Until the Woods Began to Move

 born 1969

Art Type
Media / Materials
Year Completed
Collection of Polk County, Iowa, with support from Greater Des Moines Public Art Foundation
Latitude & Longitude
41.591171, -93.621712
Location Description
Hy-Vee Hall, Iowa Events Center, Third and Park Streets, Des Moines, Iowa

Until the Woods Began to Move

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This public art project by Anna Gaskell, a site specific project at the Iowa Events Center, was approved by the Polk County Board of Supervisors in 2005. The work of art, called “Until the Woods Began to Move”, is composed of a hedge maze and video; the artist’s statement is incorporated into the site. Gaskell’s art is intensely psychological. She’s not interested in the beginnings of the stories; it doesn’t matter how the character got here. She’s not interested in the endings of the stories; it doesn’t matter how the story might end. Gaskell is interested in probing those in-between parts of the narratives. “The thing we tend to overlook about adventures is that the people having them don’t know how they’re going to turn out.”

"On night, in the winter of 1980, my dad hurried my little brother Jonnie and me out the back door, through trampled snow and toward the car. I zipped my coat all the way up so that it covered my mouth. It was cold. But I couldn’t see my breath. “No R-rated movies, Jon,” mom called out behind us. I’d heard that sentence before. She knew dad coming and going, She knew he’d try. The tires crunched as we pulled into the icy parking lot of the movie theater. My dad stopped the car then he turned the engine off. But he didn’t open his car door. In fact, he didn’t move. Neither did we. Dad took a deep breath, like a criminal steeling his nerves before a crime, and stared straight ahead. Finally, he put his arm around the back of the passengers seat and turned to my brother and me. “Listen,” he said, “if you ever tell your mother about this I’ll never take you to a movie again.” He raised one of his eyebrows. “Got it?” We said nothing. “Good.” I may have started to nod, but he wasn’t paying attention. He slammed his door and started walking toward the theater. Kids or not, he was going to see “The Shinning.” It was the first R-rated movie I would ever see. “This is our famous hedge maze. The walls are thirteen feet high and the hedge is as old as the hotel itself. It’s a lot of fun but I wouldn’t want to go in there...” I was in a trance. The movie had barely started and I was stuck. I couldn’t follow the plot. I was stuck on this maze. I had never seen anything like it. There was a kind of Wonderland aspect to it, and I kept wishing the movie would take us back for a better look. I needed to know what was in that maze and for the life of me couldn’t imagine why anyone would be afraid to go inside. My dad had always been a gambler, and was betting on the two of us keeping our mouths shut. But it was a bad play. The maze was far too beautiful to keep to myself. I would simply have to tell my mother all about it after we had escaped the grim isolation of the Overlook Hotel. My brother and I settled in, sandwiching my Dad, my arm lopped with his, my gaze only partially toward the screen. “I can see demons draping themselves over people, almost piggy-back style.” I overheard my mother say this once at a Bible study. “People full of sadness, just walking down the street, completely unaware, without the realization of what is living inside of them, of what they’re slowly becoming.” My mother and her friends often spoke of demonic possession. It was one of the many topics discussed at evangelical gatherings. I never grew tired of hearing the stories, although I had a difficult time picturing what it was these “Ladies of the Lord” were describing. “Everyday, people just seem to get drawn into the devil’s work,” my mother warned, shaking her head. My father was a good protector, I felt safe in that theater full of strangers, and so I let the horrifyingly wide ride of the Torrance family wash over me. I had arrived -- my very first glimpse of evil. We watched Jack Nicholson’s feral features and slumping form carry the weight of the demons on his shoulders. Although twenty rows of seats kept me at a safe distance, I felt the seduction of evil I’d been warned about. For a ten-year-old, it was some show. I’m not sure if my mom ever found out about our little adventure. I asked her a few questions about the actor Jack Nicholson and she looked at me blankly. Maybe it was her way of trying to bury the event. To make it go away. Dad also tried to forget that he’d taken us to see the movie. Some years later when I expressed interest in the Overlook Hotel’s maze he tossed me a copy of Borges’ Labyrinths. “Read this,” he said trying to distract me from his misbehavior. But it didn’t work. I never forgot. A maze seduces the curious as well as the aesthetes but also symbolizes and reminds us of out capacity for evil. My father introduced us to a perfect maze when he took Jonnie and me to see “The Shining”. Stanley Kubrick offered a glimpse of the demons my mother had always been warning us about. Excited and full of adrenaline as we tiptoe with Danny through the winding paths, backing out of dead-ends with our hearts in our throats, we manage to escape in the end, although forever caught.

Anna Gaskell