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A Look into In Clipping Signal
A few weeks ago the Harriet staff took a field trip to check out Spudnik Press’s latest exhibition, In Clipping Signal, at The Annex. We were so delighted by the work, the curation, and accompanying text by the poet/collagist contributors that we thought we’d share some of the work here. For a brief recap we’ll remind you that the show is curator by The Annex’s Luke Daly and April Sheridan from Columbia College’s Center for Book and Paper Arts. The exhibition includes work by Rosmarie Waldrop, Keith Waldrop, gustave morin, Michael Carr, Brandon Downing, Jen Bervin, Eric Unger, Norma Cole, Bailey Romaine, David Baptiste Chirot, Lewis Freedman, Barrett Gordon, Tom Ahern, Krista Franklin, Brett Brady and Kyle Schlesinger.
The folks at The Annex and some of the contributors have been kind enough to allow us to present work from the gallery and statements from the exhibition catalog. Read below and enjoy!
Working with detritus is a core part of my process. For writing, for works on paper, films, all of it. It’s been this way for going on two decades. There’s something almost “neural network” about carefully selected clutter, being able to arrange it freely, with the parts laid out before me. Whether as images, sliced-out words, whatever. It’s like having the contents of an other’s mind right there for me to sift through. Even my own “straight” writing almost never takes place without an open project splayed out on the work boards in my studio for me to run and ruminate over between lines, sections, stanzas. Often a third form in which I work—collaged video fragments—will also be up and running on the monitor. Everything seems to inform everything; my eyes, my mind, seem to lazily surf along, attaching to ideas, and just as easily detaching for them, searching out THE SEAMS. What others, looking in on my collages in progress, might see as chaos, as TOO MUCH TO SEE, I look upon it and feel becalmed. I’m seeing NEW SEAMS.
It’s often by looking for and through these seams that new approaches will make themselves visible. “The Joggers” series came about in this very fashion, as in my studio I kept being drawn to these juxtapositions of runners in obvious pain against diagrammatic illustrations of teeth. I felt a pressure there, and kept pushing against it pictorially, trying to get at its power, at what all this whiteness meant, and why.
I like that for me a heat seems to come off these seams of meaning. In terms of juxtaposition, where there’s heat, there’s form. Objects that begin to vibrate in each other’s vicinity, on the boards, as agreeable piles of living tissue, in frictions of association. These need to keep feeling new.
There’s a feeling I have when I start moving on something, be it a collage, painting, drawing, or text. The feeling is “here.” Not thinking, it’s not about thought. It’s the doing that matters. The making.
I called my first book of poems A Windmill Near Calvary and wrote this for the dustjacket (where I had hoped to see the Brueghel painting referred to):
Things seem to collect around me, wherever I go, in the same way ideas occur as if from nowhere, and since I have always balked at throwing anything out I sometimes imagine my house simply a context for unexpected items. I write under much the same compulsion: whether local images or abstract concepts, whatever interests me I hold on to as best I can and a poem is my formal grip. Everyone knows how a painter can put the most disparate things into a single picture—Jesus Christ, for instance, along with a Dutch windmill—and they are seen then in a single light.
When the book was published (1968), I was thirty-five, newly arrived in a city with an absurdly affirmative name, and gluing down everything I could find.
There seem to me to be two quite different directions collage can go, represented in my mind by Max Ernst on the one hand and, on the other, by Kurt Schwitters. Ernst recombines old images, creating chimeric figures and events, and puts his creations into a new space—often a sinister or threatening space, a space congenial to archetypes, with a place for phantom desires and fairytale fears.
In Schwitters’ collages, the debris that he has assembled fills the frame—there is no additional space, no container. So there are few narrative possibilities as opposed to those of Ernst, which run to novel-like sequences. And since there is no situation for the elements to fit into—no story—the elements remain formally suspended, visually in place while in most other ways out of place.
My tendency, generally at least, is in the direction of Schwitters, eliminating space, but I merge the elements in a way he does not. Thus, when working with paper, my elements are usually torn rather than cut. A large proportion of the elements touch one or another edge, suggesting incompletion. There are tissues laid over some areas and in some cases I add paint or pencil—all of which lessen the distinctness of one element from another.
I am not, of course, comparing my work to that of Ernst or Schwitters. Nor has either of them influenced me as much as, for instance, Paul Klee or Julius Bissier. The collage artist I have learned most from is Nelson Howe.
Collage is for me a way to explore, not necessarily the thing I am tearing up, but the the thing I am contriving to build out of torn pieces. To the extent that there is a purpose to what I do, its end is the “enjoyment of a composition”—a concern, as Whitehead notes, common to aesthetics and logic.
Language is a proximity
It has been suggested that language determines experience—that the words and linguistic structures we know infiltrate our brains and beings to such an extent that they determine our perception of the physical. My visual work stems from an experimental reversal of this notion. If the recognition of the world around us is inextricably joined with our words, what happens when we forego the words? Or rather, what can we build, if not phrases, sentences, paragraphs when we take the point of contact—the object of our perception—as the linguistic node? In this work I engage the landscape as source for a vocabulary of recognition. These visual fragments delineate an ad hoc alphabet that explores the narrow proximity of our feelings to our experience of the world. Perception is not a direct feed between the brain, the world, and back to the brain. It is a network of near misses, of ad hoc intersections and short circuits. It is language feeling what is exterior and the exterior feeling back.
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