Thoughts on Thoughts Made Visceral
“We can never be truly free of words, can we?” reads one of the works on paper in the upstairs gallery of the Weston Art Gallery’s current show, Thoughts Made Visceral, an exhibition organized by the Weston’s Gallery Assistant and independent curator, C. Miles Turner that uses words, (both text-based and spoken,) to force the viewer to take a harder look at what it means to be in the margins—both literally and metaphorically. The works of the four artists included in the show call the viewer to reflect upon people and experiences on the peripheries of life through both physical and metaphorical means.
The most obvious works are that of Vittoria Daiello’s, which deal quite literally with the idea of the margin. A professor at the University of Cincinnati, Daiello scribbles notes in the margins of student work and writing. Additionally, she produces works on paper in response to what students turn in to her. Her notations often reveal the unseen, or marginalized, work arts educators do in molding their students and their consequential idea-making. The papers rest in a case along the stairwell, forcing the viewer to look down and divert their attention so the papers don’t have to compete with the adjacent traffic for nearby businesses just outside of the Weston’s upstairs gallery space.
Artist Britni Bicknaver’s sound piece installation, Corners, fills the gallery space with strange noises, radiating from speakers in the corners of the room. The sounds change from the expected, such as street noises, to the abnormal, such as thunder, throwing off gallery guests at a moments notice. The exhibition guide says Corners is meant to “interact with the margins of consciousness.” Though it feels like a bit of a stretch in comparison to the rest of the works in the show, as it’s the only piece not explicitly dealing with words and thus has the potential to confuse the audience rather than force contemplation. The piece is meant to arouse the audience’s subconscious, but for me, the moment of change in sound was more “oh” than “hm.” A second work by Bicknaver, Universe, a personal favorite, includes the artist contemplating an audio version of Stephen Hawking’s book The Universe in a Nutshell (2001) accompanied by a photo of eaten food and an iPhone with the recording of Hawking’s book on the screen. Bicknaver responds to the reading with questions such as “does that mean things that are far away from us are moving faster?” and interjects occasionally with “ohh yeahh” and sounds of moving around an apartment. Bicknaver’s Universe, effectively deals with an experience on the outskirts of what is seen or observed in common, everyday life—revealing the more intimate side of living when one is in the company of oneself.
Much like Corners, the poem incantations for her by Elese Daniel is physically placed in many cases on the literal margins of the gallery. The vinyl text of the poem is broken up and scattered around the gallery space, forcing the viewer to read from the upper portions of the wall and on the floor. The poem deals with friendship, observing a nameless “her” and her experiences. The placement of the text was a smart move by the curator, Turner, whose exhibition statement reads, “marginalia not only constitutes a reflexive process of identity construction through self- acknowledgment, but also establishes the Self in proxy and relation to the Other, allowing meaning and significance to arise through difference.” incantations for her does just this, examining the scattered existence of the “her” whom Daniel addresses. The poem does not espouse love, so much as adoration and sorrow.
Shimmery Mylar, text-based artworks made of the same materials as emergency blankets also read as poems by Alex McClay, and compliment the corporate-like space of the Weston’s upstairs gallery. The words are unreadable at first glance, demanding more from the viewer and asking us to squint at and circle around the pieces. One particular piece, What Does It Feel Like To Be reads “standing in place without being pushed down,” and Land Fall says “where you land between then fail in reality.” At least, that’s what they appear to read... but one can never be sure. Through the hidden meanings and hard-to-read text, McClay seems to be asking the audience to consider and ask questions about those left behind or unseen, otherwise known as in the margin.
An overall very successful show, Thoughts Made Visceral expands upon the meaning of “marginalia.” It asks guests to think deeper about life, people, and their experiences, and how each one of these things may be on the periphery of the perceptible world around us. Despite the majority of the works being text-based, the show doesn’t feel text saturated due to the wide range of topics and experiences covered. Each artist brings a refreshing view of what the idea of the margin can mean through their work.
Thoughts Made Visceral will be at the Weston Art Gallery in downtown Cincinnati through March 24, 2019.
written by Senja Toivonen