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An Image and
Narrative Roundup
Steven Tomasula




The following is a non-inclusive list of notable works that fuse image and narrative. As with most genres that lie outside of traditional categories, some of the most interesting work is being done by artists and writers working independently. Your suggestions for additions to this list are welcome and can be sent to: ebr

Lusitania

Chain 3: Hybrid Genres/Mixed Media

Two Girls Review

Fractal Fields and Fairytales

Beyond

Digitas: The York Digital Review of Arts & Literature









Lusitania

Lusitania@thing.net

Also available from Small Press Distribution (800-869-7553)

For criticism that is as much an aesthetic as an intellectual experience, this is the one. In both regards, Lusitania has the consistency of a journal but calls itself a press of anthologies. In either case, each issue delivers smart, cool work; as if the intellectual rigor of a scholarly journal were crossed with the hipness of an art-rock band.Its essays focus on culturally seminal topics and are informed by contemporary literary criticism: critical/cultural writing integrated with visual art and graphic design that helps shape the work, not just dresses it up.

Lusitania seems to go to any extreme to make their anthologies work as art. For example, issues are bilingual; in languages that seem to be chosen for the associations they would make with the theme, e.g., French for Vulvamorphia, Korean for Being on Line. Other titles include Sites & Stations: Provisional Utopias, whose outsider look ranges over Las Vegas to suburban utopia. The Abject, America explores among other things the rise of Jacques Lacan and kitsch, Artaud's sojourn in Mexico, and the Nazi's love of Disney. Being on Line, Net Subjectivity examines the Internet from "two interrelated perspectives: the effects of cyberspace on philosophy, and the psychology of being on-line."

In these and other issues, criticism is blurred with art which is blurred with literature. Or at least put into happy companionship.That is, the combination of art, graphic design and writing make these issues the kind of books longed for by audiences that have the wherewithal to see the world through a scholarly lens but would like to shed the stodgy, documentational nature of the typical academic journal; they push the envelope of a contemporary visual and intellectual ethos, but with grace/without bringing along the shallowness of a Wired or an ad from The Gap. For example, the editorial of Vulvamorphia comes in the form of a graphic novel and describes Marcel Duchamp's Etant Donnés as the springboard for the theme. Film noire characters enter the Philadelphia Museum of Art to perform a critical analysis of this work: a large wooden Spanish door with peepholes through which one character adds the trace of her looking, the oil from her fingers, to the worn spots of countless others as she peers in at what appears to be a naked torso, a shaved vagina. On second look, though, the anatomy/and therefore the meaning/is indeterminate, which brings to mind "the grin without a cat." That is, one character tells another that Vulvamorphia is not about voyeurism, nor even female genitalia. Rather, it is more about the tale of Demeter, Goddes of the Harvest, who so mourned her daughter that she searched the earth dressed as a mortal. In a bar, Baubo, a female demon, buys her a drink, then hoists her skirt to reveal her pudenda, on which is drawn a boy's face. Baubo then stretches it to make the face grimace, causing Demeter to laugh uproariously, thus ending her mourning. The moral here is the power of the vulva to morph. And this metaphor, vulva (wrapper) morphia (form) is the engine for the issue.

The issue extends this metaphor with exquisite intelligence, range, and even that most radical of all terms, beauty. Its opening spread is a lush red field that on closer inspection reveals itself to be the surface of Venus, used here as the background in electronic wallpaper by ISSA CLUBB, its surface patterned with open orchids, images of the Virgen de Guadalupe, and squid. Turning the page opens the book onto undersea photos of coral reefs with sexually evocative patterns, photos of mermaids sucking on air hoses, lace bodices and the vulva-like patterns in polished marble panels from the Church of S. Vitale, Ravenna.

The prose pieces collected here include "The Runway Model" by Sheila Davies: an impressionistic flash-essay on model Meredith Rose Cadets. It opens with a view of her performing the ritual of models on a runway, then moves to the creation of the 'image' that lies at the heart of this runway model, explaining that her stockings "are fastened in heaven by a cartel of female oracles who act as garters." The image as an extension of the model's being arises out of a movement from Cadet's body to her mind, often expressed in her own words and contrasting the creation of woman, "not bone exactly, but perhaps a kind of bleached clay" to "poor dear man…made in God's harsh image; a strict violent model."

