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Text transformed at UB's Center for the Arts

The Pipe: recent Czech concrete poetry groNk series 6, numbers 6 & 7, edited by Jiri Valoch with bp Nichol.
Untitled silkscreen by Enzo Minerelli (2000).

Language to Cover a Wall

In November, Artspace Buffalo held a month-long series of events celebrating the spoken word called Just Words. It opened on First Friday, starring the narrative-intensive music and poetry ensemble BloodThirsty Vegans. Over the next four weeks, poetry and prose readings were held in spacious, white-walled galleries, as were writing and poetry workshops, impromptu public interactives and theatrical soliloquys, as well as wall art using words as graphic subject matter.

Then, towards the end of the event, as one runner receiving the baton from another, Language to Cover a Wall opened at University at Buffalo Center for the Arts.

In Thomas Pynchon’s novel, V, he uses the phrase “word salad” to describe a passage of both coherent and incoherent speech vented by an ex-Israeli army machine-gunner now a scullery hand-scouring gunboats in a Norfork shorefront greasy spoon, shouting “yibble yibble yibble, die Saracen pigs!” as he shoots the high-pressure spray nozzle at the pots and pans.

Language to Cover a Wall is more like a word banquet; moving from table to table to wall to pedestal, a visitor can certainly find in this smorgasbord plenty of words to sink the teeth into. I strolled the gallery musing over a quote that often described the collection of collage and mixed media with scrapes of narrative making up the banner exhibition: Sir Thomas Moore’s observation, “I trust I make myself obscure.” Many of the works presented however are clever integrations of words as graphic design, elegantly fused or juxtaposed texturally with layers of image in poetic contexts. There are heroic exercises in typography, semiotics, architectonics, and semantics, framing ways to communicate ideas outside the typical graphic page layout and conventional syntax. These minute variations on the theme—which might be called “taking a word for a walk”—are multivarious in intent and effect, as poets, writers, and artists have historically sought to broaden the spectrum of visual popular media to include text from comic strips, advertising copy, and geometricized lexical interpretations incorporating handwritten words in political broadsides.

What the curators call “border blur,” “a deliberate and concerted attempt to erode the barrier between genres and disciplines,” stays at the margins of fine art and the edges of coherence in an adventurous search for new context. Regardless whether poetry remains in language, where and how a letter is fixed, either aesthetically altered in some way, or conventionally situated in a word on a page, it is the sense of meaning transmitted to the reader/viewer that distinguishes the paper from the pulp bringing the art to a sum greater than its parts; whether petroglyphic or, separated by centuries, sprayed on a skateboard.

Language to Cover a Wall continues through February 18.

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