RECEIVED: More Monkey Business (ATC) from Cheryl Penn (Kwa Zulu-Natal, South Africa)

Mail-art by IUOMA member Cheryl Penn (Kwa Zulu-Natal, South Africa)


June 16, 2011 - Cheryl Penn sent a wonderfully ornate ATC (Artist Trading Card) enclosed in the envelope above and bearing the symbol of the red monkey.


Her work explores and extends the ATC form remarkably. Cheryl has a penchant for weaving narratives combining text and image. "When Madeleine recounts the details of a bad dream" combined with the cryptic primate symbol and "TWELVE" begins the process of moving us into a multi-faceted story. In this blog, I want to explore how the process of composition builds meaning in her work, sort of a guide to use when you delve into art you receive from Cheryl.


First, here is the other side of the envelope:


I think the red monkeys are outstanding in this piece. From previous discussions, it has been well established that a sub-text or reference to another work - I'll call it a shadow text - is usually present in Cheryl's work. The reference provides a valuable key to making meaning. I think it is also a way she connects her work to a broader cultural context and sensibility.


One striking example is the reference to H. G. Wells' "The Island of Dr. Moreau" in her "wounds" pieces. Once you make the connection, the possibilities multiply. You do not have to find the reference to understand and appreciate Cheryl's work, but locating them opens the field considerably.


In the case of this red monkey ATC, it's fairly easy (but I checked anyway) to see the 1995 film "12 Monkeys" serves as Cheryl's shadow text. I think it's a good film and might be worth refreshing your memory if you haven't seen it recently:


Here is one side of the ATC itself:



At first I thought this was a cut-up poem, but it came more into focus. This is a somewhat disjunctive description of "Twelve Monkeys" that focuses on the particular aspect of "false memories." Further references are mapped out. "Twelve Monkeys" is derived from an earlier short French film (1962) and critics have also noted its references to Alfred Hitchcock's classic "Vertigo" (1958) - thus VERTIGO stamped on the card.


Both "Twelve Monkeys" and "Vertigo" are considered psychological films: They explore subjective states and delve into the psycho-analytic, including pathologies. Delving into the minds of characters and representing the objective and subjective has always presented a particular challenge to filmmakers. It is also an area to which Cheryl Penn returns frequently. You need only look at the vacillation between abstraction and more conventional representation in her work to see it's a primary interest; one that is not resolved. 


Here's the other side of the ATC. A powerful image:


My reaction is that this is a play on hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil; the presenting image of the monkey is indeed a thread holding this together.


All I have managed to do in this lengthy blog is disassemble Cheryl's ATC, locate components, and identity some references. Having spent some time over the previous months analyzing her work, it seems to me this is a good approach to take. After all this shredding and deconstructing, the task - the most important task - is to find a meaning that suits you and that is true to the intent of the artist. I am certain it is there and well-worth the exploration.


As ever, thanks for another great piece, Cheryl! To see more work by Cheryl Penn and mail-art she has received please visit:

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Comment by Marie Wintzer on June 17, 2011 at 2:44pm

I think she left us alone with the red monkeys :-(( Groot, come back!!

Comment by De Villo Sloan on June 17, 2011 at 2:41pm
I'm hoping Groot Suster will eventually arrive and answer our questions. Yes, when you get to "I can't hear you" it turns very serious.
Comment by Marie Wintzer on June 17, 2011 at 2:29pm
Came back to see the No Hear piece. The forehead is bleeding, it looks like it took a bullet? The face is so pale and dark at the same time. Really dark this one...
Comment by De Villo Sloan on June 17, 2011 at 1:37pm
Exactly Marie, Cheryl puts an incredible amount into each piece. I wanted to try to explain HOW to approach her pieces a little better. The next step - the "I can't hear you" and "false memories" - I think she's making some fantastic commentaries here, but will leave that part to others.
Comment by Marie Wintzer on June 17, 2011 at 1:29pm
A fantastic read DVS, thank you! Cheryl will be chuffed... I believe there is all of what you said in those tiny little ATCs. Red monkey!! That had to happen sooner or later! Looove the "can't hear y-o-u. How she can put so much into every single piece is mind blowing.



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