"Prosthetic Opportunities: Fictional Fragments towards a theory of the Human Body" by Alexandra L.M. Keller is indicative of the kind of work showcased by Lusitania. It is theory driven, transgresses genre boundaries with ease, and is informed by visuals picked by someone with a very, very good eye (checking the masthead, I see that both the general editor and the visual editor are listed as Martim Avillez; a telling, if not surprising detail). "Prosthetic Opportunites" is entertaining as well as serious. In it, the game "telephone" (in which players serially relay a message, hoping it will be garbled) is used as an entry into ways that narratives are sometimes randomly generated. The essay is thus part fiction, part new journalism, drawing on billboards in India printed in both Hindi and English (Leprosy can be cured!). Under this author's hand, places like airport lobbies become mythical seas of "phonemes, morphemes, pitches and whispers…."

"Artificial Changelings: A Tale of The Boned Body, the Chaos of Flesh" by Toni Dove is an essay that also incorporates the rhetorical conventions of fiction (or is it a story that argues a point?); here to explore female identity as both voice and chorus. In this work, theory, fiction and imagery are brought together so well that the images stay in the mind, circulating the story, which in turn conjures anew the images.

Lusitania is addictive.



Chain 3: Hybrid Genres/Mixed Media (Parts 1 and 2)

c/o Department of English
1733 Donaghho Road
University of Hawaii
Honolulu, Hawaii 96822

Also available from Small Press Distribution (800-869-7553)

In an editor's note to this literary magazine, Jena Osman and Juliana Spahr put well their reason for an issue on hybrids: "We like to see the pieces collected here as work which promotes permeability (and therefore dialogue) in the face of borders and definitions which prevent address. Hybrids shift our perspective just enough to let us see what might be possible: that it is not identity that sorts, but coalition and disruption that allows; that our lives can speak in more than one language and also speak in/through static."

A number of the pieces collected here do just this. "Coughing Fit" by Mary Burger opens with a reproduction of a page on The Lymphatic System from a medical textbook, complete with anatomical drawings. At the beginning, the medical text occupies only a corner of Chain's page, the margin taken up by a narrative poem: "This is a note. / This is a note / regarding our patient. / Mary Burger." As the poem progresses, though, it is more fully integrated with the medical textbook. The poem continues: "On exam today / the medial half of the left / hemidiaphragm / is obliterated. / This is new." At this point, the poem is superimposed on the textbook, the two forming a hybrid. Reading the patient's narrative, broken and repeated in a syntax that suggests the impersonal routine of hospitals, is a way to perform the issues the poem simultaneously comments upon. Watching the narrative of the patient move from the margin of the textbook onto its body makes present the very difficulty of speaking across discourse systems that this issue of Chain hopes to permeate. And not just for artsy reasons. Rather, the connotations of medical school, bureaucracy, and 'patient as specimen' underscore consequences that can arise out of the separation of languages and their inherent agendas and assumptions.

Some of the pieces in Chain are the type of work a person is more likely to see in a gallery than a literary magazine. The original readers of "Jim & Sylvia," an installation, sat on chairs and read diary entries (Sylvia) in a room that included gigantic wall drawings of faces (Jim). Some of these are reproduced here: a line drawing of a face, a diary entry written on a restaurant check: "A.V.L comes home angry because I tried to smooth out the bumpy front yard then he began a search for old shoes he had taken from boys locker at Berk High School…" Again, there's a real poignancy in the work, given to it by its form: the mundane vs. The Monumental made imposing not because it is less mundane, but rather because it has an oppressive scale. The scale is lost in a literary magazine, of course, but the work like many in this issue, foregrounds discourse systems, and allows us as third parties to consider boundaries that entangle the characters described.

Artist books, that bridge between the visual arts and literature, are represented, for example, by "Hybrid Anxieties" by Johanna Drucker and Brad Freeman. There are also works by authors more immediately recognizable to a strictly literary audience, e.g., Los Pequeño Glazier and Steve McCaffery. Then there is the piece by Kathy High with its loaded title: "(A Few) Statistics On the (Possible) Meaning of An Encounter With (Some) (Middle-Class) Academic Women.

The range here is impressive, and by necessity against the grain of conventional literature.



