Friday, December 4, 2009

REVIEW: The Word Show at Flynndog

by Riki Moss

Curator Sharon Webster, poet and visual artist, is interested in the collision of word and image as they play off each other in work that depends equally on the language and the image. To explore this theme, she's put together a provocative show of 8 artists working in a variety of media. Her own work explores an exciting range of collisions: handwritten letters strung across digital prints, words highlighting images, found objects placed over text, etc.

Within the guidelines of the show, each artist interpreted the theme freely.

Maggie Stanley, also a poet, writes freehand across the canvas, creating lines of a map filled in with oil paints and pastels. Words and images merge, dissolve and reappear colliding explosively in abstractions of brilliant color where words become lines and images burst into pure shapes and color.

In contrast, PK Ellis uses a muted palette to unify separate elements of words and images. At times the words are strung in sentences around root balls, other times she uses pages, or the books themselves, one of them open to a page with an image that seems to be a root, or bush or root ball - hard to tell in the dim light of the Flynndog. Playing with natural found objects: twigs, roots and the accoutrements of reading and writing - pens, glasses, books - she creates small exquisite sculptures that are both mysterious and nostalgic.

By looking for work that depends equally on the language and the image, Webster assumes that they can co-exist in the same piece as two different tools used to create a whole experience. At times I find the experience jarring, as if that part of my brain engaged with the visual piece is pushed aside by some other part that pops up to read the words, as if in order to read, it's necessary to disassociate (reluctantly) from immersion in the visual.

The two large collage assembles hanging side by side on the brick wall confounded me at first - Do I look? Do I read?

At first, Winnie Looby's enormous piece comes off as a collage of random elements on paper - images, thoughts, notes, events, drawings - tacked together and framed on top by a painting of a pelvis and on the right by one of a skeleton, and on the left by a beautiful cascading paper river of painted words, which turns out to be Neruda's poem, Los Nacimientos (births). It's the reading of the poem: We will never remember dying. We are so patient about being, noting down the numbers, the days, the years and the months, the mouths we kissed...that suggests the nature of the collage: these are the artist's notes of her being, the numbers, the months etc.

Roger Coleman's adjacent collage/assemblage provides a similar experience, moving in and out of perspectives. The initial vision is so visually rich, that once you absorb the beauty of the piece, the elegant palette, you're drawn to "read" each element, the separate images in the collages as well as the text, which are poems by Coleman's collaborator, Anna Blackmer. The text/image relationship is perfectly balanced, the context as richly poetic as the collages. The poems are typed on top of 78 vinyl records, an association that isn't just a strong visual element but which also points to the quality of the prose, questioning, poetic and self-absorbed, as if you're in someone's mind, or else picking up a conversation in the background. It's audible. If this is the snow at the end of the world, we're looking/listening.

In Alex Stohlberg's deceptively simple and exquisite small paintings/drawings the words drift through the pictorial plane with the same velocity as the images. The words don't describe, the pictures don't illustrate: they exist on the same plane, with exactly the same value. Would you know what the painting was "about" without the sentence below? Not explicitly, but still, you would know.

The two artists from the formidable, courageous paper making project Combat Paper, Jon Turner and Drew Cameron, add another element to this project: interactivity. By writing the purpose of the project on hand-made sheets strung on a line of wood with the one image- vehicle, gun, squatting soldier - you're hooked in the narrative. Once you read that the paper's made out of shredded uniforms, you're aware of the message. And finally, when you see the combat boots, vehicles now for paper prayers of the viewers, you're hooked on the response.