Author Archive | Paula Slick

Mary Uthuppuru – Undefined Lines


As good fiction does, Mary Uthuppuru’s Undefined Lines brings a viewer into an invented atmosphere in such a way that the physical book container drops away and the reader is for a time, transported.  Unlike fiction, though, this piece brings the viewer into the present moment with no storyline other than walking on a trail. By observing simple details of a forest walk, seemingly standing right in the artist’s shoes, the overall message of this book is to be right where you are, unable to see far ahead, simply observing your immediate surroundings.  The book has simple illustrations and structure yet manages to convey its message with the lyrical and warm quality of a good fairy tale.

 Mary Uthuppuru - Undefined Lines

 

The book is housed in a drop-spine clamshell box. There is a sense of anticipation while unfolding the outer box and then the inner covers.  The box is covered with black bookcloth; the title printed in a low contrast color that allows it to disappear into the black.  This lends to the feeling of wanting to discover, to find out what’s not defined. It also gives the feeling of walking into a portal of story.

Within the box, the book cover is linen painted with green watercolor, the exact mossy green of very early spring in the woods when the snow melts.  There are paint splotches dropped across the printed title that seem as if the book were carried along on the walk and was splattered by upspray —perhaps from the author’s boots in the mud.  Delicate lines are etched into the green paint, revealing the white linen and suggesting a marshy border. When the four outer flaps of the book are laying open, it’s something like arriving in the center of the marsh.  The splatters on the paste paper flaps radiate out from the depths. The dark green end paper is heavy handmade paper, buckled as if it’s been recently wet.

 

The first page of content conveys a sense of arrival.  There is a marked tonal difference in the warm buff Rives BFK paper.  It is illustrated in a way akin to a storybook; hand drawn in pen and ink with watercolor.  This page is laid out as a vertically-opening double page spread.  Framing the whole outer edge of the spread are the mottled greens of the covers, giving it the feeling again of having been naturally altered, maybe by moss growing in through the outer edges of the book. The author has apparently stood in these cold, leafless woods, creating the delicate illustrations as a document of this walk that we are on.  Because she has drawn exactly where she stands and because the book is the very one she carried on the walk, Ms. Uthuppuru has invited us to stand here too, feeling the cold air and seeing each detail as we turn our head from side to side.  She shows you the beginning of a trail with two signposts on either side, the trail wending its way up the center of the page, winter trees and leafless shrubs standing at the top of the page as the edge of this part of the woods.  The text describes the title, Undefined Lines,  illustrating how the horizon offers no clear view and is always out of reach.

And then the walk begins as we turn page slowly after page, enjoying the simple view of the Indiana woods in what looks like an early spring day.  The second shows a fork in the trail.  The delicate lines from the cover are revealed here as the edges of the trail, the woods are still at the top of the page, beckoning us forward.  The trail is beneath our feet.  Because the book brings us along a trail, the woods always at the top of the page, the trail opening under our feet at the bottom of the page and continuing to the top without revealing the next step, there is a feeling of being pulled forward in anticipation.  At the same time, because the color and the edges of the pages are mottled green, there is a feeling of quiet and of taking one’s time.

Ms. Uthuppuru’s delicate but sure hand lends a feeling of children’s storybook but with the simple straightforward feel of a naturalist’s diary.  There are changes in the landscape, such as a tree fallen across the trail, a small stream that must be leapt, the landscape gently rolling and then flattening on either side of the page.  The changes are the ones any one of us have observed in our everyday lives and walks through our environments…the ordinary, subtle gentle twists and turns in trees, ground and shrubs.  In the case of the Indiana woods that Ms. Uthuppuru walks through and documents, there are heavy vines that twist up trees, similar to the Pennsylvania woods that I have known.  In the end, the trail comes back to the two signs where we began, the only apparent markers of time on this journey.  There is no horizon here either and we are done with our walk.

I thoroughly enjoyed this quiet walk in the woods created with a sensitive and sure hand.  It brought a sense of peace and nostalgia to this fellow forest walker.  

