never forget.
Suddenly, snake-like figures slithered beneath my woven cot, large geometric squares and bold, crisp lines leaped out of Liz Collin’s carpet. I suddenly started to feel my textile mattress push upwards against my tense back, urging me to sit upright and watch the floating TV in the room’s corner.
The film took me through a visual journey featuring an industrial warehouse, a figure bundled in a parka hiking a frozen hill, the home of two female lovers, and a robust man of color wearing delicate chiffon fabric, light pink lipstick and sculpted eyeliner. Looking straight into my eyes, the man peeled a golden mask off his perspiring face and stepped out of the TV screen and into Collin’s bold atmosphere of bright, geometric shapes. On delicate feet, he moved gracefully towards me while continuing to look into my eyes. Then he took my hand and led me down the building’s central stairs.
Slowly I followed his footsteps through the open main floor. We reached a narrow, compressed gallery with minimal objects and an obscure, ever-changing atmosphere. I soon began to feel the sand of vast deserts shift beneath my feet; like a mirage, life-sized figures appeared at the end of the hallway. They were playing traditional Algerian music with beautiful stringed instruments and sang with voices that could ride desert waves. All around them sat elevated boxes of photographs. They featured endless landscapes where people wore large robes to protect them from the hot sun and winded sand rifts.
Then a voice from behind us called, “Bonjour!” He introduced himself as Alexandre Bougault, a French photographer. He asked if he could photograph us amidst the rolling sands of the Winter gallery. Before we could say yes, he posed me in a low, praying position and positioned my guide looking out into the distance. While he was setting up his equipment, I couldn’t help but feel as though he was crafting a visual interpretation so untelling of the night’s true, complex experience. Before I knew it, a large gust of wind swept sand all around us. I fell hard in a dune, and the lights flickered off.
I woke up to the kind face of the Tang’s janitor. As I blinked, I looked around. Sun was streaming in from the large windows, and the woman was back at the desk. She looked concerned.
“What is your name?”
I stammered out my full name, explaining all that I could of the night I witnessed. He said I must have hit my head pretty hard if I became one of Alexandre Bougault’s subjects. However, I did not give up; what I experienced came back to be in vivid yet hazy detail. It all seemed too real to not have happened.
Quickly, I was led out of the museum and back to my apartment. As we walked out, I felt a cold breeze wash across my face. Lifting my hands up, I realized sand had fallen into my shirt and hair: one final goodbye from a magical night.
After I took a warm shower, I sat down to write all I could remember. That’s where we are currently. So this is my story; whether you believe it or not, it happened.
I spent the night at a museum that came to life.
Produced for our April 1 special edition