Irina Teveleva


No one has ever described me as "both beautiful and functional," though I would like that. I have never studied ancient languages, though here I am reflected in the eye of the rabbit in the floor mosaic. I would not describe myself as stylish, but I can relate to the way a girl made of stone drapes cloth over her shoulder. 
     Take this glass, which is the translucent green of lettuce. The plants in the raised motif have small and large leaves that alternate. It looks as though a caterpillar zig-zagged up the stem, eating the center of only one leaf in each pair, the larger one. Or else they are the eyes of a woman caught in the middle of her morning, only one eye mascaraed - a time "of transition and uncertainty." When the glass was full of water, the plants must have felt refreshed, as though they were growing on the edge of a green pond that has since dried up.
     The glasses in this Roman glassware display have floral or abstract patterns. Otherwise they would be in the next room, with the other art featuring animals. The people of modernity like to look at animals, more than they like to look at "containers." I wish that the art featuring animals was among the rest.  In antiquity, "animals loomed large in the landscape, roaming freely, and ignoring the political borders"; especially the borders between human, animal, and glass.
     "It is difficult to assign a clear beginning and decisive end to antiquity." This glass is the color of fish bones, and similarly opaque. Its handles are small and square and stick out parallel. If I owned glasses like this one, I would want to steam a bony white fish with fresh herbs for a dinner party and ask the guests to leave the bones in the glasses as they pick them out.
     Each of the glasses is set on its own white ledge, so that they are all at different heights, as though they have all been declared champions in a competition of glasses. It is a different kind of life for them than when they were used.
     Like the people of antiquity, I am setting aside hours in my life "for prayer, for war, for entertainment, for adornment, and for daily life." Going to the museum should count toward daily life or entertainment, but perhaps I can also count this visit toward prayer. It will balance out the hours I spend on warring (with myself).
     One of the museum labels asks, "Who are the people that populated antiquity?" Do people live in antiquity like I live inside a city? The label tells me some of them lived in a "Land Between Two Rivers," and so do I. Like them, I am drawn to what "would have been ephemeral … and would have eventually disappeared." Perhaps antiquity is an ant hill, and when I sit nearby, so many ants come swarming out. 
     This glass is blue. Without the museum label, I may not have known it was glass, because cast-glass seems so solid, and the color so deep. It's called a patella cup, like the bone inside the knee-cap. If I were water poured inside it, I would feel I had become a warm and shallow sea full of microscopic fragments: this glass is marbled. This glass is speckled. This glass is ridged.




The direct quotes are drawn from museum labels at the St. Louis Museum of Art.