Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Resident alien

Perhaps because I'm currently reading Jhumpa Lahiri's In Altre Parole, I'm more aware than ever that feeling displaced and dislocated can impede or inspire art, whether verbal or visual. Lahiri's mental and emotional home is Rome, where she writes that she feels the freedom to be imperfect in the Italian language—even as she (or her narrator) remains in her own head.

With Lahiri's words—and the assigned pages for the next day's Italian class—in my brain, I happened upon a small exhibit at Marymount College about Immigrant Artists. (Richer and deeper info about this exhibit is to come, along with possibly more images.)

The piece that spoke most loudly to me was visually easy to love. Created by the Spanish artist Isidro Blasco, it shows the artist's penchant for photographing from tall buildings in many cities and then constructing a three-dimensional sculpture that pops.

In this tapas-like show, the section by Carin Goldberg—whom I admire immensely—was more cerebral than visual. While on Fellowship at The American Academy in Rome, Goldberg's act of collecting and analyzing detritus from the city (which has been described by others as pretty darned dirty), was one of the ways she conducted a dialogue with Rome. Although her marks (drawings/paintings) in this show didn't sing "Roma" to me, the small jars of water from fountains both famous and unknown evoked the idea of Rome—as well as memories of my own childhood trips to places far more prosaic than Rome (I'm thinking of car trips which yielded souvenirs like an inch of Missouri dirt). Of course, I'm combining the sacred of Italy and the profane of the US, but so does Carin in researching both the high and the low. In an interview, Carin Goldberg thoughtfully discusses dislocation and describes a work process when in Rome that surely will yield more exhibits and (I hope) talks.

Carin Goldberg's explorations put me in mind of Molly Haskell's  review of Luc Sante's recent book The Other Paris, where the seedy undersides of neighborhood reveal the real—and often lost—attributes of a beloved location.

Why Rome? To understand who we are or are not? Overcome feelings of displacement? With the exception of Rome, Jhumpa Lahiri feels uncomfortable in most places. In her writing and in interviews, Lahiri says she has no real home. On the other hand, Carin Goldberg is very clear about who and what she is: a New Yorker.  For both artists, however, arts and letters provide a way to make sense of the world—both old and new.

Image: Isidro Blasco's New York Wave (2015). 

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