The Writing of History
The Writing of History
Exhibition Essay | Shannon Stratton | September 2013 | View Exhibition ➞
In university my friend, a former ballerina, discovered she had caused a stress fracture in her shin from working out too much at the gym. Sometimes described as a hairline fracture, I imagined watching this crack creeping across my friend’s leg like a sheet of ice crazing under my foot as my full weight came to rest on its cool surface. Or, to put the emphasis on the “stress,” I imagined my entire body slowly shattering when the weight of anxiety or fear or loneliness could be felt too heavily on my mind, my shoulders, my heart.
While I’ve seen cracks and crazes, and fractures and fissures, the imagining of the incident, the slow traveling of the fractures path as it tears, at a meandering pace, throughout he matter that it is dividing, has resonance. It’s a sharp pang in the stomach you let slip between your fingers the moment, the person, the place, and it falls away from your grasp for good. It’s an ache as a distance stretched out between you and a loved one when the last words exchanged drive you further apart and you both watch, dumbfounded, as this last breach gapes wider, it’s a twinge in your heart as you taste the bittersweet. It’s the distress that crumples the mind, fragmenting into a million little cavities that hold a million little details that can no longer be held together. It’s the sting of disappointment that splinters the ego, as bad news comes to rest. And it is also the stitch, that creeps down your side, marking a moment of exertion when your body feels the last burst of its efforts in a sensation that both severs and joins it, a sensation of both pain and triumph.
Is this what it means to suffer fracture? Is it only pain? An emotional rending that leers its way through nerves and blood and bone and flesh and heart and brain like a surge of electricity cuts through the sky? And why then, is it only sometimes beautiful? Lightening surely fills us with awe, but the soft crazes of a porcelain tea cup or the fissure that worms its way through marble, have a sense of history that soothes us, while the crack that bursts through plexiglass is an eye sore. The plexiglass is ruined, it’s purpose marred and impaired by the crack, but the marble has acquired more character. The fissure is at home with the gently worn depressions where a million feet have been given support as the beat a path to and fro.
I work my way through this emotional inventory of pangs and twinge, stitches and stings, and wonder which mar the person and which lends him character? What aches make us beautiful, while others weaken our core?
Michael Genovese titles his exhibition, “Joliet”, the not so little town that butts up against Chicago, who’s weight perhaps tore it from Cook County early on, to become the seat of Will County to the Southwest. Its great prison looming large throughout it’s life, until it closed in the early 2000's as its buildings aged into hazardousness. Joliet’s prison weaves itself into art into American Poetry and Music and film, a great looming icon of the great fractures that weaken us all, in the most complicate doff ways, systematically, socially, politically.
And then there is the Des Plaines river, that cuts Joliet in two. The River that brought its namesake, French Canadian explorer Louis Joliet, to camp on a mound in the South West of the city in 1673. A mound that was later mined until it became a depression. It’s excavation, through perhaps a thousand stabs of a pick ax or blasts of dynamite, leaving a hollowed out summit, deflated onto itself.
Or perhaps Joliet conjures something else, as the nucleus of fracture; a city that has lived its life as a transportation hub with river ways and railways and highways meeting meeting and radiating from here. An allusion to the heart from which a fracture emerges. The site of impact as well as the site of termination, as just as many ways come to an end here, as they are gotten underway.
Is the nucleus of the pang, the twinge, the ache, the heart? Does Joliet shimmer and become once again Juliet? Now, Shakespeare’s heroine for whom the intensity of young love shatters her very core, yet in the end reconciles two families fractured from years of feuding. A dagger plunged into a heart; is at once a violent stitch that repairs a rift.
For an artist who has spent much time with writing and the meaning wrought by inscription, whether invited or in the case of graffiti, renounced, Genovese’s cracks are also another script. But unlike a script that fills in the gaps, it instead marks an event or the event makes the mark and the particulars of the story are vacated. The marks that are left, the cracks, the fissures are a record whose language we are fluent with only effectively, allowing legibility only through filling the lacuna on either side of these fractures (on their left or right, before or after) with our own collisions.
Genovese’s cracks are nickel plated steel. They crawl the wall like rivulets of ore to be mined, river ways carving up the drywall and heartache, cast and preserved bijoux that gives the room character. They are copies, these cracks, that remember a history that marks another matter, but here cut from their origins, they are meditations. Pauses that are divorced from spectacle and dazzle, yet manage to pay respect or honor (in their heft and their might and subtle shine) the great events, the affairs, the phenomena whose full weight is brought to bear and registered, as fracture. A life lived is inscribed by the cracks and the fissures; the big events are permanently worn and remembered.
Shannon Stratton is a writer, curator and was the founder/director of threewalls, a venue for the presentation of contemporary art and ideas in Chicago, Il., since 2003. She is currently the Chief Curator at the Museum of Arts and Design, NYC.