Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College, Poughkeepsie
August 30 - October 14, 2018
Artist Reception: Thursday, September 13 (5:30-9pm)
By SHANA NYS DAMBROT, Sept. 2018
There’s something about typewriters, especially old, well-used ones. The clicking of the finger-burnished keys, the crisp inky smacks against the paper, the dings and slides and zips, the whole jazzy, efficient rhythm. The evocative contours and design panache of the machines themselves, sculptural and cinematic, which conjure up archetypes of literary stars and struggling, solitary geniuses with cigarettes and disheveled hair. Its accoutrements have charm too, like reams of clean white paper. shredded indigo ribbons, and sleek, if hefty, carrying cases. The vintage typewriter as an object and a symbol is eccentrically magical, impossibly analog, and frequently fetishized.
And as artist Tim Youd knows very well, beyond the aesthetic appeal of the object, the engaged physical enactment of typing also has its own charms. The ritualistic qualities and the mythological aura of the “great author at work” archetype lend the use of a typewriter a natural performative aspect. Because of the qualities of its objecthood, the choice of using an old typewriter carries with it its own set of meanings and is anchored to time and place, and history, in a way a laptop is not. When augmented by the conceptual and empathetic situational logistics of a site-specific pilgrimage such as Youd regularly undertakes, it makes a witty, emotional impression.
Using the same make and model typewriters as the carefully chosen authors whose ghosts he chases, and traveling either to the sites where their great books were written or else the places where the stories are set, Youd has been retyping literature all over the world for several years, in actions that are both performative and generative. Encompassing both ephemeral spectacle and the creation of enduring works of visual art, the results are both intensely site-specific artifacts and transcendent, original, unique works of art whose very form and material tells both the old story of the story and the new story of the artist.
Youd types each novel on a single sheet of paper, continually reloaded until the entire novel has been retyped. Over the course of several hundred pages of text, the paper soaks up the ink and disintegrates under its weight and wetness, while a backing sheet becomes embossed and splashed with pigment transfer. The finished work is a framed diptych of the two pages, which remains recognizable as a book, as an artifact, and as paper and ink -- an extreme palimpsest in which story dwells but cannot be read.
As the latest subset of his long-term project, 100 Novels, Youd spent the summer of 2018 in the verdant, humid, impossibly picturesque landscape of the Hudson River Valley in upstate New York, typing. Including these new iterations, he’s now up to nearly 60 retyped classics. His subjects stretch from Ernest Hemingway to Hunter S. Thompson, Virginia Woolf, Jack Kerouac, and now, several authors famous for their New York states of mind such as Mary McCarthy, John Cheever, Carson McCullers, and soon, Elizabeth Bishop. McCarthy and Bishop bracket the series, being both Vassar College alumna, and as the art gallery at Vassar College is hosting an exhibition of works made during the cycle. Youd began with McCarthy and will end with Bishop, retyping her poems inside the gallery during the opening reception.
Tim Youd’s unique intersection of time-collapsing historical homage with a durational performance art simultaneously comprises not only its own spectacle but also the direct presentation of the creative process. The delicate, yet slightly violent form of the pages is both rather moving emotionally and rigorous conceptually. Made all in the same way, no two are ever quite the same. The darkly romantic, entropic beauty of the works of art offer commentary on narrative, authorship, materiality, and the very definition of what a drawing can be.
The Hudson Valley Cycle included the following texts and performances: “The Group” by Mary McCarthy at Vassar College; “The Falconer” by John Cheever a Sing Sing Correctional Facility decommissioned guard tower, Ossining and at John Cheever’s home, Ossining; “Jack” by A.M. Homes at the Bronxville Campus of Sarah Lawrence College; “The Member of the Wedding” by Carson McCullers at the Carson McCullers House, Nyack; “Light Years” by James Salter at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site, Catskill; “Ironweed” (screenplay) by William Kennedy at street cafés in Hudson; “Ironweed” (the book part one) at the Albany Institute of History and Art, Albany and part two at Art Omi Fields Sculpture Park, Ghent; and finally, during the opening reception at Vassar, Youd will type poems by Elizabeth Bishop (Class of 1934) inside the gallery.
The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center is free and open to the public Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, 10am–5pm; Thursday, 10–9pm; and Sunday, 1–5pm. WM
Shana Nys Dambrot is an art critic, curator, and author based in Downtown LA. She is the Arts Editor for the LA Weekly, and a contributor to Whitehot Magazine, KCET’s Artbound, Flaunt, Fabrik, Art and Cake, Artillery, Palm Springs Life, Riot Material, West Hollywood Lifestyle, Jenkem, and Porter & Sail. She studied Art History at Vassar College, writes essays for books and exhibition catalogs, curates and juries a few exhibitions each year, is a dedicated Instagram photographer and author of experimental short fiction, and speaks at galleries, schools, and cultural institutions nationally. She sits on the Boards of Art Share-LA and the Venice Institute of Contemporary Art, the Advisory Council of Building Bridges Art Exchange, and the Brain Trust of Some Serious Business.
Photo of Shana Nys Dambrot by Osceola Refetoff
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