A Process Note
These videos are part of an ongoing collaboration between Emily Anderson (a poet) and Jen Morris (an artist based in photography). We met when we were both students at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Emily in Writing, Jen in Photography. Our collaboration began six years ago.
We value that we come from different disciplines with different perspectives; our work evolves as we weave and unravel these anchored understandings together. Our collaboration is an outgrowth and an evolution of our friendship.
To create a language we could use to think together, we began with repetitive actions in The Latest. Two female figures move through a space, doing and undoing and redoing anxious, ruminative actions. Through this, we became interested in a larger idea of repetition and the (sometimes anxious) tradition of artists and writers using iterative and adaptive processes to generate new work from the existing canon. In riffing on earlier work, writers and artists have both reproduced and criticized the sociopolitical structures that generated that canon. We ask: who is being repeated, and who is doing the repeating? And how do canonized texts help cultures “think together”?
Virginia Woolf reminds us that even in the 20th century, women weren’t allowed in the libraries at Oxford and Cambridge without a male escort. Today’s statistics from VIDA: Women in Literary Arts and the National Museum of Women in the Arts reminds us that women’s voices continue to be marginalized. We are interested in canonicity, legacy and repetition because we are women and therefore traditionally less likely to be heard at all—let alone repeated or enshrined in cultural memory. We knew that part of our project was to explore canonicity, how writers and artists achieve significance in cultural discourse, and how cultural legacies inform the status of women. Too often, cultural texts objectify women as aesthetic objects. Exploring canonicity is a way of exploring our own objectification.
We turned to that most canonical of poets, Homer, to begin our inquiry. In Rhapsode 1 and Rhapsode 2: Part 2 Penelope we built a lexicon from the Odyssey, the story Henry Fielding called the “eatingest epic” because of memorable feast scenes and its emphasis on the domestic. The text explores plenty of opportunities to explore the questions of objectification that interest us. Re-working the Odyssey allowed us to highlight women characters’ agency, including the witch Calypso’s direct challenge to the patriarchy and long-suffering wife Penelope’s passive-aggressive techniques. We recognize that our contemporary questions about gender (and how best to achieve parity) echo questions voiced 2800 years ago.
Ancient performers of Homeric poetry were called rhapsodes; the word derives from the Greek “to sew together a song.” Our Rhapsode project re-contextualizes (or “sews together”) cultural objects from the past and present, chiefly Homer’s “eatingest epic” and today’s epic assortment of processed foods, which we frame in sublime landscapes to contemplate the objectification of the natural, as well as the role of poetry and fine arts in doing so. We connect the objectification of women with the objectification of the landscape. And yet: we love our pictorial traditions. We love sugary snacks.
The playfulness and humor in our work comes from a place of complex, ambivalent affection, and a desire to use the imagination to create an intellectual space where many contradictory truths can coexist, and where friendship and community are built from this zone of possibility and paradox.
Emily Anderson’s writing has appeared in a variety of publications including Harper’s, The Atlantic, Conjunctions, the Kenyon Review, Fence, the Broadview Anthology of Short Fiction and Best American Experimental Writing 2015. Her book, Little:Novels (Blaze VOX Books 2015), erases each of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House novels.
Emily holds an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and an MA from Bucknell University. She recently received her doctorate in English from the University at Buffalo.
Jen Morris’s studio practice explores semiotics through photography and video. She questions personal and public spheres of memory and dominant power structures, as well as how these spaces intersect. Among other locations, her work has been exhibited in Boston, MA; Chicago, IL; Helsinki, Finland; Montréal, Canada; Pittsburgh, PA; and Valencia, Spain.
Morris received her BFA with honors from Carnegie Mellon University in 1998, and her MFA in 2006 from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago as a Merit Scholar, Weinstein Memorial Fellowship recipient, and Graduating Fellowship awardee. She is now an Associate Professor of Art at Landmark College in Putney, Vermont, and an Artist Teacher with the Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier, Vermont.