Paradiso (2013) 39×50 inches, book pages and gold paint on paper.
This piece is a sister to Inferno, but celebrates the text with a constellation of gold spots. As with the other books in Dante’s Divine Comedy, circles play a central role in Paradiso (Heaven, or Paradise). Concepts of orbiting, traveling, tunneling, and returning are evoked over and over, but in the Paradiso story, this journey is made with the lovely Beatrice who schools Dante in all manner of cosmic and celestial phenomena. There are parallels to a radical reading of Adam and Lilith, whereby Lilith knows more than Adam about the world around them. In this story, Beatrice confirms the wonder and majesty of the world as a divine creation, while introducing many concepts of the medieval science of the times.
This piece was made from a small bilingual copy (Italian-English) titled The Paradiso of Dante Alighieri and published by J. M. Dent & Sons in London, 1958, so the entire text in Italian is visible.
Seems like I cannot avoid Purgatorio at this point…
Detail of small center portion for scale:
Mrs Dalloway (View of the Ouse in Daylight) and Mrs Dalloway (View of the Ouse in Moonlight), (2013) each panel 50″x38″. Watercolor and book pages on paper.
This diptych was created out of the text of Virginia Woolf’s dazzling short novel, Mrs Dalloway , originally published in London in 1925. The two panels are subtitled View of the Ouse in Daylight (yellow) and View of the Ouse in Moonlight (blue), with daylight referencing Clarissa and moonlight referencing Septimus, two of the central characters/voices of the novel. Clarissa and Septimus create an axis on which the story revolves, and a counterpoint of tension around questions of sanity, personal happiness, and our ability to control the course of our own lives, even through a single day.
The flow of the novel is truly brilliant; each character woven into the narrative through stream of consciousness observations, reflecting and refracting points of view, while moving multiple characters onward, each on a path of self-definition.
The “underlayer” of each panel is a watercolor view of the River Ouse, the Sussex river in which Woolf committed suicide in 1941. The “overlayer” is created from the pages of two editions of Mrs Dalloway. Each page was cut individually into an interlocking pattern reminiscent of late 19th century wallpaper patterns of upper-class English residences, such as the one in which Clarissa would have hosted her momentous party.
Here are two details:
Tkhine Dish Towels (2012) 16.5×34″. Screen print on linen.
This is a project from last fall, a set of 5 linen dish towels. The towels are screen printed with an 18th century tkhine, a vernacular form of prayer made by Jewish women. As in many religions, some forms of Jewish women’s religious practice are vernacular, i.e. specific to a locality of practice rather than canonical learning or formal liturgy. In this sense, the tkhine is akin to other types of belief practices women perform all over the world, activities rooted in the locations and realities of everyday life rather than the formal confines of a synagogue/mosque/church/temple from which women are often exempt or excluded.
This particular prayer is from a book called The Merit of Our Mothers: a bilingual anthology of Jewish women’s prayers, published by Hebrew Union College Press (1992). The tkhine is described as an incantation against the ayin hore (evil eye), and is written in Yiddish using the Hebrew alphabet.
The prayer requires the woman offering blessing to wash her hands, and lay them on the head of the inflicted while reciting the prayer. Here I have provided not only the prayer but a towel to dry the hands after washing.
Halo (2012) 14.5×18″. Cut books mounted on wood.
This piece is an apt summation of my art work of the last couple of years– most of which is born out of deep attachment to and reverence for the book form (arguably the most ingenious, mobile, transferable, humanistic, and renewable technology ever devised).
When I started this piece I imagined a huge gilt portal large enough to walk through made from stacked books, like a miniature, modular, Modernist version of the Shwedagon Pagoda. It quickly became apparent that finding and collecting the necessary number of books to create a monumental edifice would take months, or years, and that our garage would be clogged with crates of literary cast-offs. Sadly, I have neither a huge, airy studio to store materials nor a team of hip and eager studio assistants to help me collect them. Even so, I can say that the experience of sawing through a wheelbarrow of books was both jarring and exhilarating (sort of). Thanks to B. for setting up his table saw with the appropriate jigs to create these book slices.
Of course, I can’t help but mention that the past year has presented a fairly constant stream of opinions, exhortations, and predictions on the demise of the book and the changing nature of libraries. The controversies at the NY Public Library have been well documented in the Nation, the NY Times and elsewhere. Public, school, and academic libraries and library staff are under enormous pressures that are born out of economic, procedural, philosophical, and social changes in the knowledge and information landscape. My own life as librarian has been dramatically shaped by the current state of affairs.
The New York Times Book Review had two essays on the topic of books just last week: Leah Price’s Dead Again and It’s Alive! by Gillian Silverman which does a beautiful job of describing the allegorical nature of the argument that we are books and books are us.
