During our conversation for The Rail about her current exhibition, Kay and I swerved onto the topic of art as activism.

Kay has used her artwork as a platform for advocacy for decades. In the current collection, Kay pointed to Trickle Down (2015) being a sharp criticism of the erroneous economic theory.

I brought up a few personal favorites, including a piece outside of the collection, “I Owe You” (2007).

“I Owe You” (2007) colored pencil on paper by Kay Rosen

 

Kay brightened and mentioned that she revived this work for a retrospective of her letterpress work for the Barbara Krakow Gallery, Kay Rosen: The Complete Letterpress Works, 1984-2017.

Originally, Kay created “I Owe You” to express resistance to the Energy Transfer Partners’ efforts to build the Dakota Access Pipeline less than one mile from the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.

“Standing Rock really got to me,” she said. “Mistreatment of Native Americans goes back so far, and it is ongoing with other tribes.”

We marveled at the coincidence that IOU is in the middle of Sioux.

“Right in the heart of the word!” Kay exclaimed. “It is so amazing to me when this happens,” she continued. “The message is embedded in the name.”

‘“IOU’ is a found textual treasure,” she noted in the work’s description for her letterpress exhibition, which “required minor adjustments to color to address major historical wrongs.”

The message of the piece, Kay wrote was “both a promise and an apology to that tribe, and by extension, to the many other indigenous peoples whose rights and treaties have been trampled over the years.”

“I would love to do it large, billboard-size,” she told me, her hands outstretched. “This is a work that I would still like to get out in the world, as a message,” Kay said.

Me too.

 

For the June issue of Curve magazine, I connected with Ariel Levy to discuss “too much” women and her memoir, The Rules Do Not Apply. The interview and book review are in the Pride issue and on newsstands now.

 

 

During our interview, I asked Ariel why she published this memoir about losing the life she was authoring for herself, which included being a reporter, wife, and mother. She did not spare herself. Ariel went well beyond the writer’s call to sit down with the page and open a vein.

Yet writing is one thing, publishing another.

“These extraordinarily intense things happen to the human female animal around the reproductive system,” she responded. “If you’re female, you will have some kind of drama around menstruation or pregnancy or birth or menopause.”

Ariel continued; noting that as a feminist, she believed:

“The whole world of human reproduction in the human female animal—that affects half the human population—is not something that is a subject for literature much. So I felt strongly that this was a legitimate subject to write about and that it was worthwhile.”

Through Ariel’s willingness to put her life on the page, to lay her mind and body bare, we can become better acquainted with our own thoughts, discover shared experiences, and challenge our perceptions as we keep evolving, generation after generation.

This is the revolutionary Mother Nature of memoir.

 

Kay Rosen Head Over Heels

Kay Rosen, Head Over Heels, 2016 Latex paint on wall, 16×16 feet

I’ve gushed before. And Kay Rosen has me swooning, again, in my review of her solo exhibition, H Is for House, for The Brooklyn Rail (June, 2017).

My title, Head Over Heels, references the wall painting in the atrium of The Aldrich and pretty much sums up my ArtSeen review (rave); but a piece I can’t stop thinking about is Pivot.

Kay Rosen Pivot

Kay Rosen, Pivot, 2015, Acrylic gouache on paper, 22 ½ x 15 inches

In Pivot (2015), the two parallel lines act out the word and its meaning—and, in a sense, becomes anthropomorphic. Back to back, the letterforms stand upright on Ts for legs and Ps for heads, facing away from one another.

I read between these lines, and an idea begins to form.

That V in PIVOT is a pelvis.

This brings to mind a recent review (rag) I’d read about a different female artist, in another text-based medium, the memoir, being derided for using the body—her body—as subject matter. Usually, I find the “navel-gazing” critique to be more revealing of the critic than the artist, a telling affirmation of the systemic discrimination of female creation.

Here, where a V can be a pelvis–rendered as gender neutral but nonetheless home of the navel, the origin story of us all–I am encouraged to continue championing the notion that the body, one’s own female body especially, is a worthy subject for art to be expressed in whatever form, visual, written et al.

This kind of thinking is to be expected in a house built by Kay Rosen. For over 40 years, Kay has explored, as a trained linguist and now a 2017 Guggenheim Fellow, the visual potential of language—particularly letterforms—to be the building blocks of art that challenge contemporary culture’s perception of words.

Richard Klein, Exhibitions Director for The Aldrich, connects Rosen’s work to a 16th century French humanist and engraver, Geofroy Tory, who put forward the idea in Champ Fluery that capital Roman letterforms are based upon proportions of the human body.

In a world where the very letterforms, themselves, are inspired by the human form, sneering at artists using the body–her body, a body, any body–becomes baseless.

“Artists use language in so many different ways,” Kay says to me during our interview for the Rail. “But I can’t think of any two people that use language the same way.” She pauses. “Can you?”

No. And may they inspire a broadened view of how we see art of the body–and review it.

Kay Rosen’s H Is for House is currently showing at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum through September 4, 2017.

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