Visual arts

The Wesleyan Argus | “The Dreams of Sentences” by Renee Gladman conceptualizes language through art

c/o Dario Lasagni

“The Dreams of Sentences,” a new exhibition at Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery featuring works by artist Renee Gladman, reconceptualizes the relationship between writing and visual art. The exhibition was inaugurated on Tuesday September 6, with an official opening on Tuesday September 13.

“A writer and artist preoccupied with the crossings, thresholds and geographies that unfold at the intersections of poetry, prose, drawing and architecture,” reads the Zilkha Gallery exhibition, describing Gladman.

It is the word “concerned” that stuck with me when I saw the work on display, “The Dreams of Sentences”. It seemed that this should describe the state of the artist, absorbed in recording every thought.

When the exhibit opened, a crowd of Wesleyan students and community members perused the artwork before Associate Director of Visual Arts Benjamin Chaffe, curator of the exhibition, introduced Gladman. Chaffee highlighted Gladman as a local artist who added prominence to the Zilkha Gallery as the site of his first solo exhibition. The University had considered including Gladman’s work in an exhibition last fall that featured works by a number of artists, but instead decided to stage this solo exhibition as part of the context-building that Chaffee sees as vital to a curator’s work . But, Chaffee noted, Gladman’s work doesn’t need an external context to have impact.

“The [only] the context he needs is himself,” Chaffee said.

One of the most defining elements of Gladman’s work is the way she connects written language and visual art, the latter which she describes as “tongue with its skin pulled back.”

The title alludes to the fact that the exhibition includes both visual and written works, referencing previously published books with equally evocative names, such as “A long black sentence” and “Sentence plans.” Even the cover of the exhibit document, which usually features a photo of the exhibit, is more of a sample of Gladman’s handwriting. The chosen work synthesizes Gladman’s way of linking language and visual art, and finds both one way of conceptualizing and the other.

“I spent a lot of time reviewing each of the acts of how I had been in the world, how I had conveyed that I had been there,” Gladman wrote in a 2018 post in e-flux. Journal, identifying important actions of seeing, reading, writing and drawing in one’s life.

While there may be some measure of interchange between Gladman’s art and writing, to attribute to Gladman’s art the simple cliché that a picture is worth a thousand words is to miss the point. ‘essential. She does not draw a scene in which a narrative is clear and familiar. Rather, she breaks down her stories into their most fundamental components – lines, shapes, colors, symbols – which are narrative in their most fragmented form. It seems that Gladman maps the formation of ideas and the thought process: how we make ourselves an art of language and art to place ourselves in time and space.

Chaffee sees Gladman’s connection between art and writing as a new and grounded approach to drawing, the genre he always seeks to represent at Zilkha Gallery. For Chaffee, spatial representation is an integral part of the exhibition. Chaffee focuses on balancing the written aspects of Gladman’s work with the visual aspects, while avoiding any hierarchy between them. He hopes audiences will see the work rather than just read it. Chaffee distinguishes between different ways of absorbing art, bringing the public’s gaze to the excerpts from Gladman’s books and journals laid out flat, then to the art on the walls as they go. move around the exhibition. In Chaffee’s aim to bring context to the work, Gladman’s journals are perhaps the most crucial, illuminating her process, including descriptions of her day identifying exactly when she was drawn to create.

Gladman’s visual works fall into the categories “Cities,” “Scores and Math,” “Moons and Planets,” and “Graphics,” as listed on his website. Each emphasizes a certain quality of their work, from the horizon-shaped words and lines demonstrating the architectural nature of language and thought, to the colored circles on black paper representing how language places us in space and conceptualizes existence.

Perhaps most intriguing to me were the pieces that would be considered “Scores and Math,” which is about angles, directions, and scatter symbols of dy/dx whose placement on the canvas was as erratic as they appear in my own math homework, dragging to the side as I pondered through the act of writing, unorganized but productive ideas on my page.

c/o Dario Lasagni

In Gladman’s keynote, she emphasized that she wanted her audience to consider the title of her exhibit when looking at her work. What is the dream of a sentence? Perhaps we should consider the word “dreams” in the context of our own unconscious, where our thoughts exist in their rawest state, translatable only as abstractly as Gladman’s artworks, not yet existing but still affirming ours.

In recognition of the interdisciplinary nature of Gladman’s craft, “The Dreams of Sentences” exhibition is co-sponsored by Writing at Wesleyan, and Gladman is set to give a reading on Tuesday, September 27 at Zilkha Gallery. The exhibition will continue until October 16. More information can be found online at CFA’s website Or on Gladman’s personal website.
Sadie Gray can be reached at [email protected].