Two Girls Review

3331 NE 39th Avenue
Portland, OR 97212
Vox: 503.284.4724
Fax: 503.284.4754
email: Lilnub@aol.com

Two Girls Review is more in your face in both its design and content than most magazines (the subscription card reads "Blow Me"). That is, it does what better literary magazines have always done, wage an aesthetic war. In fact, the large format magazine is so heavily designed that at times it's hard to tell where one piece begins and another ends but that almost seems to be the point or rather, it's a criticism that is beside the point of a magazine that likes to shout, that likes to shake up literature as it's defined in the academy.

Kathy Acker and Andres Serrano are invoked in the thank you's and their spirit permeates 2-Girls's "Seam" issue (Vol. 2, Issue 1). Doug Rice (of Jesse-Helms-Attacks-NEA fame) is represented (and this was before Helms made him famous). So is Chris Mazza (Ed. Chic-Lit and Chick-Lit 2) and Sandy Braccey, a performance artist who uses nude photos of her 400 pound body to "say something about society's problem with my weight." An interview, "Shooting the Shit with Andrei Codrescu" is quintessential non-academic literary magazine, both for the questions asked ("Why do you think exquisite corpse is still alive, and what do you think it 'does' today?") and for the answers (In the age of zines, there is plenty of refreshing impertinence, though, alas, it is most often illiterate babble that tries to re-invent the wheel every time").

"The Devotions" is vintage Carol Maso: poetic prose that is as erotic as it is intelligent; the opposite of the work Codrescu cites for trying to reinvent the wheel for it builds upon a wide range of literary and art traditions and extends them. Written in the fragmentary style of her novel Ava, it collapses memory, especially sensual memory, art, language, religion and, of course, eroticism.

Alex Shakar's short story "Maximum Carnage" begins "A sentor is a mutant of craven science. The top half of a sentor is the top half of a man. The bottom half is a motorcycle. Right now the sentors are attacking P.S. 96 in Flushing, Queens." These reformulations of Ovid's Centaurs try to carry the fifth-grade girls away from the playground "to pump out their girl blood... In the laboratory, the girls will be pumped. Pumped and pumped."

When these fifth graders are not battling sentars, they are in the classroom reading reports on super heroes like Garbage Man, who tellingly in light of the consumer culture invoked here is Garbage Man by day and by night a man made out of garbage. Enter Roxor, or Roxanne, who according to the counselor "suffers from ... a fixation at the anal-sadistic stage." Taking her cue from video games and millions of comics like Violator, Roxor knows how to deal with sentars:

I...cut off the sentor's head.... And the head is still alive, because cut-off heads live for ten seconds. ... And everyone cheers. And..I laugh Ha Ha! And I...hump the empty neckhole.

Domination through violation, the gloating over and desecration of an opponent's body, all of this is familiar stuff in the classics, the foundation of Western civilization. But seeing it manifest in ten-year olds, we're reminded of the cradle-to-grave culture of the dead-teenager movie and its derivatives where people, especially woman, are objects to be exploited, an idea so ubiquitous that it seems like nature to us.

The metamorphose is underscored by the juxtaposition of a panel from the Violator comic referred to in the story, and by a book Roxanne finds on the concrete playground, the later depicting an innocent age (Ovid's Golden Age) where genitalia are not an issue, the world is softer, green, and animals grin as if posing to have their photo taken.

"Then bad things happened," the story, says, as does Ovid, "but one day it will be like that again." That, of course, is not the way this story ends.



Fractal Fields and Fairytales (Printed Book or CD-ROM)
Jeff Brice

"Once upon a time," begins Fractal Fields and Fairytales, the words appearing in the gothic font traditionally used for fairy tales, its initial 'O' embellished with vines. But it is also embellished by a scientific graph. "It has been postulated that there exist semantic fields from which cultural codes come into being," we're told. The images, text blurbs and ambient sound that make up this CD further the case by implying that much of the cultural codes we inhabit arise out of the semantics of science. For example, many of the proclamations of Fractal Fields can apply to culture as easily as to science, e.g.: "Near the time of the solar wind's passage on earth, solar wind speed, magnetic field intensity, geomagnetic storm and solar wind density drop to a minimum. As the boundary sweeps over the earth, these characteristics increase and reach a maximum in approximately two days." It doesn't take deep reading to see how this scientific clip could be applied metaphorically to the winds of fashion. But it is the images that most strongly make this case: graphs are premised as art, art is associated with science. More often than not, art and science are collapsed together. Specifically, graphs, diagrams, topological maps and other artifacts of science are presented devoid of scales, presented as sheer aesthetic objects. Often these images are superimposed with traditional photography, a close up of a rose, for example, with the language of science layered over it. One animation consists of what appears to be some sort of NASA-like space probe, rotating in space. But it's made up of math symbols stacked up like a kinetic sculpture, or technical drawing. On the next screen it is replaced by the religious icon of the sacred heart: a heart commonly depicted in Latin religious art with rays emanating from it. Yet here the rays have been put at a right angle and they also evoke antenna. Rotating at the same speed and position as the NASA-like math sculpture that it has replaced, it's impossible to not hold the two of them in the mind at once.

