In companion with the exhibition: Hand's Tide|
THE STRING FIGURE OF GLAUCUS BY THE SEA
by Jennifer Nelson
The string figurer is agile, not primarily muscular. Made of holes, the figure models its own
conceptual porosity. Watching the string figurer figure string is like gazing upon Glaucus’
winding and woven cloak:
And, ample as the largest winding-sheet,
A cloak of blue wrapp"d up his aged bones,
O"erwrought with symbols by the deepest groans
Of ambitious magic: every ocean-form
Was woven in with black distinctness; storm,
And calm, and whispering, and hideous roar
Were emblem"d in the woof; with every shape
That skims, or dives, or sleeps, "twixt cape and cape.
The gulphing whale was like a dot in the spell,
Yet look upon it, and "twould size and swell
To its huge self; and the minutest fish
Would pass the very hardest gazer"s wish,
And show his little eye"s anatomy.
(John Keats, Endymion, Book III)
Ask the curator to explain this show. She will begin performing string figures for you. The
shapes themselves will perform a cosmos so large a gulphing whale would be like a dot, and
at the same time suggest intricacies small as the parts of a fish eye. It will happen right in
front of you at that moment, but hypnotize you into your whole life everywhere. You will
understand. You have the very hardest gazer’s wish.
Some more specific analysis.(1) This show is not, like other recent displays, about
literal string. Embracing a lot of abstract and knowingly scientistic work, it strictly avoids
abstract and scientistic emphases. Even when these images translate data from scientific
media into visual patterns,(2) the show does not explore the generative power of inhuman
scale-bending techniques, like “fractals” and “algorithms.” These images emphasize rather
the intervening vision of an embodied person. For example, some of the work invokes,
among other things, the way the automatic memory that a hand acquires for its most familiar
motions may generate images.(3) Some of the work models the conceptual push and pull of
the local and the cosmic by working over the perceptual push and pull of three-dimensional
space and the two-dimensional page—without giving up possibilities of native symbolic
forms.(4) As you can imagine, this can get religious, or apparently religious, pretty fast. On
one wall, goddesses reappear in different incarnations of hand.(5) In a distortion of cultural
scale, someone (6) even appears to have faked an Eastern European child’s talisman in the
Western form of a painted canvas on a wall.
I do not know what to tell you about the book cloth on the floor.(7) The string figurer
has a mysterious power that is agile, the power of virtuosic performance. It’s already pretty
terrifying to see a symbolic configuration adroitly open up to meaning of the potentially
universal kind. When the figure actually gets muscular and extends into a room, it literalizes
performance as experience. At this point, writers are often better off going mute.(8)
1 This text is not a review. Some pieces are bound to fall through the holes, etc.
2 —as in the case of the work of John O’Connor and Carrie Gundersdorff.
3 See, for example, Jacob Rhoads’ work.
4 Sue Havens, big-time, and Steven Sorman, too.
5 Rachel Budde.
6 Yevgeniya Baras.
7 Placed there by Elizabeth Ferry.
8 Like a sponge, or perhaps book cloth. Squeeze later, directedly.
Jennifer Nelson is writing her PhD dissertation in the History of Art at Yale University and is an MFA candidate at NYU.
She is a poetry editor at Washington Square Review and co-curates the Cornelia Street Reading Series.
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