Connect the Dots, Fill in the Blanks
By Tom Wachunas
EXHIBITION: Blind Date at Translations Art Gallery, THROUGH JUNE 1, 331 Cleveland Avenue NW, downtown Canton. Hours are Wednesdays Noon to 9 p.m., Thursdays through Saturdays Noon to 5 p.m. www.translationsart.com
“Even at their most artful and compelling, written words are essentially drawings which rely on remembered words to become meaningful. But the most compelling or meaningful images or pictures are those which require no such reliance.”
-June Godwit, from Adventures in Greymatter Doublespeak-
It’s baaack. Blind Date, third edition, this time with 16 writers and 16 visual artists. For a review of the overarching concept at work here, I give you the following link to my commentary on the previous incarnation of this exhibit - http://artwach.blogspot.com/2011/05/striking-matches-writing-images-seeing.html (which seems to be on its way to becoming a Translations tradition). Kindly read the first four paragraphs, as my “old” thoughts are, I hope, clear enough, and still largely applicable to the current show.
On my first visit to the current show, I made a mind game of it by looking at the visual entries and formulating my own “narratives.” My second visit was devoted more exclusively to the written entries (some being considerably lengthy). The show seems to invite just that sort of vicarious participation on our part as viewers, and I was curious as to what extent I might be on the same page, as it were, with the artists’ interactions with each other.
And as often as connecting the dots between image and words can be comfortably achieved, there are just as many “duets” here that are substantially more challenging, requiring some creativity on our part to fill in the blanks.
For example, one of the most enigmatic entries is the pairing of “Georgiana,” written by Tyler Mowry, with an exquisite machine-stitched fabric work by Mary Ann Tipple called “Monday.” Mowry’s text is in one way a surreal parable. The life of a poor immigrant woman is placed side-by-side with a fictional document titled The Houghton Report, a government assessment of a 1962 Russian nuclear attack on American soil. While the two-part written presentation is something of a head-scratcher, it does include a fleeting image of laundry hanging on a line, which is central to Tipple’s intricately textured wall hanging.
Another very fine Tipple work in the same medium, Mom G, is paired with a poem, To Have and to Hold, by Julie Winters. Here, the relationship between the poignant text and image is considerably more edifying.
So too the joining of two particularly ambitious visions here: The Story of Gail and Garth, a short story by Moriah Ophardt, and Not Fade Away, a very large scale painting on simulated brick and louvered café doors by Jeff Pullen. Ophardt’s story is a breezy read about Gail, an 80 year-old woman. She moves into a neighborhood of townhouses and lives with her dog Garth, a rambunctious, profusely drooling Mastiff. Pullen’s sunny, expansive view of the townhouses is magnetic one, seeming to attract questions about what goes on in and outside these homes – questions delightfully entertained in the text.
This same kind of elegance – an efficacious balance between literary and visual meaning – is present in several other engaging works. The emotionally potent writing about an absentee father in The Passing Whisper by Ingrid De Sanctis is accompanied by Waiting for William, a beautifully haunting photograph by Mandy Altimus Pond. Elsewhere, there’s nothing really extraordinary about Boathouse, John Radigan’s photograph of a boathouse and red-leafed trees, gently distorted and reflected in a lake. But the “reflection” becomes more weighted after reading M.J. Albacete’s eponymous contemplation of a lakeside encounter with nature. The liquid ripples of the photograph then take on a new significance when we read Albacete’s description of how rain falling on his eyeglasses blurs his vision and stirs a sense of angst.
Especially dramatic in successfully embodying the concept behind this exhibit is the poem Hurricane Sandy by Cheryl Henderson, mated with Thinking About Hurricane Sandy, a vertical diptych painting by Dr. Fredlee Votaw. The rhythmic scheme of the poem has the feel of a strident march or dark singalong, childlike and chilling. Here’s the opening of the poem: “Closed eyes./ Paralyzed./ Worst fears realized./ Left alone to wonder why./ As wind and waves go rushing by.” The top half of Votaw’s painting is the ghostly image of a youthful face, eyes seeming to peer far beyond us, fixed in a state of eerie calm (or shock?). Below is the impressionistic suggestion of blue seas in an atmosphere seething with rhythms of tiny white dots - snow, or dust, or pulverized debris.
What is at work in this Henderson/Votaw meeting (as in others throughout this exhibit, some to lesser degrees of effectiveness) is a coactive chemistry. Image and text come together in equal measure, each being an agent in fully realizing the other. It’s a highly intriguing match-making enterprise.
PHOTOS (from top): Not Fade Away by Jeff Pullen; Thinking About Hurricane Sandy by Dr. Fredlee Votaw; Monday by Mary Ann Tipple