This episode starts with the teeniest tiny object that Tiny Histories has ever covered: particles of dust. Art museum dust, to be exact. Back in the day, Sean Miller had a job cleaning dust from the art at the Seattle Art Museum. In true artist form, he worked with the medium he had at his disposal and followed it to see where it took him—in this case, into the strange but true history of a woman named Ann Hodges, up into space, and back down to Earth again, deeper into his own family history.
Don't forget to sign the petition to have November 30th declared International Meteorite Awareness Day for Ann Hodges! And to learn more, check out this panel discussion about the Hodges Effect that took place in October of 2021.
Welcome to Tiny Histories the podcast that tells the big stories behind the small things. I'm your host Dacia Clay. On the show, you're going to hear true stories told by the people that they happen to. Each story revolves around a person, place or thing. Think of them kind of like historical markers in that person's life. By the way, Tiny Histories is a big endeavor run by a small crew, you can find ways to support the show and you can find out share your own tiny history, that tinyhistoriespodcast.com. Remember to subscribe to rate and review the show wherever you listen. Our storyteller in this episode, Sean Miller, begins his story with the tiniest of all objects that ever had a Tiny Historytold about it:
particles of dust. But then the story takes a sharp turn into the unbelievable, but somehow true thing that happened to a woman named Ann Hodges. And from there, the story heads straight up in the space. You know what, that's all I'm gonna say. Here we go.Sean Miller:
As an exhibition technician at the Seattle Art Museum, one of my weekly duties from 1996 to 99, was to carefully remove the dust from the art displays. It was tedious and it was boring. And they let me have a Walkman, like while I did it, so I had music. And I was by myself with the artwork. So even though it was boring, there was kind of a creative charge to it all. And so, you know, it put me in a place where, you know, I had a lot of time on my hands to think but then I also had to be really careful and reverent towards the artwork. And so, over time, that's what I think started this way of thinking about the dust. One day when I noticed that minute fiber had fallen from an African mask, I realized the art had dropped into or joined with the dust on the ground or the platform below. That tiny fallen fiber, for me, could be considered both additive and reductive sculpture as an artist. It took that one fiber to fall that was the breaking point at which something else happened in my mind, other than just the duty that I was assigned. It was... it became something that had a lot of meaning that I couldn't stop thinking about it's like it grabbed--that little fiber--grabbed me and never let me go. So from this point, onward, my work begin the act of gathering dust. And I started a collection archive of art museum dust from museums around the world. And as the collections grew, and vials and plastic bags stacked up in my studio, I received donations from anonymous and trusted museum dust donors everywhere. I staged dust collecting performances sanctioned and unsanctioned at various museums. And long after I stopped working at the Seattle Art Museum and joined the faculty at University of Florida, I continued to research and collect museum dust. Eventually, I started using microscopy to analyze and photographically document the dust producing colorful and detailed photographs of art museum dust samples that I began to exhibit throughout the US and Europe. It turns out that museum dust up close is amazingly beautiful and does have a few qualities in common with late modernist abstract painting. In March 2003, at a symposium I actually declared art museum dust to be my personal readymade. And so that became something that I kind of called my own and and announced to everybody within this symposium and since I've discussed it a number of times. So next time you see a dustbunny meandering through a blockbuster museum exhibition, please think of Sean Miller. Okay, so part of my research in the early days of dust collecting involved reading a book, released in 2001 by the author Hannah Holmes, and the book is called "The Secret Lifeof Dust:
from the cosmos to the kitchen counter, the big consequences of little things." I highly suggest this book, one passage left me wonderstruck and jazzed and inspired and very curious, Holmes wrote, "The Earth grows fatter every day snowed under a continuous microscopic flurry of space specks. On average, every square yard of the planet should nonetheless receive one speck each day. Lie on your lawn for a day And you stand a shot at being pelted by the glassy mini marble, or a delicate crumb of comet dust." And in fact, according to a 2021 study published in "Earth and Planetary Science Letters," researchers calculated that 5200 metric tons of micro meteorites fall on Earth each year, The idea of space dust became very inspiring to me, outer space suddenly became closer than I had thought, right? I mean, how many times have we unknowingly walked around with a particle of space dust in our hair or on our sweater according to these calculations, space out of the blue, it turns out can just reach out and touch us. Then at some point, I read a story about Ann Hodges and I'd never think of my place on this rotating sphere in the same way after reading about Ann Hodges. On November 30th in 1954, between 12:46pm and 2pm, 34 year old Ann Fowler Hodges of Sylacauga, Alabama was struck by grapefruit