March 30, 2011 - Cheryl Penn and I are working on another mail-art book project involving verbs. Her "Attack" chapter explores areas I do not often see in Cheryl's work. "Attack" is in no way subtle. The color, torn paper, and minimal word use make powerful visual poetry. I have tried to capture that with the scan above, which shows particularly compelling pages from the chapter's interior. Here is the opening page:
Nice overlays and broken letters. "Attack" strikes me (no humor intended) as being very much in the spirit of work posted at the IUOMA last year that generated a great deal of discussion. I refer to work by Litsa Spathi (Netherlands, Greece) and her concept of Fluxus Poetry as well as David-Baptiste Chirot's "RubBeing's" (USA). Here are the next two pages of "Attack":
The key concept I am focusing on here is what I can best call a re-positioning of the field of "the work of art" and its relationship and integration with life and the artist's experience. I think Litsa Spathi's work provides a good comparison. Her visual poetry on the page and in videos done in collaboration with Ruud Janssen are readily accessible at the IUOMA and elsewhere. The Fluxus Heidelberg Center is the source for more information on Fluxus Poetry, which broadens the traditional idea of a poem appearing on the page or being read before an audience to a unique performance by the artist:
To fully appreciate Spathi's work, I think you must be aware that it is the result of performances by Spathi. The creation of the poetry is derived from physical movement and the direct involvement of the artist with the material of language. Text and videos can then be viewed as documentation and part of a larger process. The strict boundaries between art and life are made less distinct. More involvement by the audience is also necessary in this continuum.
Cheryl Penn's "Attack" seems to me illuminated by this concept. The chapter is not so much an enclosed work of art but the record of emotions and physical activity that speak to us a humans. "Attack" urges the receiver not so much to passively receive images but to react, even to the point of physical experience:
When I received "Attack," my personal response - almost as strong as looking at it - was to TOUCH it. The slashes (slashpo?), rips, the power of the verbs, the insistence of the phrasing are a vivid chronicle of activity and raw emotions. Intellectualizing is bypassed. These pages are DISTRESSED. They have been brutalized; yet they do not suggest to me any kind of larger metaphors. This is simply basic, raw human expression. In an earlier discussion, I believe it was Erni Baer (Germany) who suggested that holes and slashes in pages like this can be read as a signification of breaking down the barrier between art and life (Erni used Burroughs' shotgun paintings as an example). Others have noted that with pages having broken surfaces and perforations, there is a natural compulsion to feel the surfaces, put fingers through holes, interact physically with the text, which we are taught is, both abstractly and materially, a single surface only to be violated by experts.
I very much feel the compulsion with "Attack." I can only report a kind of wonderment at the damage that has been inflicted on this paper. What brought the artist to this emotional state? What must it have been like to witness the creation of this work? And vitally important to anyone who encounters this work: Why was I chosen to receive this? Especially in mail-art, the recipient is likely to consider, what should my artist response be?
Even though her work has many avant garde elements, Cheryl Penn often employs fairly linear narrative to organize her work. Thus, at the end of "Attack" there is both a real and representational wound in the page, a gaping slash bound with stitches. This image can be found elsewhere in her work:
The wound can be viewed as either open (above) or closed (below). This provides a kind of closure or commentary on the raw emotional states documented earlier in the chapter. These experiences leave wounds, perhaps scars, that can manifest themselves in the mind, body, and spirit as well as upon the page. "Attack" also includes a redemptive element: the process of healing that can be achieved through both life and art.
Many thanks, Cheryl, for sharing this unusual and provocative example of your mail-art!