"What we recognize as artistic movement of different periods are the acceptance of shifts of rules of codemaking," we're told.

The reader's role in this codemaking is implied through its navigation and sound track. An ambient musical score can be composed by dragging icons onto an open box. The music thus 'constructed' plays as the viewer navigates through fields of letters floating as in a petri dish, or images collaged such as one landscape photo of a lush countryside with a pixelated person in a detox mask superimposed in the foreground. In the sky is a medieval drawing illustrating some astronomical principle and the words: "Our personal paths winding through the information fields of the cognitive landscape is the sum total of experience."

This layering of cultural codes creates the dialectic that Fractal Fields strives to call to consciousness. For example, "Cognition," one of the fairy tales of this collection, opens with a diagram of the brain collaged with animated lines of force/the kind of diagram that might be produced by a computer connected to a wind tunnel or some magnetic surge. These same lines of force were presented earlier as abstract art. Other fairy tales with titles like "Culture," or "Synchronicity" or "Postmodernism" look at culture through a scientific lens or science through an aesthetic lens, combining images and a vocabulary that can state "determined segmentation known as color" or "the semantic systems alters the way culture sees the world." Indeed.

The web site of Fractal Fields contains clips and ordering information.



Beyond(CD-ROM)
Zoe Beloff


Beyond may be the most evocative and visually poetic work available on CD-ROM. Originally conceived as a project that was too theoretical to be a film and too visual to be an essay, the medium of CD-ROM is the perfect vehicle for this chamber opera of ideas.

Before you even open the jewel box, you know you're in the presence of an antidote to the great bulk of CD-ROM productions. A small black-and-white snapshot of a bridge is hand mounted on the jacket, and this simple, artist-book gesture gives it a texture, a depth that is alien to the slick aesthetic that is so ubiquitous among other CDs that it almost seems inherent to multimedia. This initial promise is more than borne out by Beyond.

The opening sequence/overture is vintage footage of a dirigible, floating past limestone, 1920ish NY skyscrapers. Then the reader is presented with a VR image of the grounds surrounding an abandoned insane asylum, shot in the winter.

Before I discovered that the building used as a set was an insane asylum, I couldn't decide if it was an abandoned mansion or a train station. But it turns out that in a way it was both of these and more - for it is used as a stand-in for fictional worlds, as well as the destruction of the great wars, sites of modern technological wonders, bourgeois life, the optimism of world fairs, the resurrection of the dead via cinema….

By using the mouse, the viewer is transported to various rooms of the abandoned building, and from within these rooms to other vignettes. For example, in one room, text and icons are spray painted as graffiti on the decayed walls. One is the traditional Cupid's heart pierced by an arrow. When the mouse crosses it, a heartbeat sounds and the title "False Souvenir" pops up. Clicking onto the heart brings up a film of a chic, middle-aged woman smoking, making worried faces as melodramatic violin music plays. The camera shifts to show the words "What is Art? - Baudelaire" which appear to be spray painted on the wall but as the camera continues to move, it's revealed that they are written on the woman's body.

Slowly, by a logic of association rather than declamation, a speculative inquiry emerges about the nature of art, of the self within a landscape of technology that is able to separate voices from bodies, of personal history and also of large historical movements. The list of sources cited (which appears alongside more traditional credits) is heavily influenced by modernist thinkers (Walter Benjamin, Henri Berson, Freud, etc.) in this piece grounded in the period between 1850 (the birth of mass media technologies) and 1940 (the mass slaughter made possible by mass technologies).

