The More Than Human World
Frank and Louisa Carter at work in the Centennial Valley
We stopped in this month at the far "north" of Utah, a wilderness outpost in southern Montana where the University of Utah runs their Environmental Humanities Education Center. Located in the middle of the remote Centennial Valley, the center provides opportunities for students and artists of a variety of genres to explore their interests nestled in a unique setting. Moose cavorting in the willows, scores of trumpeter swans skiffing along the lakes, and miles of pines and aspens provide a contemplative setting for writing, painting and more. This year's season of visitors was capped off by the Centennial Valley Arts Celebration, and while we were there we stopped in with Frank and Louisa Carter, this year's Artists in Residence. The young couple are both at the University of Utah pursuing graduate degrees and were able to spend three months tucked away in a log cabin to work on their projects, all the while interacting with visitors to the center. In this interview, the pair discusses their individual projects, what the residency has meant for their work and sense of community, and what it feels like to write books and songs surrounded by aspen meadows.
Exhibition Review: Salt Lake City
Labyrinths of Meaning
Michael Hall at Phillips Gallery
Labyrinths of intersecting lines, weaving through each other and breaking apart, accented by amorphous forms meandering through a canvas that seems weighted to the point of breaking. These are the works of Michael Hall now up at Phillips Gallery. These webs of linear intricacy are extraordinary large canvases with a poppish quality, reminiscent of Basquiat, but more focused. Visually, they are nothing short of fascinating, with their density of line and the wealth of “surprises” found in their linear fabric. As visually appealing as these mappings are, to see them only as intricate and pleasurable surfaces is to rob them of the philosophical essence at their core.
As he outlines in the exhibition’s artist statement, Hall describes his art-making process as a struggle between, “the urge to name things, the drive to know, to be objective” and the artist’s own subjective influence on that very process. “That mass [the canvas] consists of new information that is being provided and also transformed, something that is always taking place. I realized that all of this information was being interpreted and defined by my personal history, my subjectivity, which consists of gathering information,” Hall says.
Hall has a very clear understanding of the process that is occurring when “that mass” is in the process of fruition. He states, “I take a point in time. I am existing; thinking, feeling, sensing. At that point I am confronted by a stimulus and as I receive it two things happen instantly. I define or name that stimulus using the person that I am and the stimulus and reaction are added to my person redefining it. So my person makes contact with an object, reveals itself by naming the object and is altered by its inclusion, consistently moving on. It all becomes many lines.”
In essence, Hall’s process is a perpetual cycle that propels the artist to connect and define and to forever be redefined. This artistic process, this mapping of Hall’s subjectivity, is also a fundamental process that informs the totality of the work… and existence itself. The canvas can be seen as an act of doing, then as a creation in the making to ultimately be governed by an inescapable subjectivity.
Hall’s work is but a literal manifestation of what we all experience everyday, every moment in time. Hall’s work, when fully penetrated, might register to some as frightening; forever lost in the labyrinth of this feedback loop the subject can feel helpless, unable to find a place. But Hall’s work is ultimately positivist, as it highlight’s the individual’s role, however uncertain its location may be.
Hall’s work, after all, is not the representation of a prison, of a fixed situation. Rather, it describes the trajectory of the individual in a complicated, revolving door world. “At the point when the image is conceived,” he says, “it is also being left behind, an ingredient of the present but instantly obsolete in its completeness.” This is why he calls his works “static illustrations.” The works themselves, however, are anything but static. They burst with liveliness and vitality, filled with a sense of engrossing energy.
Just as most will not see Hall’s work as static, most will not find life static. We tend to give our lives that quality of a “static illustration” when we look back and encapsulate experience in a story, something that explains how we got from point A in our lives to point B. That path, however, is more like Hall’s works, complicated, with challenges unyielding, full of change, variety, growth, but also the pure joy of living. From the appearance of Hall’s canvases, surely his has been and will continue to be a life brimming with a complexity of interests, ineluctable motivation and rich livelihood.
Culture Conversations: Literature
The Utah Word
The 2011 Utah Book Awards
In 1999 the Salt Lake City Public Library decided to honor the achievements of Utah writers by recognizing outstanding literature with a Utah theme or setting. The Utah Book Award was born. Thirteen years later, the Utah Center for the Book, which now hosts the awards, has expanded their categories to include fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and literature for children and young adults. The selection process has also expanded to include works by a Utah author and/or a Utah theme or setting. The winners are announced every year in October as part of the Utah Humanities Council's statewide Book Festival. We'll know later this week who the winners are, but in the meantime, we've been reviewing the finalists in the three adult categories.
