The name of Helen Hajnoczky's current project, Magyarazni, means ‘to explain,’ but translates literally to mean ‘make it Hungarian.’ Magyarazni is comprised of 44 visual poems based on Hungarian folk art, one for each letter of the Hungarian alphabet. Each visual poem is accompanied by a poem written in English, each titled with a Hungarian word beginning with the letter in the accompanying visual poem.
Helen spoke with me about Magyarazni.
GB: I’m intrigued by how this work engages with issues of art vs. decoration, artist vs. artisan, and handiwork vs. print.
HH: Though many people who create folk art are talented, skilled artists, folk art is at the same time something that lay people can confidently engage with and participate in. Some very charming folk art is not perfect, but contains irregularities that reveal the hand of the artist. This is certainly the case with my work. I am not skilled at drawing, but I don’t think that fact precludes me from making interesting folk art. One of the things I find appealing about making contemporary folk art is that you can draw from a broad set of existing designs to use in your own work. Making folk art does not demand that you be completely innovative.
Barney and Betty Rubble go to the Grand Canyon and send a postcard back to Fred and Wilma Flintstone. Fred and Wilma aren’t too impressed by the canyon but think the notion of a ‘postcard’ is a pretty neat idea. (I read this in a poem long ago. Unfortunately I can’t find the source. Send me a postcard if you know.)
Over the years, the typewriter has been important for visual poetry. For example, Dom Sylvester Houédard’s typestracts. Or Steve McCaffery’s monumental Carnival.
Stephen Nelson’s Dance of Past Lives is an array of alphabetic pas de deux. Duets de Y. The letter as body. As body text. An abstract dance, wise metaphorms meta(phor)morpho-singing into stars, trees, other symbols. Y is another. An A. A tittle or jot as ball, sun, rayless star. I-less is another.
Antibodies are y-shaped. Texts are (wh)y-shaped. Y? Not because (Y)YOLO.
An array of past whys. Whysdom. What were our letters in a past life? How did we read?
The visual poems in Christian Bök’s series, Odalisques, fascinate me, both as texts in themselves and because these resting female bodies appear so different from the rest of his body of work.
These pieces, as representations of female nudes, are mimetic and seem to engage with notions of representation of gender (the female body and more specifically, the ‘male gaze’), both in visual art and in language. Is the body — specifically here, a woman’s body — concubined by language? Are women trapped in its semantic (sementic) harem (-scarum)? Trapped by a kind of economy, a commodifying calligraphy?
Or is it the other way around: language itself is the concubine that must give pleasure to its master, that must live in the seraglio of its grammatical sultan?
Erica Baum’s Study is a text rich with texture. With contexture. We read the tactility of the woven page, the richness of the colors and the striking design of the background. Its allusiveness: the allusion to a source text. Its elusiveness: the oblique referentiality and poetry of the words.
Coming to the work without any paratextual context or explanation, a reader might first be aware of the ‘bookishness’ of the piece. To the conventions alluded to. These are ‘pages’ or, at least, parts of a book. Time for your close-up, book. There seem to be source texts that inform the work, even if it isn’t clear what the sources are. And these sources may be real or imaginary texts or contexts.
1. "All human cultures are creole," John M. Bennett writes. Our language and our world view are hybrid, influenced by and adapting influences from the global village and our post-global home. They are inevitably syncretic and creole.
Absolutely. But Bennett’s use of the term ‘creole’ brings to mind the other meaning of creole. Creole as in the ‘creolisation’ of languages. How the language of a colonizing or dominant culture devolves into a pidgin and then develops into a creole, a rich communication tool with its own grammar, form and traditions, though often with a vocabulary based on the dominant language. So: Haitian Creole and its relationship to French.
“Does [writing] need to be an act composed by a human entity?” a rawlings asks in her online multidisciplinary work, Gibber.
This naturally leads to questions about reading: What can we read? How can we read? She writes, that “Gibber hinges on exploring notions that humans read their environments and/or that humans are in conversation with landscapes and the inhabiting non-human species.”
derek beaulieu’s Prose of the Trans-Canada is an epic inscribed scroll, a graphemic saga as Odyssean and graphic a roadtrip as traveling the eponymous Trans-Canada highway. The 16” x 52” work is named after Blaise Cendrars’ monumental Prose of the Trans-Siberian (1913), a milestone in the history of artists books and visual poetry.
beaulieu writes that naming it after Cendrars' work, “places it within a continuity of engagements with the artist's book (as Cendrars' volume is considered an early progenitor of that form). Cendrars’ Prose of the Trans-Siberian was also a reply to the architecture of modernism: if 150 copies of Cendrars’ volume were placed end-to-end, the result would be the same length as the height of that symbol of Parisian Modernity, the Eiffel Tower.