By Tom Wachunas
“If any one unwarily draws in too close and hears the singing of the Sirens, his wife and children will never welcome him home again, for they sit in a green field and warble him to death with the sweetness of their song.” Homer, The Odyssey
EXHIBIT: Entropic Melodies – Prints by Bridget O’Donnell, at Main Hall Art Gallery, Kent State University at Stark, 6000 Frank Avenue NW, North Canton, THROUGH FEBRUARY 28 – Gallery hours are Mon.-Fri. 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m. to Noon
In Greek mythology, the Sirens were three bird-bodied, island-dwelling nymphs given to singing songs of such searing sweetness that they lured sailors to their deaths. Imagine the exquisite, mysterious madness of it - to be driven to destruction by a song: Killing Me Softly, I Fall To Pieces, or Helter Skelter, maybe?
In some ways, there is indeed a spirit of exquisite, mysterious madness in the series of intaglio prints (etchings) by Bridget O’Donnell currently on view at Kent Stark’s Main Hall Gallery. Her abstractions have the look of hastily sketched descriptions of wrecked landscapes, or pieces of burned maps to places visited in dreams. Or nightmares.
The apt title of the show speaks of disorder, degradation, a trending toward chaos, yet with a look toward lyricism – “Entropic Melodies.” Collectively, O’Donnell’s prints seem to comprise an urgent journaling of states of mind and heart, as if to record memories before they fade and disintegrate completely. Fragments of textures, patterns, colliding irregular shapes and voids are interspersed with musical staffs, clefs and floated words and phrases: disjoined; dislodged; I’ve grown tired; you don’t mean it; tried to tell you; ain’t nobody listenin. As I looked at these configurations, I kept hearing the tired strains of a Paul Simon lyric from many years ago, “…Everything put together sooner or later falls apart.”
But I think these images are more than simply directionless doodles and nihilistic notes. Their small scale keeps their big ideas from being too chaotic or overwhelming. And for all of their stark black-and-whiteness (with occasional punctuation of color overlays called chine collé), they nonetheless invite closer scrutiny of their intense visual rhythms. In their often uneasy equilibrium between empty shapes, areas of changing tonality, and smaller concentrations of linear scribbling – things crossed out or partially erased – they suggest more about disruption - psychological, emotional and/or spiritual - than outright destruction.
Here, then, is not the finality of the Sirens’ alluring anthems that sought death. Rather, the songs sung by these images, even at their darkest, most frenetic and haunted, are intriguing odes to the constancy of life’s flux.
PHOTOS, from top: Ode to Change, etching, aquatint, chine collé; Quiet, II, etching, chine collé; Ode to Sound, etching, relief, chine collé; Walk Slowly, etching, relief, chine collé