Cody Geiselman – Endless, Ceaseless

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Endless, Ceaseless is a yearning for something that was never really possessed, in this case artist Cody Gieselman’s family home and land. Prior rights by a coal company, whether they were sold or taken through eminent domain is unclear, has created this uneasy situation. Through the use of memory, as well as analogies with family photographs and art history, the reader realizes this poignant and impenetrable distance between connection and separation.

The small book is made of paper, hand-stitched binding, and stone colored pages and outer cover, with flecks of texture from the paper itself. These features lend to the overarching themes within the book itself, specifically referencing nature and the natural. When the reader opens the front cover, they find what appears to be soot (or possibly coal smears) on the edges. It is easy to read this part of the cover as burnt, although its identity becomes apparent as one progresses through the book. On the outside of the cover are little spots printed in a blocky, monochromatic manner; the reader will soon realize is a depiction of coal. The pages have a lined tooth, and the book alternates pages mostly with blocky, printed images that are small, with monochromatic/toned ink that merely darkens the stone paper except in certain cases, and letterpress text on the opposing pages.

Gieselman sets the scene with a block reproduction of a painting of Pan and text about panic. The first line, “(Panic and the loss of the wild),” tells us the state of mind and impending grief the author will explore. Using metaphor with the death of Pan, there is an attempt to rationalize what is to come as clearing the old for the new, though it seems like cold comfort. The reader is introduced to the artist’s family via a  mildly distorted family photograph on the ensuing pages. It is mostly unremarkable, a simple group portrait typical of the era, with a patterned frame around the image that could date it from between the 1930s to perhaps no later than the 1960s. We are informed on the opposite page that her family had lived in the house she grew up in for multiple generations. Before we can contemplate the strength of that bond, Gieselman recounts her family receiving a letter about “active operation status,” which results in their departure that summer. The matter-of-factness belies what has clearly been a trauma, and this will continue to unfold throughout the book.

Next, the artist describes the wildlife and nature of the surrounding land; we are meant to feel this loss the more we understand what it was and what it represented. It is now we learn who sent this active status letter—a coal company. Gieselman rues the irony of this entity bringing “life” with jobs but immediately follows with the destruction inherent to coal mining to the earth: “Later remain the desolate abandoned sites, rocky with pits full of water, opaque and green as jade.” The illustrations opposite these pages underscore this unnatural transformation, showing an image of the land, then a close-up of a honeycomb, followed by the honeycomb-like structure of strands of chemical bonds of coal.

The succeeding pairs of pages turn the focus to the personal even more so. Black silhouettes of circling predatory birds appear on the left, and the opposing text notes “So common we would hardly notice. First the sound, then the ground shaking. Cracked windows, crumbled chimney.” Here, we see the changes slowly effected on the house, which is the same as the earth itself. However, because we know of her family’s history with the home and our own emotional ties to family homes, the reader feels this kind of death as sharply. Throughout the book, the artist jumps back and forth in time: before, during, and after the coal company has destroyed this ancestral place. The following sets of pages bring the apparatus of change, the shovel machinery. It is “as imposing as a city” to her youthful eyes, and Gieselman places an illustration of it digging into the darker ground to let us know that it is the coal it is excavating. The opposing page’s text underlines dramatically, as only a child can, what this means: “Buzzards circling while I lie on the ground very still, trying to convince them I’m dead to lure them closer.” The arrival of the coal company is the death of innocence and childhood wrapped together tightly.

It is here that we are informed that even before Gieselman’s birth, her family knew the house’s fate and chose to move in anyways. This quiet revelation is followed on the next page with the first non-monochromatic color scheme. We see a coyote in an ochre-red looking upwards, howling while spewing little bits of coal from its mouth. This stream starts small and grows into a large portion of the page, and for the first time, it intrudes into the text page on the other side.

Gieselman here links her family’s displacement to that of Native Americans that had been driven away before her family’s arrival. This mention perhaps hints at how governments, companies, and other entities are prioritized before the land and the people who live on it. The coal flecks continue on the next page, mimicking the cover. We have come to the penultimate page with Gieselman’s attempt to return to her home at an unspecified time in adulthood, long after her family has left and the coal company stripped the area. There is a particularly melancholy as she notes “but all my familiar indicators were gone.” Musing that perhaps someday far into the future, the landscape will reappear, the audience understands the gravity and long-term effects these companies and our energy choices make on the land.

The coal dots thin on the final page set, and Gieselman ends with a poetic coda that begins with listening to coyotes howl until their sudden silence. She ties this to her own connection with a place that was “always tenuous and fleeting;” she is filled with nostalgia for something she only slightly had and now is vanished. We as the reader cannot help but share her sorrow at this severed connection and the distress at what has been wrought on the earth. A cautionary tale of humans wrecking havoc on the earth and an elegiac monument to her family home, Endless, Ceaseless leaves us with much to consider as we persist down a path of devastation for our energy needs.

About Daisy Patton

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