Combining The Verbal And the Visual
The Chandler Gallery’s salon-style show of small works combining language and image raises surprisingly large issues. Juror Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons has focused on jarring experiments in crossing disciplinary boundaries. To deepen our understanding of how combining the verbal and the visual may destabilize our construction of meaning, Campos-Pons has narrowed her selection to 56 examples, often several by a single artist.
While we organize language through order and orthography, syntax and sounds, we perceptually organize and interpret visual art forms by different modes and rules. When signals from both systems of meaning present themselves, the brain tends to privilege one system of cues in order to be able to extract consistent forms of meaning. Meanwhile, the ambiguity and overlaps from both worlds can confuse or trick us.
The works in “Word + Image” draw on many sources and vehicles for language — book pages, newspapers, old charts and maps — as well as paintings, prints, photographs and drawings. Many combinations are sculptural — political slogans enameled onto china (Tania Sen), embroidery hoops framing stitchery of anguished words (Beverly Arsem) and cast-iron gas-pipe covers rendered as elegant plaster plaques (Geoff Booras). Jeanette O’Connor’s pyramid with dangling tendrils, fashioned from layers of dressmaking patterns, looks like a squid hung up to dry. And her nest-like box coated with shredded Bible pages is tellingly titled “Hollow Word.” All printed matter is not paper; Michele Fandel Bonner’s patchwork dolls are stitched from clothing tags specifying size, content and global point of manufacture.
Evidence of contrasting disciplines can be obvious, like Brian Alves’s “Diversity Project,” a group of black and white portraits painted over dictionary pages. Or it can be nearly hidden, like the substrate of book pages and transferred texts on wood, over which Bill Porter paints surface narratives derived from comic books and drawings.