RECEIVED: Cheryl Penn's Treatise from the School for Complex Aesthetics (Kwa Zulu Natal, South Africa)

Back and front covers of IUOMA member Cheryl Penn's book "A Case for Complex Aesthetics" (Kwa Zulu Natal, South Africa)

January 10, 2012 - South African painter, book artist, and visual poet Cheryl Penn sent me this absolutely stunning and fascinating book totaling 32 pages, certainly a major effort. The cover (above) is canvas painted with vibrant asemic writing and symbols.  

I call this book a treatise, rather than manifesto or narrative, because for me it is an exploration of how to both compose and read work that combines text and image. I am sure many examples already exist, but this seems to be a very unusual example of rhetoric being employed in visual poetry. Here is the title page:

While the work stands on its own, I think I can provide some context. Especially given the influences we encounter, many mail-artists experience a pull between applying aesthetics in their work and using representation or gravitating toward anti-art that relies often on found material and concerns itself with re-connecting life and art rather than maintaining traditional boundaries.

Discussions about these seeming polarities certainly took center stage in the Asemics 16 project that Cheryl and I both coordinated. Many IUOMA friends were involved in these discussions. I don't believe it was ever a matter of rancor (well, almost never). People were worked through the issues and made choices about where to take their own work. Cheryl's thesis here is that complex aesthetics are the foundation of simplicity. That is a classic, Penn-sian paradox. I'm not sure if I agree with her main argument completely, but I certainly do admire the work and find much that agrees with me along the way:

Even the writing on the text-based pages of the book is enhanced by applications of typography, overlays, and concrete poetry. In language that tends to the minimal side, Cheryl makes forays into her views about vision, concept, culture, and composition.

Because I am already so familiar with her work, I believe I immediately know her references and follow the deeper exploration and organization of ideas she makes in the book. On one level, this is a guide to how Cheryl Penn works; we seem to always want to know those things abut artists. Enlarging upon that, it is a guide to understanding visual poetry; and there simply aren't enough documents like this in relation to those who are interested. I immediately respond positively to the ideas on the pages above, yet I'm not sure how it necessarily connects to aesthetics. Rather, they speak to me about concept and structure. Here are two more pages:

An overall structure that holds the book together are cycles of simplicity building to complexity then diminishing. 

Back to Cheryl's School for Complex Aesthetics. Just yesterday, the term "surplus signification" was used in an IUOMA comment; that's from Foucault. I did once suggest to Cheryl that I thought she was too bent upon creating complicated structures of signs as an end in itself: a common criticism of postmodern work.

I said her work was informed by the Arthur Rimbaud Symbolist School of Subtle Aesthetic Obscurity, which, of course, doesn't exist but does describe a certain kind of art. Her School for Complex Aesthetics, I flatter myself to think, might be a response. If this is the case, then I have to admit I am a fan of her school. Here are some of my favorite sections of the book:

These are gorgeous, richly overlaid visuals. The text, driven by an off-beat incremental repetition, carries its message through the changing terrain.

Over the last 100 years, numerous avant garde movements - ranging from Da Da to Objectivism with much in between - have promised the end or eradication of metaphor and related figurative language that might fit the definition "surplus signification."  

Cheryl's work makes me ponder why that clause has so often been inserted in manifestos promising to set right artistic errors of the past. I'm all for setting right errors of the past. Yet given the nature of language and the language of images, is it really possible to eradicate metaphor? Would it solve anything in particular if we were able to? And might energies be better spent elsewhere?

As always, intriguing and fantastic work from Cheryl Penn. Many thanks!!!

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Comment by Linda French on March 26, 2015 at 7:18pm

haha! I think he's somewhere in-Seine.  : )     Linda

Comment by Linda French on March 26, 2015 at 4:53pm

Dean Marks, I found Cheryl Penn.   Linda

Comment by De Villo Sloan on January 12, 2012 at 6:04pm

"Just a bird in a gilded cage..."

Comment by cheryl penn on January 12, 2012 at 9:39am

Seeing as you gave me my first compliment of the day - I'll send you one :-) X

Comment by De Villo Sloan on January 12, 2012 at 9:33am

Cheryl, before this blog sinks into the landfill of oblivion, I wanted to tell you how much I liked your piece for Grigori's John Cage Show. I think he posted all of it. Very nice:

Comment by De Villo Sloan on January 11, 2012 at 4:49pm

That's Penn-sive.

Thanks for explaining the painting, Cheryl. I wondered why you selected the cover you did. You know, I think there were two ATCs in the envelope that had something to do with this. I was just so taken with the book...

Comment by cheryl penn on January 11, 2012 at 10:42am

O NO! This is ridiculous!!! 

Being complex IS burdensome and pensiveness prevails for sure :-) X

Comment by Marie Wintzer on January 11, 2012 at 10:26am

nope :-((

Complexity looks a little bit.... burdened and pensive...

Comment by Marie Wintzer on January 11, 2012 at 9:28am

Today is the day I will find it in my mailbox

Comment by cheryl penn on January 11, 2012 at 8:53am

This is the painting that was cut up for the book covers :-) - she is named Complexity - one of the Women Who Hold Up the World.



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