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Two Books by Beata Wehr

 

I have in front of me two books by Beata Wehr; Blue Book About the Past and Book 83: More Stories on Time. Both are crafted from rough weave fabric and housed in fabric envelopes of the same.

Blue Book About the Past is indeed blue, the outside of the envelope treated with surface texture that is reminiscent of moon surface or dimensional relief maps, perhaps a bumpy road stained blue.  Even without knowing the title, the combination of uneven exterior, slight heft to the package as a whole and the round-cornered flap hint that the envelope might house something about time.  Its hand-hewn flap-pouch shape and simple stitching give it a feel of having been in a traveler’s backpack of a fictional long ago.

The book is also blue and roughly fashioned with irregularly-cut rectangular pages of blue-painted and stiffened linen canvas.  Although the indigo blue could be made naturally, thus lending to the idea that this is an old object, both the plastic-coated sheen to the pages and the deliberately placed and stitched objects within point to its modern-totem nature.   Because of its irregular and purely object-oriented nature lacking any description, it’s easy to imagine the book as made by someone other than Ms. Wehr and that she is presenting this as a found object.

Each facing page, including the cover acting as a first page, contain objects one might find in an alleyway or abandoned desert gas station:  bent and deeply scratched metal pieces from something mechanical, part of a key, washers and some sort of sharp thorn or quill, are roughly sewn in compositions that appear on some pages as simple landscapes.   On the first and last pages old bottle caps are placed that can be read as a sun or moon, floating above old wire forming a middle ground that can be read as a figure or landscape feature.   Other pages have the objects placed one after the other, creating a sort of language or catalog of the objects. The pages easily read as shrine-like collections, perhaps hailing a past that the maker holds as something to revere.  Every page also contains one frame of a 35 mm negative strip, sewn to the pages through the existing holes in the strips.

The simple objects included in this book, apparently found on the ground as forgotten or discarded objects, could have been lovingly collected by someone in a future devoid of these things we take for granted.  The 35 mm negative frames sit on each page as a reminder of something recorded, person or moment, that can’t actually be seen as the negatives are stitched on the dark blue background and many of the negatives are deliberately scratched or smudged.  This adds to the idea that the maker is collecting tokens of time.  The fact that the negatives contain images seems unimportant.

On the backside of each page, the stitching of the linen thread used to secure the objects to the front forms a sort of constellation map or marks that might form a code or language used to describe the contents on the facing page.   That the stitches are not perfectly spaced or disguised makes them an important part of the double page spread’s composition.  They face the objects and stand as interpretive marks or balancing design components.

Book 83.  More Stories on Time is also housed in a  fabric envelope, this one of a finer weave, natural color. The construction is as simple as an envelope can be: one side folded rather than stitched as someone would do if they were in a hurry or had few resources.  Unfinished fabric edges are left to fray more over time, only stitched as much as is necessary to hold together.  The same is true for the book within, made of the same unbleached rough cloth, treated with a stiffener that gives the book the feeling of having been through something.

As in Blue Book About the Past, Ms. Wehr has treated the cover as first page, making it eight pages total.  It is similar to the other book in that seemingly discarded and run-over metal objects or pieces of objects are stitched in place, with their placement creating a kind of language or pictures-with-meaning.  The similarity ends there for a few reasons.  One is that the final page spells the word “End” out of metal pieces and wire.  Because of this, the book has the feeling of a story told by someone familiar with the story form and who is telling her story in a new way but with old objects.

Because the only object that repeats throughout the book are old metal washers, there isn’t the feeling of precious collection here.  Each page forms its own sparse meaning, determined by each viewer’s experience.  The objects are so simple:  in one case what appears to be half the base of an iron and a small “u” shaped piece of metal float together on a single fabric page, sewn on with only eight stitches total so that they’re barely hanging on.  There isn’t a universal meaning here but plenty of meaning could be made.

Both books work with the idea of time and allow the viewer plenty of latitude to assign their own meaning.   Both combine man-made materials with natural ones or the allusion to natural materials and both allow the viewer to make meaning without any clearly defined rules.

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