Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The secret life of Objects


I belonged to the cooperative gallery Blackfish a while ago and this month I rejoined its membership. It’s somewhat unusual to be a writer in the gallery but I always felt at home among visual artists. When I was a teenager, I used to go to Menucha in the Columbia Gorge and I’d write among the artists at their easels. It was the only time in my life I enjoyed writing in public and I can still conjure that studio with its stringent smell of oil, the palettes dotted with colors like miniature abstract expressionist works, the broad, desirable light flooding the studio, which had once been a green house. I was inspired by the work and the workers. Visual artists just seemed so much more industrious than us writers, maybe because the ideas were physicalized. I always felt their aesthetic concerns matched my own, trying to put elements together in a beautiful, expressive, cohesive fashion that left room for the self and left room for an outside eye.

Now that I am a new member I have to produce something. The problem, of course, is that I am not an object maker. When I belonged before, I concentrated on poetry. Like I did a piece on Eliot’s “correlative objective.” I think I was hiding a little, as if poetry had more rights to the objects than fiction (think Keats urn etc.) But I have a feeling it’s going to be different this time around. The first object I’ve produced—for a group show on influences—is a marked up Janson’s “History of Art.” I call it Prepared Janson’s because, I did prepare it and also John Cage was a big influence on me and he coined the term (and the object, and the idea) “prepared piano.” I also listed as an influence “an ugly thing that contains a beautiful thing” because, man, a marked up book is an ugly thing. And I really marked it up, too, underlining, angry accusations, lots of exclamation points (so true!!!!!) and such. I also put in funny stuff, cryptic things, scholarly items. I seriously doubt anyone will read it but I felt compelled to make it as if I had to stand behind every statement. As I sat there for hours with my pencil sharpener and my highlighter, I also had hours to think about art and commentary, and how powerful pictures make us want to talk about them. I feel kind of bad making something ugly for my return but I’m hoping there is nowhere to go but up. I think I’m going to be the member that starts conversations, like little fires among the artists that illuminate, not consume their works.


mario said...

Hey Mandy,
Glad to have you here. A good thing you like to write. I hope other members join in the discussion. Thanks for contributing.

mario said...

Oops, sorry. Merridawn!!
To make something ugly on purpose can be liberating. Takes you out of your set ways of doing things and possibly stumble into new territory.

joellyn said...

Merridawn, I'm looking forward to spending time with your "Prepared Jansen" next time I gallery-sit. And welcome back to Blackfish.

You make the observation that "Visual artists just seemed so much more industrious than us writers," which made me laugh. So much of my time as a painter is spent just sitting and looking and thinking and pacing and reading and Googling and doing anything to avoid that commitment of paint on panel. I've always admired writers because you are articulate, gifted with language, able to communicate - about process, meaning, the ideas behind your work. Visual artists are laughable when we try, and artist's statements are proof of that. But the art world demands text, even from those of us who have turned away from language to produce objects.

So your challenges as a writer in an art gallery are mirrored in the situation of visual artists trying to talk or write about our work. I look forward to the ideas that may develop from this cross-cultural exchange.

MD said...

Then, wow, am I going to be liberated ;)

But I do admire this tendency in the visual arts to believe in the value of making mistakes, in making and breaking, in playing--a trust. Words have to fit. But images get a life outside the confines of perfection, don't you think?

MD said...

Ah, Joellyn, so much industry in that pacing and thinking! Writers know that big time, we just don't get a satisfying object at the end of it.

I really love the idea that I am in a cross-cultural exchange--I have to learn to speak the local language, change my money (value system) and adjust to the cultural norms. When I finally get that dream year abroad, I am going to be soo ready.

JoEllyn said...

Hey, Merridawn - yes, visual artists produce an object, but it is never satisfying. A coffee cup is a "satisfying object" - it has a purpose and fulfills it well.
An artist's object may be no more satisfying to her than is a writer's page of words to her at the end of the day.

"Did I accomplish what I set out to?" No.

"Did I accomplish anything at all?" Maybe.

"What was it?" Don't know yet.

"Will people see anything in it?" Yep - the wrong thing.

"Do I know how to make it better?" Hmmmm. Maybe.

"Shall I work more on this one or start another?" Think about it tomorrow.

Picasso was asked which of his thousands of pieces of work was his favorite, and he said, "The next one."