“Romantic love was invented to manipulate women,” artist Jenny Holzer declares in one line of “Truisms,” a piece on display in the Davison Art Center as part of “Wordplay: Text and Image from 1950 to Now.” Listed alphabetically with dozens of similarly blunt one-line statements, the sentence is a twisted version of something you might read on that inspirational poster hanging in a dentist office. The artwork being shown in “Wordplay” ranges from Holzer’s minimalist, politically loaded aphorisms to delicate and humorous incorporations of poetry and pop culture, but all of it shares one salient attribute: the use of text.
The cross-section of art in “Wordplay” came about as a result of curator Clare Rogan’s diverse findings. While looking for new materials for exhibits, text as a visual medium seemed to be a recurring theme in her search.
“I wanted to do a show that focused on contemporary work,” Rogan said. “I was finding material that had words in them, this was a way to bring them together. We live in a world full of text.”
In Lesley Dill’s “A Word Made Flesh…” models were painted white and the text of Emily Dickinson poems was literally inscribed on their bodies. The photographic image of the models was then made into a photolithograph, transferred onto mulberry paper and soaked in tea, lending a delicate antique feel to the four pieces. The images are hand-sewn onto a larger piece of paper, with the loose ends exposed.
“[The process of hand-sewing] is partly this idea of woman’s work, of puncturing,” Rogan explained.
Also borrowing from pre-existing art is Enrique Chagoya’s “Adventures of the Modernist Cannibals”. Chagoya, a Mexican artist, created the piece after being prohibited from viewing original Mayan codices on display in France’s Bibliothèque Nationale because of his status as a Mexican citizen. His codices present a type of “reverse anthropology” that pits European and American symbols against those of Mexican, Aztec, and Mayan culture. In the codices, the images delineate what may have happened had Montezuma gone to Europe rather than Christopher Columbus to America. In one scene, Mexico’s Adelita is pummeling a French soldier, in another, she takes on Superman.
Text is explored more symbolically in Annette Lemieux’s “Journal Project #2: Covers, Text Pages, and Blank Pages”. The title is a purely functional, bare description of Lemieux’s piece, which deconstructs the text from one of her diaries so that what is left does not resemble the original at all. The journal’s cover, written pages, and blank pages exist only as reprocessed representatives of destroyed memories.
“[Lemieux’s piece] is a meditation on memory, recording, and destruction,” Rogan said.
The various applications of words in the exhibit’s pieces might go unnoticed when viewed independently; text saturates our world so much that it’s easy to accept its appearance in art. However, “Wordplay” brings it to the forefront, highlighting the use of text instead of letting it slip into the background.
“When you are looking at a photo or painting, you expect to see a visual representation of an idea, whereas these give you a written context, as well as display the idea,” said Chloe Wardropper’09, who attended the exhibit.