Record Hounding

Expanded Pecha Kucha from January 8 

Images here

My break was filled with driving and hospital trips, but also music, books, and family. I am now cast free, and actually able to type, and get back to making like normal. Though  during the break there wasn’t much time for visiting galleries, due to poor hours around here and snowstorms that made driving too unsafe, I was able to consume a lot of art through music, zines, books and the internet.

forjane square with text
enemy for Jane, by me

I took a bit of a break from making, but did work on this album cover for Jane Blanchard’s new EP. The image is of Patti Smith, which sparked my interested in how when we look at some words we have an auditory response and how the worlds of visual art and music are intrinsically connected.

In Smith’s work, I find there is little need to differentiate between lyrics, poetry and drawings. They all exist at the same time in their unique mediums. The intensity of her lyrics come through the drawings as much as when they are performed. Both document time in some way, on paper or in the history of music. As someone who originally started out to be an artist, but ended up most well known as a musician, her definitions became loose, and the two words work to feed her end goal of sharing her poetry with an audience.

That same sense of passion in words also comes through in the Fiver album, Audible Songs from Rockwood, which listens as 11 fictional field recordings. These folk songs were developed by Simone Schmidt through research of public archives about the Rockwood Asylum for the Criminally Insane in Kingston, Ontario. Through patient files, superintendent diaries and architectural diagrams she pieced together the lives of the women who were institutionalized under deplorable living conditions. This record is accompanied by a book, with artwork by many different artists and the lyrics and research notes about the inmates by a fictional ethnomusicologist; Simone Carver, performing under this alter ego. Through these songs Fiver brings the women’s reality to life, in a haunting way, but also raises questions about the patriarchal systems which lead to these women’s mistreatment and archives as an apparatus for colonial power.

In a parcel I received from Laura Watson of Georgetown Ontario as a part of her Mail Exchange project, was a zine and print about the folk ballad ‘Two/Twa Sisters’. The lyrics rest between a poem and a song, describing the story of a young girl murdered by her older sister. This ballad has been reinterpreted over 500 times, dating back to 1806, but also continues to be retold by contemporary artists like Bob Dylan, the Kinks, and Tom Petty. This parcel included a link to a playlist of songs about the two sisters. The story of incomprehensible dark human behavior has also been told through painting and like will be told in whatever new media are developed in the future, but the text of the story is inseparable from the imagery.

Another book I received over the break was Take my Breath Away, a collection of watercolour drawings by Sackville, NB artist Jon Claytor. I was really struck by these drawings, because many of them were recognizable faces and friends. These images, accompanied by the text of pop song gave me such an intense emotional response. Some words hearken such immediate audible responses, that it is hard for me to read “I want to dance with somebody” without hearing Whitney Houston belt that verse out in my head. So the text has a real effect on how I feel when looking at the images.

I get a similar emotional response when I re-read the graphic novel Record Hunting, by Patrick Allaby over the break. This story focuses on the relationship between a father and son bonding over looking for and collecting records in New Brunswick, until their relationship eventually becomes more strained. The novel features many hand drawn record covers, some obscure and some more iconic. The ones I recognize and have heard before, immediately start to play in my head. For many record hunters, a reason to collect an out of date technology is the album art. With such a large surface area to consider, the art work is such an important part of the record as a whole, and the liner notes or inside leaflets contain images, notes and information that is so important to the music. Something that you cannot get the same feelings from through digital downloads.

While I was thinking about all of these iterations of art and music, there was a large exhibition on at the Musee D’Art Contemporain in Montreal which pays homage to Leonard Cohen. This extensive exhibition included art by the late artist and works inspired by his legacy. Since I couldn’t make it to the physical exhibition I read The Book of Longing by Cohen. This was his first published book of poetry, which was released quite late in his life in 2008. The poetry is standard Cohen, with rich imagery of being n love, but I was curious about how the illustrations were used throughout the book. They used some cheesy computer programs to add artificial shading to his ink drawings of women, self-portraits, guitars and iconic hummingbird. The more compelling images were those that included language and shifted the mood of the drawings. In this case he language seems inseparable from the images.

Of the same era as Cohen, Joni Mitchell has always affirmed herself as an artist first, and a musician by happenstance, and has painted all through her life. I have always loved her album covers and self-portraits for their folk art influence, and likely because I love the music as well. I was curious what work she continued to do later in her life. Before her stoke last summer, she painted every day.  I discovered these Green Flag Song works, from 2006, which I was surprised to see as they are so drastically different than her more illustrative work. These mixed media works are a part of a series of 60 triptychs, which present worried visions of war, revolution and torture. The distortion makes then ghostly and mysterious, and clearly reference video in someway, suggesting that sound is related even without it explicitly being present.

Through all of these works the text is inseparable from the overall image. The presence of sound or music is implied through content or association, making for a more rich reading of the work, or a more intense emotional connection.

 

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