Who’s Reading Who?

My interest in text and the city started by walking around downtown Vancouver and noticing poems on buildings—words on a space different than what we’re used to. I still stop for words (like Here Comes, A Window Story) and this building seen while roaming around the East Side Culture Crawl:

So when I heard the Contemporary Art Gallery in downtown Vancouver was featuring a window exhibit by Turkish artist Meriç Algün Ringborg called Metatext, I went to check it out, to read it.

The exhibit is literally written into the front façade of the building (as shown above), on several different window panels. You read it from left to right, like you would a novel. And as you read it, you feel you are reading something like a novel.

And then you feel you really have no idea what you’re reading. A string of words—or definitions—is closer to what it is. Here’s the description from the CAG:

The new work at the Contemporary Art Gallery takes the English dictionary as its starting point. Using only selected definitions of specific words, this ambitious commission appears as a series of inter-related sentences notionally composing mini-narratives and realized in a way that seems to incorporate different voices and characters. As such the work evolves out of the dictionary akin to a fragmentary novel or short story, a series of episodes branching out into a loose meta-narrative concerning writing as a creative act as implied through the use of this ‘found’ language.

It is a strange experience reading the text(s) because each line relates slightly to what’s around it, but also completely interrupts it with something new. Metatext plays with the idea of being a novel and yet lacks any of the cohesiveness we look for in novels. It is terribly self-conscious and long-winded about what it is doing—writing about writing, and a little pompous about it too: “the book that I’ve just written. considering the conditions, it’s very good” . . . “the book is a thoroughly entertaining read. it’s the best novel I’ve ever read”. The whole thing reads very ironically because by the end, we realize we have just read the novel being talked about (this metatext on the windows) and it isn’t very good but the author(s) thinks it is, and do we feel pity for the deluded writer, or sympathy because no doubt we’ve been there too, or annoyance for having spent twenty minutes reading this text that makes no sense, and what kind of dictionary is she using anyway?

IMG_6626Since the text is embedded into a building in downtown Vancouver, it makes us consider narratives of the city and the people who inhabit its space. How do our narratives of private and public overlap? The picture below showing my reflection, along with the buildings in the background, speak to this confluence of private and public. The act of writing a novel is typically a solitary activity, done in the privacy of a home, with typewriter/computer and one’s own thoughts late at night or early in the morning. What happens when it is exposed in a public space, a city space where we use words and construct narratives on a daily basis? How do our inner and outer words interact, especially in Vancouver, a city that never lets you escape your reflection as you’re walking to the office, walking to the grocery store, walking to and from home? We see ourselves in the window and wonder, who’s reading who?


A Poem for the New Year

I have a poem and a picture I want to share with you to usher in 2013.

Maybe it’s an odd choice (the poem) because it has nothing to do with New Year’s resolutions and everything to do with a new way of seeing, yet isn’t that what a new year is for? I, like many others, have external things in my life I want to see change, but I think equally important is all the internal stuff — the place I look out from when I look at and respond to the world. I don’t want this place to be static.

I love this poem because it shows movement — internally. You can tell this from reading the title. How the speaker saw light at 32 is not how he saw it at 25 or 18, and not how he will see it at 40, 57, 86. We could all write our own versions of this poem at our various stages. This is his.

Light, At Thirty-Two by Michael Blumenthal

It is the first thing God speaks of
when we meet Him, in the good book
of Genesis. And now, I think
I see it all in terms of light:

How, the other day at dusk
on Ossabaw Island, the marsh grass
was the color of the most beautiful hair
I had ever seen, or how—years ago
in the early-dawn light of Montrose Park—
I saw the most ravishing woman
in the world, only to find, hours later
over drinks in a dark bar, that it
wasn’t she who was ravishing,
but the light: how it filtered
through the leaves of the magnolia
onto her cheeks, how it turned
her cotton dress to silk, her walk
to a tour-jeté.

And I understood, finally,
what my friend John meant,
twenty years ago, when he said: Love
is keeping the lights on. And I understood
why Matisse and Bonnard and Gauguin
and Cézanne all followed the light:
Because they knew all lovers are equal
in the dark, that light defines beauty
the way longing defines desire, that
everything depends on how light falls
on a seashell, a mouth … a broken bottle.

And now, I’d like to learn
to follow light wherever it leads me,
never again to say to a woman, YOU
are beautiful, but rather to whisper:
Darling, the way light fell on your hair
this morning when we woke—God,
it was beautiful. Because, if the light is right,
then the day and the body and the faint pleasures
waiting at the window … they too are right.
All things lovely there. As that first poet wrote,
in his first book of poems: Let there be light.

Inspired by the poem, I took this photograph the other day, fascinated how light plays images like hands play sounds                                                                                     these are the faint pleasures waiting at my window                                                          the space I play, write, wonder                                                                                        this picture is my poem to light                                                                                          an entrance to the new year

keys to my world