As with hypertexts, the labyrinth of images and ideas seems endless, like memory itself, and bears repeated viewings. Indeed, one sequence is entered via a clown spray-painted on the walls of the asylum. A theater stage is featured, rendered as the cut-and-fold lines of a paper model while on its screen, a flickering movie of trapezes artists plays. A voice-over proclaims as through a megaphone (that early technology for amplifying the voice) that "The crowd is the latest and most unfathomable labyrinth in the labyrinth of the city."

The effect is one of watching the various forces of this period come together to bring into existence great and individual wars, the unconscious, the modern conception of sex - and an unveiling of how they are all present within us today.

A final scene shows a dirigible burning in reverse so that ashes on the ground gradually gather themselves into inferno as we're told that one day we will be able to travel in time (memory) as easily as through the air.

Beyond seems to be a bench mark work in that it extends traditional mediums in a way that cannot be done without a computer and yet retains the evocative qualities associated with those earlier narrative forms. Its ideas have been thought through and owe a lot of their visual look to independent films (Zoe Beloff is an indy film maker). And in fact, a number of the images are shockingly poignant, if that anachronism can be invoked, in comparison to the glut of computer-generated graphics that fills most CDs.

In addition to downloadable clips, the Beyond web site has an essay on the thinking behind the CD and an order form.



Digitas: The New York Digital Review of Arts and Literature
Edited by John Farris

Surge
57 Stanton Street
NYC, NY 10002;
CD-ROM for MAC; $39.95

Digitas certainly exploits the encyclopedic quality available to a journal that is published as a CD-ROM. Over 30 artists are represented in poetry, prose, criticism, multimedia, film, dance, painting, photography, sculpture, and installation. But the rasion d'être of Digitas is in the visual pun that serves as logo: a digital movie of a hand flexing its digits over a keyboard. Here is a journal that has asked how digi-lit can go beyond neo-print/just as early TV looked within itself to become more than radio with pictures.

Yes, we've definitely had a paradigm shift here, a marriage of performance poetry, so dependent on sound, and poetry of the page, so dependent on appearance. This hybrid isn't of the PBS Voices and Visions breed (or even the United States of Poetry), that is, not video/visuals and recitation meant to be passively taken in from the couch. Rather, on the intimately close monitor, this work is meant to be read. Even if at times you're enticed to stop reading and just look.

In the fluid environment of the screen, the theater space of a "page" becomes a much more active player. For example, remarking the messiness of life, the text of "Covering" by John Farris dissolves like melting snow back into a sand dunes/snow background which itself dissolves/a poignant touch, one that illustrates how the visuals of a poem can have the last "word," here making a statement after the sound track and words on screen have faded.

The magazine contains a number of lyric moments. A sonorous reading of Ladybelle Fiske's "Elegy for Prospero" makes it pure dream work. Likewise, the sunset-lit gargoyles that follow animated A-bombs in Michael Carter's "Masked Dancing" enhance the moving closure of a poem that works through the exasperation of trying to be human in a highly developed civilization.

Other pieces are closer to a slam sensibility. (In fact, the one essay, a "misreading" of Harold Bloom by Jenny Seymore, is an explanation/apology of the genre.) Hal Sirowitz puts in a performance that is inspired in its vapidness. A video clip of Sirowitz's body is juxtaposed with the body text of the six "Mother" poems he reads. The video is fractured so that face, top of the head and body are out of sync with each other/poem's body/poet's body/a smart conceit for "Deformed Finger" or "Eyes Are Everywhere" in which Mother tells him to wear a jockstrap at the beach in case he gets a boner. As the video-Sirowitz reads this one, he holds the manuscript over his crotch/inviting a reading of the body, as do the poems, by playing with acts of concealment/exposure.

Body language infuses Digitas. Throughout, there is an awareness that while the medium might not be the message, it is certainly a subtext: an inherent set of assumptions or context that elicits expectations from the viewer/reader as he or she sits down with the work.

This is why one medium so often translates poorly into another and also why a review of arts and literature on CD-ROM is an exercise in negotiation. The handmade quality of a painting, for example, gets bulldozed by a monitor. On a Monitor, poetry, sculpture, installation or any art form comes across with a certain sameness: flattened into information. The negotiations of Digitas that work best are the ones in which the nature of reading for information inherent in CD-ROM hasn't been denied/a method of reading assumed, for example, by its table of contents which is a map of icons rather than a hierarchy of words.


 

 

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