sized, it's described in different ways grapefruit sized, pineapple sized meteorite while she was sleeping in the middle of the day. And what happened was this meteorite, which is a very big meteorite, crashed through the roof of her home and bounced off her large wooden Philco radio and struck her in the hip. Shaken Ann Hodges not only miraculously survived the impact. But the event changed her life forever. You know, she had the police and she had all these people come over to the house. And she obviously went to the doctor, she had a horrible bruise on her hip from where she was struck that was even bigger than the meteorite. And so it was a real jarring situation. And she didn't know what had happened because she was taking a nap. So when she woke up and being hit really hard with this thing that came through a roof, she had to have, obviously the police and scientists come over and there had been a meteorite in the sky that was seen that they knew had occurred. So they had to confirm with her that that's what had So myself and Connie Wong, who's a San Francisco based designer happened. She just knew she got...her radio got bonked real hard and she got hit real hard, too, then everybody, I guess figured out that that hadn't happened before, there was not a record of it. So immediately, she was thrust into this position of being a very kind of unique celebrity. Ann Hodges was inundated with mail about the meteorite. Her story was included in Life Magazine, and many other newspapers and print publications. She even appeared in an episode of the popular game show, talk show, "I've Got a Secret," and the meteorite actually attained much more value than it would have if it had just fallen on the ground outside her house, you know, like the meteorite suddenly became the newest thing on the planet, and one of the most unique things on the planet because it had struck a person. And evidently, I don't know her mindset, I can't know it. But all the accounts from people that have researched this have said that, you know, in the end, it made her very sad. And she she had to actually fight for ownership of the meteorite, and that cost money. And a lot of the letters I noticed that she received were answered by her lawyers. So if somebody would call and say they wanted to sell her a meteorite or something, the letter that went back was, "No, thank you. And if you'd like a signed copy of a photo of Ann Hodges, we'd be happy to send that to you." And that was from her lawyers. So she eventually hired them to defer people from bothering her. Being a private person. All of this impacted her in such a way that she expressed sadness over the event and ended up dying early at the age of 52. So I mean, I don't know. It just seems like it went badly. But it also seems like that's where the Hodges Effect idea comes in. and Irish artist, Sean Taylor became interested in these events and the idea of this chance encounter with a meteorite and the ways understandably, it could have an immediate life changing impact on the individual. We felt that possibly this condition might not be unique to Ann Hodges, and as a result for the public good, we gave this a named condition and that is the Hodges Effect, which is described as, "The physical changes and or existential crisis of being that may occur after a sudden collision between a homosapien subject and extraterrestrial materials. The Hodges Effect is an emerging concept in the domain of homosapien encounters and responses to environmental change." So that's the definition we came up with, to describe what the Hodges Effect is. "Individuals grappling with Hodges Effect symptoms may experience initial angst, disorientation and agitation. In many cases, however, the aftereffects seem to imbue individuals with a greater spatial awareness, an increased sense of interconnectedness with the cosmos, and a more complex and informed understanding of the material world." Certainly the impact on Ann Hodges short term and longterm turned out not to be pleasant. The limelight, the legal battles over ownership of the meteorite, and other factors made this single event become a tragedy for her. I mean, maybe that was just too much of a hit from outer space. But certainly there's a middle ground somewhere where we can consider these things. And I think it can improve everyone's lives and maybe that even the planet itself, the climate on the planet, and other things. To investigate the incident further, we partnered with the National Sculpture Factory of Ireland, Blackrock Castle Observatory in Cork, Ireland, University of Florida, and University of Alabama. And as a result, I was able to go to Alabama and study this meteorite. So after much research, we theorized the Hodges Effect may result from exposure to the most trace amounts of extraterrestrial materials and possibly, in insensitive individuals, even prolonged meditation on or extreme mental focus on outer space may produce Hodges Effect symptoms and outcomes. So in our view, it is possible to suggest that creative individuals are more susceptible to Hodges Effect. In fact, it has been noted that musicians such as Sun Ra and David Bowie may have quietly struggled with the Hodges Effect before it was a named condition. Tom Sachs the artist certainly has a case of Hodges Effect. US astronauts have reported a response to spaceflight called the Overview Effect, which might be a related phenomenon, but definitely astronauts have...this as a potential symptoms of Hodges as well. Our idea is that with small contact or active thinking we can produce Hodges-like symptoms that only bring out the creatively induced Hodges cases and generate positive