To look at an alphabet other than our Roman script—Cyrillic, Arabic, Chinese, Devanagari—is to be transfixed by characters divorced from their content. For millennia, we humans have been commingling form, expression and content in writing, whether in cuneiforms, hieroglyphs, runes, illuminated calligraphic manuscripts, personal correspondence or the typefaces and fonts that enliven the printed word. In Gallery Homeland’s exhibition, Reading. Writing., curator Lisa Radon examines the relationship of the written word to the acts of reading and art making across a gamut of media. Artist Abra Ancliffe’s framed letterpress works and Lindsay AuCoin’s digital prints in acrylic rectangles deconstruct the printed word, as does Patrick Collier’s elegant grouping of framed letters and words. Deconstruction here is tantamount to decontextualization in the latter word’s original Latin sense. To de-con-text-ualize is to take away the interweaving of text, to divorce words from their referents until they become graphic symbols—depersonalized and unsexed. This bent continues in McIntyre Parker’s A Series of Texts, a sprawling mess of altered gallery press releases strewn across the floor. In a glass cabinet near the gallery’s office, Radon places a selection of mixed-media works by her and other artists. Putting printed material under glass, as Radon and her co-curators did in YU Contemporary’s recent Selections from the PCVA Archive, places the printed word physically and psychologically outside the viewer’s grasp; lifting it into the arid echelons of the museum piece.
This seems to suit Reading. Writing.’s
modus operandi, which reflects the increasing abstraction of the
written word as we leave handwriting and its accoutrements in the dust
and head into a future where words (and books, magazines and newspapers)
appear on computer screens. As the feel of a writing instrument in our
hands recedes en masse into the past, our relationship with content—that
is, with meaning—loses its connection with the human body. Can it still
retain its connection to the human heart? That’s the question of our
day. Reading. Writing., a thoughtful show but not an affectionate
one, seems to answer: No, words are things to be tucked away in glass
cases like dead bugs and archaeological relics. The word, if not the
world, ends in three letters: RIP.
GO: Reading. Writing. shows at Gallery Homeland, 2505 SE 11th Ave., No. 136. Closes Sept. 9.