Whispering Galleries: New Haven
A collaboration with Brad Bouse
Whispering Galleries is an interactive digital artwork that uses the Leap Motion gestural controller to allow visitors to interact with a historical diary.
The project takes as its central metaphor the architectural whispering gallery, a domed space whose unique shape carries even the quietest sounds from one end of the room to another with utmost clarity, allowing visitors to communicate in whispers across a great distance. Our whispering gallery delivers messages across the vast distance of time—helping a voice that would otherwise be lost to history find its way to a contemporary audience.
Visitors to Whispering Galleries see their own image reflected and distorted in the hazy domed space of the screen, and floating somewhere between them and their reflection, a short text appears: the transcription of an anonymous shop-keeper’s diary from 1858. The keeper of this diary worked with his hands: as a woodworker making handles for tools, as a dry goods clerk sweeping out the shop and making trade, as a violinist making music at intimate gatherings and church occasions, and as a composer writing pieces for performance at the local school. In daily entries, the author’s week is measured out by hand-work.
Others come in and out of his shop and diary: customers, relatives, and friends whose presence reveals the way a New England community of the mid-19th century relied on careful manual labor for its members’ livelihood and enrichment.
Visitors to Whispering Galleries use their own hands sweep the dust from his diary. Gesturing over the Leap controller, they scatter pixels from the text, leaving behind a web of words: erasure poems that tell a hidden narrative of 19th-century
life, labor, and art. Readers can progress from January 1 to December 31, 1858, through thirty entries spanning the year that meditate on the artistic hand-work that was so central to its author’s life.
Funded in part by Site Projects through a grant from CT@Work, the piece launched April 26, 2014 at the Ives branch of the New Haven Free Public Library, and has been on view in the library’s 5 branches this summer. In September, it moves to the Institute Library, New Haven’s first private library, and downtown’s City Hall building.
The project has been written up in the Yale Alumni Magazine, was listed as one of the top reasons to visit the branches of the New Haven Free Public Library, and Elizabeth Antle-O’Donnell, Program Coordinator of Site Projects, and I spoke about the project with Stephen Grant of the Arts Council of Greater New Haven for WPKN radio.
The Familiar Spirit
A libretto, in collaboration with Isaac Schankler
In 2013, Boston’s Lorelei Ensemble commissioned Isaac to create a multi-media composition for their all-female ensemble and electronics. Isaac and I discussed our mutual fascination with 19th-century spiritualism and modernist composition strategies and decided to undertake a project centering on mediumship, since the body of the medium is a space at once eroticized and mechanized and it served as a platform for both healing and social activism in its day–a fascinatingly contested space.
For the May 10th, 2013 performance [program] at Marsh Chapel in Boston, the performers were accompanied by video created by Christopher O’Leary.
The Familiar Spirit turns the first recorded instance of “spirit-rapping” communication into a series of poetic vignettes that explore the technologization, eroticization, and community-building role of the 19th-century medium. When Margaret and Catherine Fox rushed into their parents’ bedroom the night of March 31, 1848 claiming to have heard mysterious noises in the night, little did they know this prank would bring neighbors, strangers, and eventually a cadre of credulous celebrities from Frederick Douglass to Fenimore Cooper into their home and their lives. With the first knockings of the spirit they called “Mr. Splitfoot,” the Fox sisters launched the spiritualist movement.
Drawing on accounts of the night’s events published in the late 19th century, including their older sister Leah Underhill’s 1885 self-promoting tome, the sisters’ own 1888 public confession of fraud, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyles 1926 history of Spiritualism, the libretto plays in the borderland where witness and willfulness meet, where the facts of the story and the desire to believe it blur the case at hand. Through permutation, iteration, and word play, the words make the echoes of those early knockings present to the listener.
Of his composition, Isaac writes:
“The music of “The Familiar Spirit” imagines the events of March 31, 1848 as the birth of a religious ritual, a sort of distorted Mass. Meditative drones and dense clusters of overlapping chords are interspersed with rhythmic, propulsive knocking and chanting. The sisters and townsfolk appear in the chorus, but identities often blur and shift, as in a memory or dream. Since “Mr. Splitfoot” is a technological spirit, the electronics serve as an ambiguous conduit to the spirit world conjured up by the imaginations of the witnesses.”
