Egghead Alert: If you disdain 'art' as something for the "artsy-craftsy" or "artsy-fartsy" crowd, skip today's entry and come back tomorrow. Or just look at the pictures.
Saturday I took up an invitation from the owners of an art gallery in Downtown Newark to come by and take pix of the Gallery and its current show, "Glossolalia". The fotos below are a sample, not necessarily representative, of that exhibition, the conception of which is a little arcane. As their release puts it:
"Glossolalia"(noun): (1) Speaking in a language that one does not understand. (2) Uttering a series a sounds that resemble language but are not. (3) A state of grace." * * *
Gallery Aferro asked 30 artists based worldwide if the breakdown of language makes it more visible. Glossolalia presents selections from bodies of work that can be read as the answer to this question. This examination of the struggle to exchange ideas with words and sounds did not yield Babel, but a coherent and engaging survey of strategies employed by contemporary artists to understand and relate the world around them.
The function of language both written and spoken is an automatic and thus often invisible process. As Steven Pinker writes in The Language Instinct, "Simply by making noises with our mouths, we can reliably cause precise new combinations of ideas to arise in each other's minds."
Well, we can if we understand that language. Not otherwise.
Before I headed out, I Mapquested the Gallery's address, 73 Market Street, and Mapquest showed it as being on the wrong side, the south side, of the street, in a block I knew to be occupied by the older of the two new MBNA buildings. Mapquest is very good at showing the general vicinity, but very bad at pinpointing an address. I then felt rather silly for not realizing that it had to be very near Bushberg Brothers' furniture store, which I have seen advertised on cable as being at 77 Market (visualize Bertha tugging on her ear and saying (approximate quote), "Lookin' to see you now").
Gallery Aferro is in the little building flanked left and right by taller buildings in the foto below.
When I showed her that foto on the monitor of my camera, one of the owners, Emma Wilcox, remarked that they have some fotos of this same area at nite, showing visitors congregating on the sidewalk during an opening, when a couple of hundred Newark art enthusiasts turn out. Perhaps they should post such fotos on their website, which seems oddly impoverished as regards visuals.
I got to the gallery just at the time it closes to the general public (I had wanted to get there a half hour earlier to mix with other visitors, but circumstances did not permit busy, busy!) Three other latecomers entered just after me.
The location is wonderful in terms of traffic by pedestrians and many buslines, tho on weekends the number of people Downtown dwindles mightily. Still, the Gallery is just east of Essex County College on the main commercial drag of Downtown Newark.
Here's what one sees on entering.
The woman at the front desk this time is Emma. At other times, the other owner, Evonne Davis, might be sitting up front. The present exhibition occupies only the first floor, tho other exhibitions have taken up more than one floor. Emma told me by email:
We have the whole building. We are not new to Newark. In 2003 myself and 2 friends got a 5 year lease on a 10,000 sq ft warehouse floor in the Ironbound. After a 1 1/2 year renovation, which we did ourselves, we were eminent-domained by the NJSCC [New Jersey Schools Construction Corporation] and lost everything but the name. (The NJSCC has since admitted it has no more money to build the school it promised the community on the seized site, the building has been re-rented with our massive improvements intact) So after some time, the two remaining partners, myself and Evonne, were able to secure a donated building for one year free of charge for arts in Newark and reopen, still as Aferro.
The owners of the gallery say "Aferro" is an idiomatic Portuguese expression that means "Bound or chained to an insane idea, or an idea that is difficult to achieve." Perhaps the "bound" part is an oblique reference (perhaps unconscious) to the former site of the gallery, the Ironbound. Wanting to create a gallery in Newark, however, is surely not an insane idea, tho it might have been difficult to achieve. What worth doing is ever easy?
The gallery's website, www.aferro.org
, has some problems that need fixing, and you might have to hit the Refresh button to have anything appear after an initial screen (which explains the origin of the name) pops up and vanishes. Then you can get to the heart of the site, where the gallery's mission is stated:
A very important part of our mandate at Gallery Aferro is annihilating borders. We bring together local, national, and international artists in every exhibition. We welcome everyone in the city to visit the gallery no matter what their prior relationship if any to art is. We are here to exchange ideas, ask or answer questions and share resources.
They are also there to sell at least some of the art displayed. I saw no prices immediately alongside artworks, but the detailed list of works they gave me (so I could get the names of the pieces and artists correct) does include prices.
Some of these works would be hard to display in a home, but a museum, college, office building lobby, or other institutional setting would have space enuf.
"Glossalalia" is a multimedia show, with 2-dimensional, 3-dimensional, and video works. I did not have time enuf on my first visit to immerse myself in the show but might go back before it closes October 1st.
There are three slender metal sculptures (by John Landino, titled Pluto
, and I Have a Dream
) toward the mid-portion of the floor. I seem to have taken pictures of only two of them. This first (Pluto
)stands toward the left. A moving display, Entropia
, by Christian Marc Schmidt, appears projected onto the wall beyond.
This third, I Have a Dream
, stands toward the right, with the same projection piece beyond. Did I really miss the second freestanding sculpture, in the middle?