In a state where the land is so dominant and varied, setting is important: we see it as much in our literary arts as our visual. Maximilian Werner's Crooked Creek, which was first reviewed in these pages over a year ago, is intimately tied to the local land and the people who made it their own. It
is a place where, as Geoff Wichert writes, "there are no mere birds; instead, there are Red-wing Blackbirds and Western Tanagers, which appear in season along with pomace flies and hound’s tongue." While Werner's novel is fictional, his story is based on true accounts and "by combining the evocative power of often archaic speech with the specificity of scientific prose, Maximilian Werner makes this brief account of three generations of Utah immigrants compelling for those of us who still dwell, inescapably, in the world they set in motion" (see the full review here).
Utah's landscape is the bedrock for the nonfiction categories as well, with two finalists exploring the same area, though in different ways. Their works might be considered cousins. Thomas J. Harvey's look at the southeast of the state, Rainbow Bridge to Monument Valley, "draws attention to how important Utah was to the formation of the mythical West of 20th-century American culture and of the Western book and movie — the dominant genre of much of the century," writes Ann Poore. (read the review here)
Harvey's book crosses paths, at Rainbow Bridge and other locales, with Don D. Fowler's The Glen Canyon Country. Fowler was a young archaeology student in the 1950s when he was sent to the Glen Canyon to document archaeological sites that would be buried under water after the creation of the Glen Canyon Dam. His book is a scholarly history of the two-hundred year process of "discovery" of the area by Europeans. As Shawn Rossiter writes, Fowler's "writing is clear and well-paced, and the scope of the history is both broad and well-detailed." (read the review here).
Rounding out the nonfiction titles is William M. Adler's biography of Joe Hill, a songwriter for the Wobblie movement in the early part of the 20th-century. When Joe Hill was executed in Utah for the murder of a local grocer and his son, he became a martyr for the worker's movement, an inspiration for future songwriters like Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, and a stain on the good name of Utah. The only evidence against Hill was that he had received a gunshot wound that same night, but when he refused to defend himself or give an alibi -- the burden of proof being on the prosecution -- he sealed his fate. Adler provides new research that shows how Hill was shot and why he wouldn't testify (it's a love story), and points to the probable murderer. In 2012 the worker's movement isn't anything like it was in Hill's day, but Hill remains an enduring figure of our national folklore and Adler's The Man Who Never Died has garnered considerable attention in the national press (read a review from the New York Times here, and one from the Washington Times here).
Not all of this year's finalists are tied to the beehive state by theme or setting, however. The stories from In This Light, Melanie Rae Thon's collection that brings together work from over two decades, take place in Montana mostly, with brief excursions to the American South and Europe. As Geoff Wichert writes, in Thon's stories of "Indians, commercial travelers, alcohol and drug abusers, sexual predators, thieves, drivers, doctors and nurses, hitchhikers, mothers, fathers, children becoming adults, corpses . . . events are compressed until lives of quiet desperation become full of drama, danger, loss" (read the review here).
The Glass Harmonica, a novel by historian and music aficionado Dorothee Kocks, goes even further afield, beginning in rural Corsica before traveling to the post-revolutionary United States via Napoleonic France. It is the story of two lovers, one a poor but talented musician who becomes a sensation on the glass harmonica, an instrument invented by Benjamin Franklin that was once the rage of both Europe and America, the other a young American who, turning from his Puritan upbringing, becomes an itinerant seller of clandestine erotica (look for our review in the October 5th Daily Bytes).
The finalists in poetry all come out of the University of Utah's English department, which may make for awkward encounters after the winner is announced. Veteran poet Jacqueline Osherow's newest collection is a mixture of conventional forms and free form poetry that explore "varied narrative moods, which flow from depressed to contemplative to gently whimsical." Ultimately, Esther Allen writes, they are poems that "feel their way through disaster, trying to find direction within tragedy." (read the review here) Danielle Cadena Deulen's promising first collection of poems, Lovely Asunder, makes Caitlin Erickson think of "a hothouse garden filled with humidity, exotic plants, and trees hanging low with fruit. The words are sticky like the fruits that are continually halved and sliced throughout the collection, and they stay with the reader long after they have been consumed." (read the review) Timothy O'Keefe's The Goodbye Town, also a first collection, says D.A. Powell, contains poems "that vary the existing patterns without abandoning them, that engage sensation without being simply sensational, that elegize the province of what is foregone without being elegies."