“Writing’s just drawing in different apparel, and drawing is another way of writing.”—Jean Cocteau
This Cocteau quote was the heart of a recent Word Image Image Word exhibition at the Art Academy. Curator Matt Hart, poet and chair of the Academy’s Liberal Arts Department, invited nationally and internationally known writers to participate by providing them two 5.5” x 8.5” sheets of white writing paper. Each was asked to use only marks, lines, and visuals on one sheet and only language (words, sentences, etc.) on the other and respond to the inspiration of Cocteau’s idea that writing is drawing in a different costume.
Cocteau denied his ties to the surrealists, those who sought to expose the unconscious, creative mind. Yet his enigmatic, dreamlike works often got him lumped in with Man Ray, Andre Breton, Dali, Duchamp and others. Many of the visual works in Word Image Image Word have a surreal quality to them, as though the writers are also deconstructing and reconstructing the complicated costumes of the unconscious. Thus assigning meaning to the works becomes a bit of a fool’s errand, akin to being private investigator of the detritus of dreams. I decided to explore the recto-verso pieces as though they were little mysteries, related clues to a larger puzzle. Or not.
The first mystery was who made Spontaneous Dragonfly, an anonymous piece, not listed on the gallery materials? With a wandering and gorgeous narrative — remember when Laurie found a piece of razor blade in her Klingon Princess clog sole — a collage including Henry Darger’s Vivian Girls, entrails, a dove, and a map, who wouldn’t be intrigued? I attributed the work to poet and curator Matt Hart; not because I asked anyone or know this to be true, but because I wanted it to be true.
Nick Sturm (Tallahassee, Florida), poet, editor and reviewer, composed the text side of Each line is a fold that sheds as it turns you wear the folds where you can’t be as a repeating phrase of the title, sans punctuation, using red ink and wire blood (un-Google-able hence unknowable). I had to use my imagination! I had to wonder! I further imagined Gertrude Stein peering over Sturm’s shoulder, watching him cut out the hooded, zebra-costumed human to layer on top of a photo of roses so crowded they can’t breathe.
Adam Fell (Madison, Wisconsin), teacher and poet, uses not wire blood but flame to char the edges of his Opening the box she takes out, a found text collage of sheet music to what might be a song for a ritual. His collage features another hooded human, this one with hole in his/her chest, juxtaposed against a background of a city-scape and clouds and flanked by two young African American children offering flowers or cotton to the red-robed wizard.
Carrie Lorig, quizzical carrier of tacos (so says the bio – another mystery!), explored headdress as costume in her The headdress is the crown whiff, the colors of her collage in synchrony with the deep oranges and reds of several other works; more flowers and some sort of diamond-eyed wombat.
Darcie Dennigan (Providence, Rhode Island), author of several chapbooks and poetry collections, placed tracing paper on top of typed text so that it obscured the language unless you pressed your finger into the paper to minimize opacity. It reminded me of learning to read all over again, tracing a line under each word to bring slow, steady focus to the thrilling process of meaning making. It reminded me that as I take in digital content with increasing speed, perhaps I do actually need to learn to read, really READ, all over again.
This was not a big show. It was a sweet playground where the cumulative effect was a celebration of the creative process, both visual or lingual. It was also a celebration of being a student, where one has the luxury of prompts, assignments, deadlines and, often, audience. I wanted to join. I wanted to enroll right then and there. I wanted to be guided into new creative places.
Instead, I created my own assignment: Find a line from each work that feels to be the center of the work. Then make a poem.
Look at another in alarm.
(On 11 at the Art Academy)
I’m going to tell you why I am so late.
No amount of moving furniture around could change the floor plans.
The world is churning, I see pieces on the ground.
Each line is a fold that sheds as it turns.
One is an illusion all up in yr heavenly grill,
in the rooms we have made,
in the haunted parts of our bodies.
She lay there for forty minutes before anyone called the police.
(stutter, stutter, I love you)
The arc-of-the-moral falls apart, look.
How secret living is!
The world is churning.