I’m working on / dealing with a variety of things, and don’t have much to say, so today’s Blahg features visual and verbal recaps. The visuals show the general layout of the Sensing Language show at St. Ambrose University, shot by Jay Strickland; the accompanying class photos are by Heather Lovewell, Catich Gallery curator extraordinaire. The verbal portion is my answer to one question from a recent interview by Barbara Landes, who is currently doing graduate work at the University of Iowa Center for the Book ; her (excellent) questions are part of a research project. (I’ve answered this question for articles before, but briefly; Barbara kindly gave me permission to publish my expanded, unedited responses). Thanks to all today’s contributors!
Your work changed dramatically when you moved from manipulating books to using handmade paper to create your work. Why do you think this happened?
“I can tell you how it happened: first, my work was already changing before its medium changed, moving away from overt social or political themes and pointed commentary. It was becoming quieter, more contemplative, and I was beginning to compare and contrast human conditions with seasonal cycles in nature. (Why that happened, I’m not completely sure. Perhaps it was maturity or simply an urge to go deeper, or a burgeoning dissatisfaction with sociopolitical critique).
With that change already beginning, I became interested in working with paper at just about the same time I learned that I would eventually become deaf. Kozo, the fiber I experimented with first, was simply so eloquent on its own that adding words seemed to cheapen it, to detract from it and lessen its impact. As I began to experiment with other fibers and to discover the unique properties in each, I made a conscious decision to stay away from conventional language: if I was going to be deaf, and not have access to spoken words, I wasn’t going to use conventional language in my work, either; I wanted my work to reflect my experience.
Usually when I say that, someone will respond: “But…you could still read, couldn’t you?” Yes, but that’s not the point; our extensive use of non-conventional communication is. At the same time I learned I was becoming deaf, I also learned that my body or brain had taught me to expertly read lips, without any conscious knowledge on my part. I had simply believed that I was hearing. When the audiologist told me I had been reading lips for years, I still didn’t quite accept it. How could I be doing something so complex without being aware of it? Then she held a card in front of her face and spoke…and I couldn’t understand a single thing she said. The phenomenon, this completely pivotal, enormous but unconscious adjustment, just astounded me. Then, not too long afterward, I won the all-college Excellence in Teaching award for full-time faculty where I taught, and was invited to a two-year fellowship addressing the scholarship of teaching and learning, aligned with the Carnegie Foundation. During the fellowship sessions, we investigated Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences (here’s a good brief summary), which thoroughly echoed my own experiences and solidified my desire to make work that focused on and utilized our sensory intelligences; i.e., the alternative ways we ‘read’.
So, while the appearance and materiality of the work changed, and the utilization of conventional language changed, I am still ultimately investigating (and toying with) the act of reading.”
(Speaking of teaching, this appeared in my Google alerts this morning, from a class at the University of Baltimore. I applaud the use of a class blog. I tried something similar twice using an allegedly interactive early learning system; but my efforts apparently were too early in the online age).