Thursday, May 29, 2008

May 10, 2008 Salon Sit Down Discussion

This being our first meeting after the winter hiatus, we met at the Carver Museum on the perfect 100 degree day. Next door was the Saturday afternoon drumming classes (the rooms are soundproof), and through the glass panel we saw the generations streaming by on their way into the drumming circle.

Nelly expressed her wish to be in the space as a collaborative artist, and perhaps, to lead a small writing workshop. We settled in and Nelly began by introducing us to her creative process and the theoretical underpinnings to her approach.

She then continued her presentation with a discussion on the importance of artistic discourse and attention to craft as fundamental elements of her practice. She asked us to consider the question of text as object ("Why do we think text cannot move?"). Much like perusing art objects in a gallery or museum space creates an individual experience of time and space, language on the page can also function to mirror this trajectory. She described her work as "holographic" - in which the text is not only a reproduction of itself, but moves and acts as if the characters and their landscapes are present before us - the novel as crystal.

In her debut novel, Song of the Water Saints, Nelly Rosario succeeded in bridging stories between land and sea. In her forthcoming work, of which she read an excerpt previously published in Callaloo under the title "Airman Basic Training", her characters are embodying each other; they are literally exchanging their eyes. When asked to describe the composition of this new work, Nelly delves into her fascination with Gaudi - Barcelona's fanatical architect who is famous for La Sagrada Familia - and his obsession with details, with perfection and with seemingly oppositional elements. Her character, an airman, is compulsively focused on power, but is conflicted by the reality of constantly changing authorities. The author asks her character: At what point does he own himself? She asks us, as readers, to consider questions of value and worth, motivation and multiple perspectives. What would compel someone to trade eyes? How do you determine the value of your eyes in exchange with someone else’s? This is not only a theoretical contemplation, but a negotiation embodied by her characters.

When asked about other influences on her current work, Nelly spoke of “Hand of Darkness” by Ursula K LeGuin, of Jorge Luis Borges, Italo Calvino (especially “Invisible Cities”, for its structure), and Toni Morrison (specifically, the language of “Palace of Dreams”). She also spoke of her own philosophical inquiries: “Imagine looking down at the stars.”

“How can my readers exchange eyes with my characters?”

“What occupies the space between our eyes and a camera’s eyes?”

and finally, “How do we exist within infinite processes?”

I might describe Nelly’s aesthetic as the clouds left behind by comets: concurrently gracile with language and dense in conceptual and historical undertones. She herself spoke of the first time she understood beauty: living on the third floor of a building in New York City, staring at the mosaics on the floor. She was fascinated by the way the light passed through the bubble glass and danced across the hexagonal patterns of tile. Similar to what we see against our eyelids when we tightly shut them. Fractals. Things that are simultaneously broken and unified at the same time.

We talked about the concepts that Nelly had presented to us: the concepts of value and planes of sight, of language and perspective. And then, we finished by giving each other creative tasks. I agreed to share these here on the blog page for others who might want to try them.

1) Envision your work in a museum of choice – any museum – and create the piece to show there.

2) Write a dialogue between your 12 year old self and your 80 year old self – using diaries or other source materials to inform your writing.

3) Draw SWARM theory.

4) Write an application form for a completely free person. What does her day look like? What does she dream? Where does she live? What kinds of questions would she ask of the world?

5) Create collages for a week in place of writing.

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