I’m not normally a fan of conceptual/concrete poetry and Erica Baum isn’t a poet but what she does with photography is both stunning and poetic. As I intend to demonstrate, her work is both witty and confrontational. Some of her work can be found on the ubuweb site and I want to draw attention to two of these ‘pieces’.
‘Dog Ear’ consists of a series of images of pages which are folded in such a way so as to produce text which runs from top to bottom as well as from left to right. This sounds fairly simple but the experience of looking at these images is such that they force the viewer (reader) to question the nature of language and its relationship to communication.
What (literally) struck me first about ‘Dog Ear’ is the amount of violence that it does to the eye. By this I mean the amount of damage that is done between seeing the image and trying to make cognitive sense of it. I don’t think that this is due entirely to the fact of juxtaposition (text going in one direction, more text going in another) but also due to the immense roadblock that this simple act (the folding of paper) can create in our/my understanding of how language may be used.
We now come to the words and fragments of words (and letters) as they appear on the folded page. The first image begins on the left-to-right side with the page number (174) and then- “Yes? / Yes / How”, the first line is followed by a long gap and then “MI” followed by part of what looks like a capital ‘S’,the last word is followed by part of what may be the letter ‘l’ but this is purely guesswork on my part. The top-to-bottom side of the fold begins with the page number (175) and then- “I? I would not do that / differently. There is a huge gap between the first and second line so there may be further words that are hidden from us.
I will notice that I am writing about this image as if it was a poem. This may say far more about me than Baum but I feel as if I have to make some kind of sense of what is before my eye. These could be randomly selected pages from yellowing second-hand books but I don’t think this is the case- I’m guessing that you’d have to spend a long time in the selection process before arriving at what is presented here.
The second image that I’ve chosen begins (left to right)- “threw his elegant solution into di / red tape held thing up. Peopl / with their successors didn’t / front concentration ca / heavy snowfalls. Pow / Rail lines were b / of uncertainty / At his / His rec”. We then go top to bottom- “round sort of clearing. Surrounded / gigantic well. Sunlight shoots / illuminating the ground at / sit down in the sunlight / a chocolate bar from / ll over again how / ach second of / sness I felt / he sun’s /path”. I’ve avoided the temptation to include the letters that are partly hidden by the fold- there’s a letter after “concentration ca” that could be an ‘m’ but could also be an ‘r’. As a reader of poetry I’m fairly familiar with allusive stuff and find myself rushing to fill in the gaps with this image, putting together ‘solution’ with ‘Rail lines’ and wanting ‘concentration ca’ to be ‘camp’ when it could be anything.
As I said at the top of this piece, I’m not a great fan of fucking about with text but ‘Dog Ear’, in its own quiet way, has taught me that even tired old sceptics like me can still be jolted out of long-held prejudice and this is surely a Good Thing.
The other Baum piece that I really like is nowhere near as clever but still has a kind of grainy, spectral wit. ‘Card Catalogues’ is a series of images of library card catalogues which mostly show the index headers protruding from the files. I think it’s safe to say that this is primarily about juxtaposition which others have commented on (especially ‘Subversive activities / Suburban homes’ image) but it’s also a historical document. ‘Card catalogues’ was produced in 1997 at a time when we were beginning to move our indexing processes onto servers (which is now the norm) and these images stand as a reminder of what life was like when knowledge / information / data wasn’t readily available via the click of a mouse. In terms of the images, there’s one shot of a open filing cabinet drawer that just has the word ‘God’ protruding and another is the front of an old wooden drawer which is labelled ‘Jersey City – Jesus’ both of which made me smile a lot.