Halo is a more modest proposal and akin to a household alter (sans deity). It just simply shines.
Maccabee’s Candles (2012), about 10x 6×6 inches. Wax, wick, and book pages.
When prisoners passed through the gates of Nazi concentration camps past the motto Arbeit macht Frie (“work makes one free”), they must have understood that, of all the vile indignities that had brought them to this horrific place, this particular hell would be merciless. In this motto the executioners spoke with the omnipotent voice of Creation implying that whatever was to come was a foregone conclusion. Here the reality of Hell is the absence of reason.
Maccabee’s Candles was created using pages of an English translation of Hitler’s Mein Kampf (My Struggle) formed into candles. It is a gruesome piece that was not easy to make. Making the candles was similar to factory work albeit very short-term and, thankfully, the manufacture occurred in the quiet of my own choosing. Like many Jews, I hadn’t given Hitler’s text much attention. Knowing full well what came out of Nazi rhetoric as a whole, it seemed beside the point to read the actual text that fueled such insanity.
It should come as no surprise that Mein Kampf is, indeed, a Baroque and entirely neurotic piece of work, written in the exuberant and desperate style of a paranoid hypochondriac who, up to the publication in 1925/1926, had been victimized, not by Jews, but by his own ill-health, his doctor’s experimental treatments, his peers, and the systems (military, educational, romantic) in which he so desperately sought approval. It’s all there: hemorrhoids, stomach cramps, blindness, creative failure, father-son animosity, sexual inadequacy, drug addiction, and episodes that point to ongoing mental illness. Knowing how it all ended made the book all the more exhausting to get through. Slogging through black mud that business.
So, I read this absurd text and then I destroyed it. Or at least a chunk of it–it is huge and would make many, many more candles. I used an X-acto knife. Then I wrapped strips of text around a wax and wick core to create 44 Hanukkah candles. I know: this sort of symbolic transference is a little heavy-handed. But after reading the actual language that fueled the fire that destroyed most of Yiddish civilization in Europe and annihilated many millions of human beings, I needed to link the atrocity called Nazism that resulted from this book with some small triumph. One such story is Hanukkah.
Seen in this light, the candles beg the question: will we burn them?
Metamorphosis (Brick Pattern) (2011) 23×25″, book pages and string.
Here are two pieces using the text of Franz Kafka’s story, The Metamorphosis. I started with a bilingual German/English edition (Schocken Books, 1968) so that I wouldn’t loose text on the verso of each page. Then I cut the text in to blocks and arranged them in geometric patterns. These two examples use traditional parquet floor patterns as the basis for a depiction of Gregor Samsa’s nightmare. Overlaid on the text-as-floor is another pattern made of white string. It is really hard to see the string pattern in these photos (while the bottom piece is too yellow, you can see the thread more clearly).
The secondary pattern references the desperate, frantic, and mindless movements Gregor makes in his new reality as a bug in a scale that reflects his size and point of view scurrying across the floor or clinging to the crown molding, as his identity and will-to-be slowly collapses in the face of a macabre struggle. Fear and trembling meet sweet lemon floor wax.
Metamorphosis (Double Herringbone Pattern) (2011) 17X19″, book pages, gouache, and string.
Golem (2011) 46×31”, graphite and ink on book pages.
These two panels are joined together in a diptych based on the Jewish story of the Golem. The Golem is a kind of magical creature–a superhuman thug really– molded from clay and animated into life by a rabbi with a supreme command of Jewish law and theology. While there are multiple variations, the most famous story is that of Rabbi Loew–the Maharal–of the medieval Prague ghetto. It is a story born out of the Jews ongoing despair in the face of assaults and pogroms throughout history; from ancient Egypt into Europe during from the Middle Ages, and into … well, the 20th century. The idea is that the Golem can be put to use to protect the Jews and this happens with various levels of success and consequence.
I love this story because the Golem is brought to life with language: an inscription–sometimes on the forehead or on the chest–of the word truth written with the letters aleph-mem-tav. When necessary, the Golem can be de-animated by erasing the first letter, the aleph, with the letters mem-tav, or death, remaining. The poetic gist is that language is the foundation of all creation and has the power to give life or take it away. (I cannot help but notice a parallel with the parental directive: use your words! Or, in the deconstructive context: utter.)
On one hand the Golem symbolizes the Jews’ humanity and will to be, but it also reflects the destructive forces inherent in taking the work of creation into one’s own hands. Golem is a protoMonster (per Frankenstein) and the tale is an existential story of sorts. How can we be agents of our own making (our own survival) if we claim to have true faith in a greater order? But also consider: the Jewish god has no form and is without a body and so the Golem is both a divine life and an abomination. This is a question fundamental to a Jewish framing of faith and how faith takes agency in the world, for better or worse.
Today’s post is uploaded with a wink.