As regards the overall theme of the exhibition, I'm not one of those people who is fascinated by language as a thing in itself. I don't dally with crossword puzzles nor those hidden-word displays of letters in which you circle words going up, down, sideways, forwards, backwards, diagonally, what-have-you. (And I am certainly not a fan of the new import from Japan, the bizarre number game Sudoku!)
I read four languages (English and three Romance languages, Spanish, French, and Portuguese), for information, and to communicate with people. I am so disgusted by the interference with easy communication that the world's multiplicity of languages causes that I advocate that everyone on Earth have available in school two languages, their own and English, so that with only two languages
they can speak to every other educated person on Earth.
Does any other species have the kind of communication fragmentation that we have? Is a thrush or parrot, or monkey or chimp from one country incapable of understanding the calls of its peer from another country?
Alas, the spelling of English is so insane that in itself it constitutes a barrier we must also tear down. I developed, around 1970, one of the most highly regarded spelling reforms on the Internet
, to do just that.
"Glossalalia" contains works by artists from different places and different language communities, but because their expression is not linguistic but visual, you don't have to know their language to get some feeling from their artistry.
The very first work you come to is this cloud of cut-out letters hanging from the ceiling, which the Gallery describes thus:
The Gallery's front window has been filled with 4,000 hand-cut vellum letters: the entire text of Gallery Aferro's call for submissions, and the artist's response to the call.
I asked if the letters were randomly distributed, and Emma said no, they are in the order of the actual document, such that, if you were at the right level and patient enuf to attempt to decipher them, you could actually read the words. So, R u ready for some unusual art?
I wanted to show what that work, Call and Response
by Kellee Hughes, looks like from just outside the Gallery, and found, but only when I looked at the picture afterward, that by serendipity the interior merges visually with a reflection of the exterior, such that the letters appear as fruit hanging from a tree.
Well, one does sometimes refer to works of literature appearing in "folios", and "folio" comes from the Latin for "leaf" (compare "foliage"), so that is fitting.
The big R, by the way, is Zipper Factor "R" Sculpture Shelf
, by Anker West. I have no idea what kind of name "Anker" is, nor where s/he is from.
Perhaps the most prominent work in the exhibit contains an array of books cast off by the Jersey City Public Library that were then rescued and sanded to purpose by Sebastian Patane Masuelli, an Argentinian, to form the work The Mistake I make is to Try and Think: Horror Vacui (House of Representatives)
. When I first looked at this and took the picture, the backdrop looked like plain black. Only on looking at it in my graphics program did I see that it comprised different panels of different coloration. That's the way art is. You initially see one thing, and only later see others.
Art often means only what you bring to it. This display of eight panels with sparse notations about Egypt Dahlia Elsayed's Cairo Landscapes (8)
reminded me of my one trip to Cairo, in 1984, in its terse phrase "THE AIRPORT ROAD".
I arrived, from Moscow, at Cairo's airport at nite, and the driver of the taxi that took me into the city kept turning his headlites off for brief periods, to save the battery! (Something odd about alternators in the Third World? I saw oncoming drivers doing the same thing! Disconcerting.)
Another panel, oddly, reminded me of an automobile I saw under a great spreading tree, protected within the first car-cover I had ever seen, perhaps to guard against falling fruit, perhaps to guard against sand driven by sandstorms. I say "oddly" because there was no explicit reference to any of those things in the panel itself. Nonetheless, this display of word-images of Egypt somehow brought that image, which I hadn't thought of in many years, to my mind.
In similar fashion, this portion of Carlton River Variations
, by one of the gallery's owners, Emma Wilcox, made me think of an anagram of my own name.
You might think from the reference to an anagram of the word "anagram" itself that the paired phrases pointed to below are also anagrams, but they're not. The top line is 11 letters long; the bottom, 12. There's an extra E and H in the phrase below, but no P! Besides, no anagram should incorporate the same central sequence of letters, as this visual does.
Still, the reference to anagram made me think of what I discovered when I ran "Craig", thru the anagram feature of my electronic dictionaries. They came up with "cigar", whereupon I revised the old expression, "Close, but no cigar" to "Close, but no Craig". Very 'inside' joke that I have now let you in on.
The last foto I will show from this, um, show is of a work by two Canadian grad students who do not conceive of themselves as artists but did this piece as part of a class project: Ribbon and Weave
, by Jason Wallin and Alexandra Fidyk.
The lines in the graphic image were at one time lines of text, but even in the original that resides (for the moment) in Gallery Aferro, the letters are blurred. So don't try to read anything. The text has turned to meaningless lines, which all text in a language one doesn't understand turns out to be. Perhaps this is a Canadian comment on the futility of bilingualism (by far most Canadians are unilingual in either English or French, despite decades of attempts by the national government to get everyone to speak both national languages). That may only be something I personally bring to the viewing of this work.
You may have very different reactions to the art on view at Gallery Aferro in the exhibition "Glossalalia". Gallery hours are 11am-4pm Wednesday-Friday, and 12 noon-6pm on Saturday. Be there or be square. (Rectangular? Trapezoidal? Rhomboid?)