Between Page and Screen
An augmented reality artist’s book
Hand-bound and letterpress-printed in an edition of 12 by the author (2010).Trade edition issued by Siglio Press (April 2012).This “digital pop-up book,” programmed by Brad Bouse, integrates the artist’s book and e-poetry traditions to examine the conventions by which we know an object as a book. The pages of the book contain no text, only square markers that, when displayed before the reader’s webcam, activate a series of animations mapped to the surface of the page. Because the animations move with the book, they appear to inhabit “real” three-dimensional space. However, the resulting poems do not exist on either page or screen, but rather in an augmented reality where the user sees herself holding, and interacting with, the text.
You can download a sample marker and see a video at www.betweenpageandscreen.com.
Between Page and Screen has been exhibited widely, and is currently on view at the Dennos Museum in Traverse City, MI as part of Making Paper Dance, curated by Linda Ross. A full exhibition history and list of upcoming events can be found at the website.
A collaboration with Kate Durbin and Ian Hatcher (Forthcoming).
The recipient of an Expanded Artists’ Books Grant from the Center for Book and Paper Arts at Columbia College Chicago, Abra is an exploration and celebration of the potentials of the artist’s book in the 21st century. A five-pronged collaboration between two poets, one visual artist, one iOS artist-developer, and a potentially infinite number of readers, the project has two main manifestations: an artist’s book and an interactive iPad app edition. Abra plays with the notion of the “illuminated” manuscript in both its physical form and on the digital screen. In the artist’s book, poems grow and mutate as the reader turns the pages, blurring the boundary between text and illumination, marginalia and body. The poems themselves are in flux, coalescing and dispersing from one page to the next, “illuminating” one another’s interstices in an ecstatic helix of language. The text itself also plays with mutation, forming new words and conjoining phrases, and referencing fecundity as it manifests in the natural world, the body, human history, popular culture, decorative arts, and ornate architecture, revealing the mutating evolution and continuous overlap of all these spheres as a direct connection to the constantly-changing technology of the book.
In conjunction with the artist’s book, an iPad app, developed by intermedia artist Ian Hatcher, will extend and revel in this ephemerality, putting special emphasis on interactivity to highlight the role of the reader. The conjoining and de-coupling activity of the poems will be animated in the app, allowing the texts to spring to life. Yet, with a swipe of his or her finger, the reader will be able to swirl the helix of language, creating new juxtapositions and surprising turns of phrase. Their new texts will also provide scores for potential future performances of the work. In this way, text and concept are interlinked: Abra functions much like the magic word of its origin–abracadabra–as an unpredictable living text.
A manifesto, including images of all of Abra’s avatars (as of summer 2013), is up at The Collagist. Selections from Abra can be found in 1913: A Journal of Forms, Peep/Show, Joyland Poetry, SPECS, Delirious Hem (click author photo for audio), Action Yes, and Black Warrior Review issue 27.1, The Degeneration Issue.
Selections will also appear in the &Now Awards 3, edited by Megan Milks (Lake Forest College Press / &Now Books, Forthcoming).
A trade edition of Abra, featuring illustrations by visual artist Zach Kleyn that animate across the surface of the page in conjunction with the poems, is forthcoming from 1913 Editions.
Pictures of Ian and Amaranth’s visit to the Center for Book and Paper Arts can be found here.
Translations and Transversions of Twenty-One Minus One Programmed Poems. In Collaboration with Gabriela Jauregui.
In 1979, Paul Braffort, a founding member of the OuLiPo, published Mes hypertropes: Vingt-et-un moins un poèmes à programme as an homage to the other writers who were members of the Workshop for Potential Literature at the time.
The sequence of twenty interlinked “programmed poems” operates according to Zeckendorf’s theorem that any number can be expressed as the sum of two or more Fibonacci numbers. Part of the content in each poem is thus “programmed” by the poems containing those Fibonacci numbers that can be added to make it (for instance, the 20th poem contains phrases that appeared in 13, 5, and 2, which together add up to 20). Despite this heady constraint, the poems are filled with the joie de vivre, word play, and bawdy wit that characterize Braffort’s writing and music (he is also a well-known cabaret singer and has released several albums of French songs).
