ERASURES: ABSENCE AND PRESENCE // Julie Leonard

01 Mar 2016 12:00 AM | Anonymous

“The poetry of erasure is taking place all around us. Underneath the pavement, behind newspaper headlines, on paste-layered billboards and graffiti-laden walls… continuously peeling away and papering over itself. Its very surface is a living thing in flux between the dueling processes of decay and renewal…This world demands of its denizens a constant and vigilant revision of form.” Travis MacDonald

Erasure crosses and mixes disciplines; emerges from impulses ranging from conceptual systematic experimentation to political inquiry to a destructive act to a conversation between an original work and its ‘renewal.’ Created by painters, prose writers, poets, book artists, and those artists who defy disciplinary labels, erasure can harmonize with an original or create a dissonance. As with any artistic genre or endeavor there are both successful works that resonate and burrow deep, and those that flounder, never penetrating the surface. Scraping or painting or cutting, a palimpsest is formed for the reader to decipher, to search through layers for meaning.

In the last decade, erasure as a poetic form has rapidly gained momentum. The intersection with an aspect of the book arts—the object (or not object) and materials that make up that object—manifests in a consideration of material and form taking on greater significance. It gets more interesting in light of the wide range of production methods being employed as well as conceptual motives: one-of-kind, serials, digitally produced, originals reproduced and reconfigured before erasure, born and raised digitally, to name a few. Poetic and visual considerations are found in erasures by artists as distinct as Robert Rauschenberg, Amelia Bird, Jen Bervin, and Tom Phillips.

Criticism that addresses this form from the varied perspectives of painting, writing and the book arts offers a rich means for assessing the work both historically and in this contemporary moment. Travis MacDonald in A Brief History of Erasure Poets provides a context that places erasures in a lineage including Oulipo, Language Poetry, book artists and current practice. He uses specific artists to elucidate varied approaches to the relationship the ‘eraser’ creates with the original work.

On Erasure by Mary Ruefle, provides a personal perspective on the rigor involved and how erasure can be approached. She creates both one-of-a-kind and digitally reproduced editions. Andrew David King interviews six contemporary poets: Srikanth Reddy, Matthea Harvey, Janet Holmes, M. NourbeSe Philip, David Dodd Lee, and Travis MacDonald, “questioning practical and theoretical concerns surrounding erasure as a technique.”

Poets Genevieve Kaplan and Mary Hickman both situate erasure poetry within a book art framework, contrasting the perspective MacDonald takes in allying it primarily with conceptual poetry of the 1960s. “While poetic appropriated books may not always be artists' books per se, it is helpful to use the contemporary artists' book as a lens to better understand these new texts,” Genevieve Kaplan writes. She digs into contrasting methods that address the physical form and means of erasing in the work of Jen Bervin, Mary Ruefle, and Erica Baum.

Mary Hickman also uses Jen Bervin and Mary Ruefle’s works to situate the work within the context of book art. “I suggest we also view erasure poetics in the context of the material substrate of the book as object, a view which allows for a richer understanding of both compositional process and conceptual or creative effect.”

Two last bits to offer up from a broader perspective encompassing painting and photographic manipulations are The Eloquence of Absence and Brian Dillon’s The Revelation of Erasure. The two essays consider erasure from perspectives such as censorship and deceit and include photography, painting, and text-based works.

When we take a step sideways, address materials, ideas, critical approaches and theories that intersect our own activities and practices, but are often positioned in a sister discipline, it opens our thinking, poses new questions, asks us to move outside our own discipline in considering the book and why it is compelling to us as an artistic form. It can illuminate where we close our minds to other modes of thinking about the book, and what it means and represents when we move away from our own canon to consider it with our heads cocked to another side.


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