aftereffects with minimal stress. As a result, we created a publicity campaign to raise awareness about the Hodges Effect we produced billboards that existed all throughout Cork, Ireland, we created we created a publication with the National sculpture factory of Ireland called the, "Hodges Effect: a field guide to hurtling through space," we created a Hodges Effect kit for people that are interested in learning more and actively pursuing research into the Hodges Effect. We have held international panel presentations with scientists, artists and curators. It's very personal how the Hodges Effect impacted me so much so that I almost am nervous to say it. My dad, Eric B. Miller, in the 60s, he worked for Boeing Launch Systems branch on developing instrumentation for the first stage of the moon rocket, the Saturn Five. He also worked in Huntsville, Alabama at Wyle Labs as a research staff member and Northrop Space Laboratories throughout most of the NASA Moon Program. You see I was born in Huntsville while my dad was doing this work, 150 miles from Sylacauga, and 13 years after the Ann Hodges incident. At that point, she was still presumably living in Sylacauga, 150 miles away from me. But when we introduced this project, when, when I was finishing these drawings, and last year, when we did this kind of international panel discussion, it was we were all still kind of in COVID lockdown and so I was in Florida here and I drove down to Fort Myers. We were all on this panel talking. And then afterwards, I was...I got home, and I found out that my dad had passed away. And my dad, being the person that introduced me to space, and all that stuff. I was doing the project partially because I've always wanted to do something kind of tangentially related to his path in life, and also to talk about my fascination with space from a very early age. Like maybe I got the Hodgeses Effect from my dad's research growing up or something like that, or maybe it was that maybe there was some space dust in the art museum dust collection that I accidentally got my hands on. But definitely I have I have the Hodges Effect. And so I had to get this project done, but just finding out that he had died...it just it just seemed like things went in a full circle kind of. It was really personal to me, but then also, I was really glad I was working on the project at that time. Earth's equator spins at 1600 kilometers per hour. Earth's orbit around the sun, is 30 kilometers per second. The sun and its orbiting spheres fly through space at 200 kilometers per second. Buckminster Fuller coined the phrase "Spaceship Earth" for this assemblage, our living conditions and our home sphere. The idea of a vast spaceship planet seems something with potential to be steered and controlled. However, our responses to climate crisis and other environmental problems paired with Hodges Effect thinking compels me to dramatically rebrand all of this as our "Hurtling Spherical Menagerie." A radiant point is a point in the sky. When you're looking up at meteors, whereby all the paths the meteors seem to emerge. You can't tell it just by looking at one meteor. But the meteors you see in the sky coming at you are on parallel paths, they may seem to fly to the ground far and wide around you as they approach the Earth's surface. But in a meteor stream, these meters actually converge at a single point in our sky--the radiant point. So imagine a radiant point over Sylacauga, Alabama, or hovering over wherever you find yourself today. Remember Ann Hodges. Despite our close proximity to outer space, there are still people who remain untouched and unaware of the Hodges Effect. Please join artists scientists, politicians, students and other concerned homosapiens to lobby the United Nations to officially declared November 30 as International Meteorite Awareness Day for Ann Hodge's. Write a letter today and do your part to increase spatial and cosmic awareness for all. This could be a radiant point for us all to share in. Here's a choreographed exercise almost anyone can do to gain spatial awareness and safely induce the Hodges-style outcomes. The exercise is called "Lunar Wave". And it goes likethis:
Dusk or dawn. Moon visible in sky. Raise arm toward moon. Align moon with palm of hand. Pivot hand back and forth to cradle moon in palm as needed. Imagine moon's texture on palm. Look for a signal to stop. Wave farewell.Dacia Clay:
Many thanks to Sean Miller for sharing his story and the concept of the Hodges Effect, which I definitely have by the way. Sean is an Associate Professor of Art and Art History at the University of Florida. He's also an award-winning artist and a writer and a really nice guy. Thanks to Jack Massing for sending Sean my way. You were right Jack: he was really good fit for this show. If you want to check out some of Sean's work, head over to seanmillerstudio.net. And there you can also find out more about the Hodges Effect. Don't forget to sign that petition by the way. Thanks so much for listening to this episode of Tiny Histories. We hope we got you thinking about your own stories. And if it did, we'd love to hear from you. Tell us your story at tinyhistoriespodcast.com And if you do we might just hit you up to share your story on the podcast or in the Tiny Newsletter. You can find a link to the Tiny Newsletter show notes and photos of our storytellers, ways to engage with us and ways to support the show at tinyhistoriespodcast.com Tiny histories is written hosted and produced by me Dacia Clay. Our theme music is by the inimitable Nat Evans. To find out more about Nat go to natevansmusic.com Tiny Histories is a production of Pillow Fort Studios