Joyce Hill At Canisius College

Peter A. and Mary Lou Vogt Gallery

By Jack Foran

Part of the impetus behind Joyce Hill’s mostly artist’s books exhibit at Canisius College is her sense that we don’t read as much as we used to and ought to.  Books, anyway.  “Computers, cell phones, and television are now where we go to see what is happening in our world,” she says in wall introductory copy.  “Books with paper pages are tossed aside in favor of these electronic devices,” she says.  And describes going into a used book store and finding the tossed-aside books “sitting lonely on the shelves, long forgotten.”  

She has purchased–no doubt cheap–some of these used and lonely volumes and repurposed them radically.  Even violently.  Tearing out all the pages, leaving just narrow strips of page remnants along the book spines.  Not enough of the pages–and beginnings of lines of text–to tell what these books were even about.  Some of the text–on some of the page remnants–is in English, and some is in Chinese, in ideograms.

Meanwhile, she uses the insides of the book covers–the boards–as her artist’s canvas.  Making drawings on them, or scribbles and doodles, or pasting collage items, cut-out text bits and pieces–word jumbles–and photos.  But little or nothing quite legible or comprehensible.  Even the photos are kind of washed-out looking.  One of the word jumbles reads something like “an artist, a Jew whose understanding social issues crucial to the attacker.”  Elsewhere, an indistinct photo of a young man–maybe late teens or early twenties–possibly slain or possibly sleeping.  And tiny outline drawing of a handgun.  And three small-caliber brass bullet casings (the only three-dimensional collage items).  Elsewhere, parts of a word that must be “Remember.”  

So violence is a topic, and maybe war and conflict in general.  Maybe also the holocaust.  But all just vaguely.  Maybe also social justice.  There’s a depiction of an apparently homeless old man sitting on a bench–with what are no doubt all his possessions in a kind of shopping cart in front of him–drinking coffee out of a Styrofoam cup.  Another of two old guys talking.  Another of a girl lost in texting.

In addition to the artist’s books are two framed paintings/collages in much the same style and manner.  

The artist goes on to say in her explanatory copy, “this installation gives new life to the forgotten books.  I have reused art books as a canvas for communicating new ideas and thoughts about how people interact.  The installation explores verbal conversations.  Papers, paint, and collaged images occupy one side of my ripped books, while figures on the other page seem trapped or alienated…”  

Some rather large claims.  The new thoughts and ideas about how people interact are hard to see.  Likewise the exploring verbal conversations.  The two old guys seem to be conversing, but we don’t know anything more about the matter.  It’s not even clear that the two sides of the books–facing front and back boards of each volume–reflect the assertion as to what’s going on on the one side versus the other.  And as for trapped and alienated, the homeless old guy seems trapped enough in whatever social system he’s involved in, and likely alienated as well.  But the girl texting doesn’t seem trapped particularly.  And maybe more just preoccupied than alienated.  The dead guy–if that’s the case–if he’s dead–that would be alienated.

The exhibit continues through April 22.