Burned Book, So-Called Trash, and Love Letters

There is something about a burned book that speaks (pardon the pun) volumes. I was immediately drawn to the power of this piece in the far corner of From Sketchbooks, an exhibition of student art at the Black Family Visual Arts Center that will run through April 7, 2018. Shades of Ray Bradbury's dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451, the movie, and supposedly the temperature at which paper burns. Destruction of knowledge, disregard of facts. The notion played out everyday that rational discourse is not just slipping away, but actively being destroyed. As a lover of all of these--books, knowledge, facts, and rational discourse--a burnt volume is both an alarming, and quietly agonizing, piece of testimony. In response to my inquiry, the artist, Melissa Biggs, said of this work (featured photo, above) that it “explores some frustrations through humor, call out culture, and catharsis. The range of these frustrations are between my personal experiences as a black woman in America to certain larger contemporary, societal issues."

A completely different, sculptural piece, above, by (usually) oil painter Caroline Boreri is a documentation of all things wasted during a month of the artist's life, woven into a visual narrative.  She writes, "I challenged myself to think about what kinds of waste exists in my life that I typically do not question . . . because they are so embedded in my consciousness as 'expected' by way of perpetuated ritual. The form of the piece is a book that was thrown out . . .  the first page of the piece highlights the stamp 'Discarded by Dartmouth College Library.'" I kept circulating back to this work, identifying more individual objects and trying to draw from it the artist's story. And I also came home and looked at my own discarded items from only a single day, wondering what story they might tell about me.

Work by Sophie Connor, left; Love Letters by Noelle Anderson, right

Finally, a sweet ending of this exhibition was Noelle Anderson's Love Letters. I saw this show at the same time as a story that I read in the Valley News and on Facebook about a West Lebanon resident who discovered boxes of 90 year-old love letters while renovating her home. She put out the word, and almost immediately, someone claimed them as the correspondence of her grandparents. My own love letters? Still clawing through my closets looking for some of them (and you?), grateful that I lived at least part of my life in a pre-digital era. There is nothing like the look and feel of ink on aging paper.

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