A chance encounter with old Greek textbooks led me to silent conversations with the original owner of the books, Meta Glass, who studied ancient Greek sixty years before I did. Glass’s handwriting reveals her personality, her frustrations, her sense of humor, all brought vividly to life for me as I photographed the found poetry of her translation notes.
In Marginalia, text becomes personalized, through Glass’s writing. The handwritten notes mark out the translator’s mental journey as she grappled with understanding, while simultaneously paralleling the visual poetics of the sculptures in their verbal expressiveness. The formal choices I make expand the intricacies, through intensified color and contrast, through incorporation of the texture of the printed page, through specific photographic techniques – extreme angles, tight cropping and close ups, the focusing shifts of a shallow depth of field. English words become a hinge bending back and forth on the edge of a Greek text’s meaning. Is “balance” possible? Can we “rule grief”? Is Antigone’s “pain” ours as well?
Meta Glass got her Ph.D in Greek and Latin from Columbia University in 1912, when few women were in doctoral programs. She went on to serve as the President of Sweet Briar College from 1925-1946.
Books are simultaneously concrete and abstract, tactile and illusory, repositories of thoughts and feelings or of facts and evidence. They can be sites of superficial apprehension or profound comprehension, presenting us with endless opacity or sudden clarity.
A nostos (‘homecoming’ in Greek) is the framing device for this ongoing series, with a focus on two opposing homecomings from the Trojan War, those of Odysseus and Agamemnon. These ancient Greek stories are replicated in narratives of couples long-separated by our contemporary wars. Retelling connects us to the eternal cycles of fusion and rupture in intimate relationships.
Odysseus waits points to a fleeting reversal of roles in Book 23 of The Odyssey. Odysseus, the active wanderer, takes on an unexpectedly passive and patient role, leaning against a pillar, his eyes downcast, as he waits to see if Penelope will recognize him, will acknowledge him as her husband. This piece led me to make a short film, Penelope's Odyssey, retelling the Odyssey from Penelope's perspective, but based in the original Homeric text. The film was shot in Greece. (on Vimeo:
From the book Ancient Finds. Reinterpretations of the Greek myths from contemporary feminist perspectives.
Greek Grammar/Greek Text
Textbooks from my years of Greek studies shifted function when I re-visited them as artistic source material. The grammar of ancient Greek, a seemingly prosaic but incredibly precise means of establishing mutually understood meaning, was also invested with fluidity, suppleness, poetic awareness, and metaphorical depth.
The “perfect” images of the Greek Grammar series mesh the dialectics of male power and female strength, represented in sculptural form, with an investigation of the emotional impact and moral conflict implicit in human actions. Imperfect explores the poetic aesthetics of linguistic choices, the depths of a rich, multilayered language, through movement firmly fixed in stone, persisting as an embodiment of the ephemeral.
The philosopher’s realizations, the playwright’s understanding of human nature, a lexicon’s accidental poetry – these are the sources for the expressive texts in the Greek Text series, focuses more on the construction of meaning than on the structures of language, more on content than textual form. The words have a compositional power, in letters tiny or bold, translucent or thickly solid, but they also serve as textual/conceptual counterpoints to the aesthetic structure of the image.
Poets write; poems are collected in books; books are opened, read, shut, opened again, on another day. Sculptures are glanced at in museums, and then left behind. I revisit poets (and writers of poetic prose) and their work as I revisit sculptors and their work – looking for the details, focusing on fragments, edging around corners, searching out my own sense of meaning – in homage to writers and artists who instilled a richness of thought and emotion into the sparest of phrases and forms.