A Picture of Everyone I Love Passes Through Me
collages by Lynn Behrendt and texts by John Bloomberg-Rissman
2016, Lunar Chandelier Press, New York/Chicago, $25, 978-0-9846076-9-3.
Between its covers, this is a book for exploring… not in one sitting, nor even linearly. Rather, it’s a book to be encountered, piece by non-confluent piece, section by section, day by day. Each reading section’s length is based on resilience and that particular day’s cognitive stamina. It’s not easy. It’s a book of overload, of too much of a good thing, of milking a concept for all it’s worth, beneath the guise of a collaboration that seems more of a one-way street, leading from text to collage, but never, seemingly, back again. Yet, treated gently, with respect, and with blinkers removed, it works. It works in the same way as shattered glass works in shooting out shimmering spectra into an otherwise drab world. It works in setting out its general precept…
“The world is broken…”
Broken, as in shattered. Those pieces of glass again. Broken, as in what the images, the edited texts, are trying to do, is not to make something new, but to make modern life a little more understandable by making sense of the already extant. And, being such a wind-blown confetti of words and images, such a good, single, unselfconscious non-confluence, it can only be said to deserve another similar good, single, unselfconscious non-confluence in reply. What follows, then, are the largely un-edited notes from my own sense-seeking, non-confluent encounters with this work over a period of time.
First Encounter… Clear elements of a satisfyingly pleasant nihilism scattered throughout the texts, but, which aren’t, however, mirrored in the images. In fact, through the polychromatic garishness of Behrendt’s digital collages, what she produces appears much more contradictorily jolly. Possibly, this also carries on beyond the non-reflected nihilism. The elements of the collages, for example, are none too reflective of the tone of the texts, often, instead, appearing innocent, naïve, or just hooked up to Behrendt’s stock images, such as the body parts she uses throughout, no doubt as a metaphor for just how broken her world is, or that bloody over-populated aviary of birds!
Second Encounter… The realisation has crept up on me… the lexicon of the texts is laudably rich… a kind of Rich Text Format. Bloomberg-Rissman uses the phrase ‘mash-up’ as though to imply something chaotic… but that’s a definite misnomer… there are too many clues to there having been much time spent on creative consideration, both at first in Bloomberg-Rissman’s texts and, then, in Behrendt’s edits of those texts. But, are there ‘pop’ elements? Is this digital ‘beat’ cut-up text and re-interpreted Rauschenberg? Is there more than meets the eye to the inclusion of a John Haugeland quote?
“If you take care of the syntax, the semantics will take care of itself.”
(Bloomberg-Rissman, Here’s the Deal.)
Third Encounter… In both texts and images, there’s much juxtapositioning and quick-shifting of imagery, allusion and metaphor… nothing stays static for long… nothing is quite what it seems… But, of course, imagery, allusion and metaphor… three of the principal poetic elements… all in the texts and the collages… yet, is the poetic necessarily poetry? Is poetry necessarily poetic? Is everything everywhere poetic anyway… at least, poetically, beneath the skin? Even prose, poetically. Well, here, yes. Not daffodils and clouds though… just lungs and bones and hearts and guts… and birds… of course… lots of those bloody birds!
“Who will save my soul, which is blackened, soiled, spoiled,
appropriated, like a dog possessed by his master’s endlessly
(Bloomberg-Rissman, There is Money.)
Fourth Encounter… Example of how, sometimes, the image, as a response to the text, can be overly literal…
“The owls watch the patient as the surgeons look into the camera, not knowing what organ they’ve found. Next to the scalpels and clamps: an alto sax.”
(Bloomberg-Rissman, Now Imagine the Ball Breaks.)
…and, guess what? There they are, there in the collage… owls, surgeons, organ, scalpels, clamps and alto sax… all ticked off from the text… all aspiring to be some kind of narrative. Okay, so sometimes it’s hard to make your mind work on a subliminal level every day… but, still, the artist is surely responsible for being aware of this possibility in their own work and for rectifying it… or is the value of the spontaneous so great as to allow this to be ignored?
Fifth Encounter… At what point, though, is the text so continuously rich, so solid, as to become tiresome. Equally, at what point do the images become predictable, whether allusive or literal? Is there a point at which the machine-gun of rapid-fire stimulation turns on you and snuffs you out? Is this that point? Is this the point where a fifteen line, wholly unpunctuated, continuous sentence of prose, like There is a Border to the Tundra, is just simply too much? Maybe.
Sixth Encounter… An orchestra is always an impressive example of the possibilities inherent in collaboration and co-operation, without which the entire ensemble would collapse, musically riven by the evils of competition and confrontation. I find something of that in this… all the disparate parts click together… everything fits in the greater whole… even the flurry of ‘bubbles’ in the text in I Gathered Together… and the ‘hokey-cokey’ moment a page later… even, though I admit it might be stretching the point, the seemingly random collection of numbers in What They Found… it all comes magically together to form a whole that’s greater than its parts.
Seventh Encounter… Just a passing thought, but, are these really collages? Where’s ‘la colle’? Where the ripping and tearing? Are digital image editing software packages capable of producing anything close to collage’s human touch? Are they capable of anything more than digital cut and paste? Does the process lend itself to the risk of the over-repetition of image elements? Originally, without multiple copies of a magazine or found object to tear or cut, once an image was stuck down, that tended to be it… single-use. Whereas, digitally scanned, an image can be used and re-used, manipulated and re-used, ad infinitum, as though this would, somehow, automatically create continuity between pieces. It doesn’t. It hints at a shortfall in inventiveness, especially when its use results in loose, floating, un-matted objects too easily being disconnectedly laid over less than provocative (in any way) backgrounds. Where exactly are the well-ruminated associations between the elements, and between each of those elements and their backgrounds? I suppose all I’m saying is…it works well… but, could it work better?
So, for all the good intentions of not creating something new, but making modern life a little more understandable by extracting sense from the already extant, the results of this begin to appear tired, underworked, rushed. Of course, I doubt this was the case… many hours and much effort have, no doubt, gone into this, independently, by both Behrendt and Bloomberg-Rissman. Maybe there’s just too much of it… too much of a good thing? Putting these fatuous criticisms aside, though… by taking the non-confluent ‘message’ of A Picture of Everyone I Love Passes Through Me simply as a reflection on what there is of this broken world and how it might be re-assembled, opens up the realisation that, as an absolute minimum upon which to build the new order…
“This is the world: we agree on that much.”
(Bloomberg-Rissman, Dreamt Last Night…)