With Braffort’s approval, we have taken a twofold approach to this work, providing direct English translations alongside collaborative poems of our own—“transversions” that intersect with, re-create, and occasionally subvert, his constraint-based polyglot poems.
Poems from this manuscript have appeared or are forthcoming in The Drunken Boat, Aufgabe, Drunken Boat, New American Writing and Lana Turner: A Journal of Poetry and Opinion. The manuscript (101 pages with translators’ notes) is available and includes unpublished collages and drawings by Braffort to accompany the poems.
Sunt Lacrimae Rerum
Paper and acrylic box. 3″x3″x3″. Edition of 13 (2013).
3” x 3” x 3”
Paper and acrylic box
Created for “An Inventory of Al-Mutanabbi Street” in homage to and in mourning for the street of booksellers, this book takes its title from Aeneas’s words of sorrow uttered before a Carthaginian mural depicting the Trojan War. Tragedy must be brought home to us, but how can we relay the depths of loss—a very idea predicated on absence? This reliquary is part lachrymatory: it contains a book whose text of tears is designed to tear away at itself each time the book is displayed. Pleated into an accordion, it plays the elegy for its own effacement as, gradually, the cut-out letters catch on one another, pulling themselves up and off the page until they may fall away entirely. Not only is the book’s texture designed to transform, its text does as well: page by page, one letter of the phrase changes at each turn. Although “these are the tears of things,” over time we might enter a space “where all the tears embraced.”This book has been exhibited at the Wiener Library for the Holocaust and Genocide in London; the Mosaic Rooms gallery in London, the Chappell Center for Book Arts in Portland, Maine; and the Center for Book Arts in New York City, along with other contributions to “An Inventory of Al-Mutanabbi Street.” A complete list of exhibitions is available at the coalition website.
In 2014, the book was included in the exhibition “Book Power Redux” at 23Sandy Gallery in Portland, Oregon and the University of Puget Sound‘s Collins Memorial Library. Curator and book artist Laura Russell was interviewed by Joseph Gallivan of KBOO about the show on June 10, 2014.
Copies of Sunt Lacrimae Rerum are held in the libraries of George Mason University, the Virginia Institute of Technology, Baylor University, The Cleveland Institute of Art, UC San Diego, and the New York Public Library.
Al-Mutanabbi Street Broadside Project; “Outside Santa Fe”
Letterpress-printed in an edition of 50 with hand-stitching by Amy Bouse (2009).
The Mutanabbi Street Broadside Project was started by San Francisco poet and letterpress printer Beau Beausoleil in response to the tragic bombing of that street, named for 10th-century poet Al-Mutanabbi, in 2007. A hub of artistic and intellectual activity in Baghdad, Al-Mutanabbi street is home to booksellers and cafes—a true literary community. The bomb killed 30 people and wounded at least 100 more, at the same time damaging countless works of literature and targeting an area known for the exchange of ideas.
In collaboration with visual artist Amy Bouse and California Poet Laureate Carol Muske-Dukes, I contributed a broadside for Muske-Dukes’ poem “Outside Santa Fe.” You can view the Jaffe Center’s archive of the work, including artists’ statements, here. It was letterpress-printed in an edition of 50 on Somerset paper using photopolymer plates on a Vandercook Proof Press at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles.
Amy Bouse, a painter and fiber artist based in LA, provided vibrant stitchings on the surface of each broadside that reference the art of bookbinding and the way it binds together languages, and, by extension, peoples. Each stitching has a life of its own–-suggesting in some cases a disobedient streak, a flash of lightning illuminating the storm, or an explosion, to name just a few possibilities. Because they are hand-made, each broadside is different, and thus bears the markings of an individual hand and mind at work on the page.
For young women with questions
Pastel, ink, and mixed media. Hand-bound in an edition of 1 (2005).
This altered book project, inspired by Tom Phillips’ Humument and with a mind toward Raymond Williams’ keywords, traces terms and patterns in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Anthony Trollope’s The Duke’s Children. These sources yield three tales surrounding young women’s self-discovery.