CREATIVE PEAKS: Expressive Unity

By on June 21, 2017

Local poet’s show stitches together words, imagery and inclusivity.

From the new exhibit ‘O! How we play.’ (Photo: Jeffrey Kaphan)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – In 2011, poet Robert Pinsky spoke in Jackson Hole about how a poem is truly created in the ear of the person who hears it. Sitting in the audience, local poet Matt Daly couldn’t stop thinking about the relationship between the author and the reader.

Daly thought about poems that resonated with him every time he read them, and the ones that had a powerful impact on his life in a certain moment, but that a year later weren’t as meaningful. He thought about how much of a poem’s power came from the reader’s experience.

He ruminated on the idea of how poems are created and the role of the reader and “O! How we play” was born. The exhibition brings together stanzas created by multiple poets. Pieces of visual art that use the same words in different orders create unique poems and viewer experiences.

Sheryl Haft, Cassandra Lee, Beverly Leys, Susan Marsh, Susan Scarlata, Jocelyn Slack and Connie Wieneke all contributed stanzas to the exhibition. Daly gave them some loose parameters on constructing the stanzas so that they could be combined and work in any order.

As this country grapples with divisive politics, Daly wanted to explore something that brings people together. The theme “O! How we play,” is an effort to appeal and connect with every corner of the community.

“We’re just a community that likes to play outside in lots of different ways … [this] is shared across a lot of demographics that don’t share a lot otherwise,” Daly said.

He also wanted to create an exhibition that was interactive and playful and encouraged people to engage with the poems.

Daly selected nine stanzas from those submitted, choosing the most evocative without thinking about how they would fit together. He then created nine different works using the stanzas. Daly created the pieces specifically for the theater gallery space, thinking about how people move throughout it and the best way they could engage with the works. This includes audio, video, three-dimensional and two-dimensional pieces. Each piece uses the text in a different order and way.

One piece uses nine panels, each with a stanza, but four stanzas are written backwards and must be read in a mirror. The effect is a sense of never quite knowing where the poem begins or ends, Daly said.

Another piece projects the words in a video. Daly used a random number generator to shuffle the stanzas across the screen.

A large sheet of paper has the poems printed in what seems like a jumble, but with random words highlighted. Daly’s also woven in “secret messages” in the show. You can decode the messages in one piece where a word occasionally appears in red. Put the red words together to uncover the message.

One piece uses Plexiglas and a flashlight. When the flashlight shines through the glass, the words are shadowed on the wall behind it. It’s a lighthearted piece that draws laughter from Daly. Across the hall is a large box with the stanzas that makes the poem feel more weighted, he said.

While Daly had collaborated with artists and integrated different art forms together, this experience was totally new. It was particularly challenging for Daly to not compose a poem, but instead present the stanzas in a way that encouraged the viewers to create the poem. Daly channeled his need to create and compose into manufacturing the physical displays for the poems to avoid thinking about how the words were coming together until the piece was finished.

Daly was surprised at the amount of layers he discovered in the work when it was on display. He’s lived with the nine stanzas used for the exhibition for months, but still finds something different in them when he looks at the pieces in the gallery.

“The experience of reading them was very much an emotional experience,” he said, and “interacting with the treatment of the stanzas was its own emotional experience.” PJH

The show hangs in the Theater Gallery at the Center for the Arts until July 31. There is an opening reception 5:30 to 7 p.m. Friday, June 21 and an artist talk from noon to 1 p.m. July 6.

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