Ellen Wiener’s MODES OF APPREHENSION, with a micro-interview by Elaine Sexton
Early this Fall (2020), during a socially-distanced studio visit, looking at the modified books (shown here), you said you thought of books as containers, a book as “a word house, a cave….” Would you say a little about the earlier work you are known for, and the shift you made to make these more recent sculptural pieces?
Books of Hours have been like a compass for iconography and order in my studio work since the 80’s. Over the past 2 years I’ve been grappling with the genre’s consistent and ever-present closing chapter––The Office of the Dead. Keeping in mind that the old name for this section was The Office FOR the Dead, the topic really has been Purgatory.
So, before the plague, I had been changing the horizontal orientation of my long panoramas into vertical scrolls; painting rough rocky shafts referencing the cave of St. Jerome, miner’s Spar Cabinets and the gravity based actions of water, fire, shovels, hoists and pulleys. I had found it sort of thrilling to write in lines of poetry referencing purgatory with things like “4 billion years!” with a big arrow, or to name each mineral particle alongside magma, unconformities and erratics. There was a lively stop/start in modes of apprehension between text and picture, it felt like a macabre toss game pitting partners from above yelling down to those below. Maybe that’s the quality that grew itself into the bookish sculptures ....real anomalies for me but a seismic relief during the past 6 months.
They honor the hard-won construction skills of writers and are earnest homages to digging deep, but they also, oddly, offer up some small delights –like Joseph Cornell, who famously hung his exhibitions at child-eye height, they lighten my stony pall of worry a little bit... and then, there’s the glue gun....
“The Mineral Imagination”
Note: All works are mixed media using modified books with wood, paper, leather, stamps, toys, hardware, found objects.
Ellen Wiener is a painter and printmaker whose primary subject matter revolves around literary themes and the expansive qualities of reading. Her intimate page-sized paintings and illuminated alphabet made for a contemporary Book of Hours have been exhibited widely at libraries, universities and galleries. She has spoken on the medieval sources in her work at The International Medieval Congress by invitation from The Society for Hildegard von Bingen Studies, and The Institute for Medieval Studies at The University of New Mexico. Her research has involved studies at The Morgan Library vis The Rare Book School of the University of Virginia and The New School for Social Research in New York, The Christian Index at Princeton University, The American Antiquarian Society, The New York Botanical Gardens and The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, London UK. Recent work has been seen at; The Staatsbibliothek- Berlin, PS1 Moma, Parrish Museum, National Academy, Iowa Center for the Book, The Heckscher Museum, Islip Museum, Stony Brook Museum, Vanderbilt University, Minnesota Center for Book Arts, The Center for Book Arts NYC and Central Booking Gallery. Reviews can be found in; Art in America, Art Forum, The Village Voice, The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Philadelphia Inquirer, etc. Honors include; The William Randolph Hearst Fellowship for Creative Artists and Writers from The American Antiquarian Society, The Andrew Carnegie Prize from National Academy New York, residency grants from The MacDowell Colony, The Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, The Ragdale Foundation, Holy Cross Monastery and stipends from The New York Foundation for the Arts. ellenwiener.com / IG@ellenwienerart