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Exploring the Thisness of That

Exploring the Thisness of That

On February 6 the artists and writers invited to participate in Show Tell/Tell Show, a half-day event co-sponsored by RISD’s Academic Commons Program and the Writing Center, expanded on the notion of ekphrasis (from the Greek prefix ek, meaning “out of” and phrasis, meaning “speech” or “expression”). Rather than limiting the discussion to literature inspired by art and art inspired by literature, Literary Arts + Studies lecturer Sam Leader organized the event to focus on connections between various forms of visual arts, writing and music. In their attempt to clarify how artists bring out the “thisness of a that, or the thatness of a this” – as Leader said in quoting the late literary theorist Kenneth Burke – panelists also shed light on their own work and its relationship to the viewer.

Novelist and art critic Domenick Ammirati read from a novel in progress that references Giorgio Morandi, a painter whose work is known for its “objectness.” The perception of Morandi’s work by the protagonist in the novel (also an art critic) seems to have nothing to do with the paintings themselves and everything to do with his own frame of mind. The focus is on the frame and its effect on what is being observed.

Framing also plays a key role in the work of Painting Critic Patricia Treib, who says her paintings attempt to “loosen the viewer’s layer of habitual knowledge” – to create in the viewer’s eye a new reality that simultaneously presents multiple moments in time. Paintings like Armless Sleeve focus on the negative spaces in between objects, overturning the hierarchy of figure and ground.

In further exploring the idea of framing, Assistant Professor of Sculpture Taylor Baldwin 05 SC showed photographs of his individual sculptures but explained that it’s the constellation of objects at any exhibition (along with the printed materials, the setup of the room, everything presented on site) that conveys his intended vision. It’s “an immaterial notion that can’t otherwise be embodied or perceived.”

The entire panel – which also included artist Jonathan Ehrenberg and writers Erica Ehrenberg, Literary Arts + Studies Professor Mairéad Byrne and Sara Majka – was invited to hear readings by students in Leader’s Wintersession course Ekphrasis and Its Reverse: Writing from Art, Art from Writing and to view their work at RISD’s Benson Hall Gallery. As Treib noted, the exhibition provided viewers the opportunity to “meet the artists halfway and allow the art to mingle with their own consciousness and become something new.”

Simone Solondz