Image – Text – Image – Text

Two books I’ve read recently, in a sort of home audit of my husband’s grad school creative writing classes, have inspired me to think about works of literature as works of visual art. Not just they way they’re laid out in a graphic design sense where the layout works with the content, but the content of the text itself and the way that text is arranged as a separate element alongside, achieve the impact of the whole work meaningful in the particular flavor of visual art.

Michael Lesy’s Wisconsin Death Trip, first published in 1973,  consists mostly of hundereds of clips from a small town newspaper in the 1890’s and early 1900’s. Stories of murders, epidemic disease, farmers being hauled off to the nuthouse – catastrophic life events summed up in a few brief sentences. Spliced between the listings from each year are a series archival images by the local studio photographer: individuals standing in front of their homes and businesses, funeral flower arrangements, studio portraits, corpse portraits, horses, candid snapshots. Lesy shows how one’s trained response to history is to experience it in a Big Picture sense, the persepective we were taught in school, separated from intimate individual lives. The reader/viewer zooms sharply in to understand the misery of late 19th century rural life. Yet in the repetition of reports, we are re-detatched, cut off at the pass from feeling sorry for the victims. At the end, we realize there is indeed a distinct line between understanding and empathy.

hotel theoryHotel Theory by Wayne Koestenbaum is rather simplistically described as “two books in one,” like a buy-one-get-one free sale. But really it’s two books side-by-side: a pulp novel set in a non-place, non-time at a Hollywood hotel in one column, and in a second column on each page, a series of documents – dossiers – incoporating literature, music, poetry and visual art describing and analyzing what Koestenbaum calls hotel theory. We all know this mood. My mom calls it “livin’ the Motel Life” (our standard was more Motel 6 than Marriott). It’s both indulgent and grating. You arrive at a hotel. It’s afternoon, it’s evening, you’re tired from being cooped up in the car or plane. You first turn on the air conditioner, go to the ice machine and drink a Coke with ice from plastic cups wrapped in cellophane, or perhaps the paper-covered glass tumblers. The toilet paper is folded into a point. You wonder whether to re-hang your towels or throw them on the floor. Maybe you have some Tom’s peanut butter-cheese crackers or peanut M&M’s from the vending machine – something you’d never eat at home – or go swimming in the pool. You keep vigil watching cable TV, trying to ignore the silence/noise of the faceless strangers staying in identical cells all around you by cranking up the A/C. The streetlight shines through the uncloseable chink in the curtains right onto your pillow. It’s worse when you have to stay more than one night. As you’re reading the book (and the choice is entirely yours on how to read it), you are reading one column only but you know there is something going on simultaneously on the other side of it, you just can’t participate in both. Just like a hotel room or lobby.

60's convenience storeThursday, October 30, MOCA Press in Tucson presents its Multiples & Monographs imprint with Bill Mackey’s Field Guide and Check Lists in a limited edition of 75 copies. According to the email invitation, Mackey playfully analyzes our current patterns of consumption and leisure, appropriating the classic practices of ethnographers and natural scientists. The $10 member/$25 non-member admission includes the Mackey created pamphlet: Field Guide to Tucson Convenience Stores. I’m really curious to get my hands on a copy of this. Ever since I moved to Tucson, I’ve been fascinated by the large number of winged 60’s convenience store throughout the city. I don’t think I’ve seen stores quite like these except for random backstreets in Ft. Worth and what was, in the early 1980’s, the only 24-hour store in New Braunfels. I’ve been waiting till the weather gets cooler (yes, I’m a big pansy, but it’s not the heat that’ll get ya here, it’s the dryness) to spend a day cycling around town and taking documentary photos of all the 60’s stores I can find.

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