Bonnie Gordon maps image and word, stumbling through streams of consciousness
Fri 10 June – Sun 27 Nov
sand: a moment of time….This definition stands out from the swirling streams of words and definitions that surround a man who seems to be swinging an hourglass over his head. The hourglass sifts the sands of time from its upper chamber into the lower chamber which dissolves in the human forehead. Title SAND SELLERthis print by Bonnie Gordon appears on the cover of her book published by Rochester’s Visual Studies Workshop Press in 1982 with the long title: The Anatomy of Picture Maps According to Merriam-Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language. In the introduction, the artist states, “The image maps in this book record the progress of a decade of exploring the contents of a dictionary and expandable halftone photograph. The book and the picture served each other as tools to discover their mutual underlying subject.
This exhibition pays tribute to Bonnie Gordon, a pioneer of techniques in the early 1970s that presaged the digital manipulation of photographic and printed media. She altered imagery and text – literally stretching them – to create works ranging from unique two-dimensional cyanotype prints to huge gallery-filled multimedia sculptural installations. Undulating textual threads make seemingly fortuitous journeys across the surface of his works, tracing and altering meaning while casually making direct connections between words that also resonate in the transformed image of a protean man. The results can be read as visual manifestations of contemporary theory that deals with the functioning of the unconscious. His work has consistently defied categorization. Gordon’s topic building blocks were based on entries from Merriam-Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language Unabridged linked to distorted images of an ubiquitous “protean” man wearing a suit and tie.
Gordon’s art can be appreciated through the prism of the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, who is known to assert: “The unconscious is structured like a language. Defining the unconscious as the “discourse of the Other”, Lacan wrote about this process in 1977 in writingsindicating:
The psychoanalytical experience has found in man the imperative of the Word as the law which fashioned him in his image. He exploits the poetic function of language to give his desire its symbolic mediation. May this experience finally allow you to understand that all the reality of its effects resides in the gift of speech; for it is by this gift that all reality has come to man and by his continuous action that he sustains reality. (Lacan, writings322.)
In 1980, when Gordon prepared to submit a grant to publish her Proteus series, she sent out a questionnaire to artists, scholars, and friends seeking responses to her work. She quotes the linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, whose works inspired those of Lacan. She wrote:
I regard the dictionary I have chosen as a reasonably reliable microcosm of the English language. To quote Ferdinand de Saussure, “The very possibility of putting things relating to language into graphic form enables dictionaries and grammar books to represent it with precision.” (Ferdinand de Saussure, Course in General Linguistics, Philosophical Library, 1959) She continues: “I treat the excerpts from my dictionary as pieces of language, not as pieces of writing or poetry. Is it acceptable to quote Saussure that my dictionary is the language? »
Quoting from Mathpublished by Time/Life Books in 1963 to make the concepts accessible, Gordon also explains “The Topology of a Face” by stating: “In an unusual transformation, a man’s face is distorted. [Gordon deleted “in a fun-house mirror.”] Topographically the face and its deformation are the same: each point of one corresponds to a single point of the other. Using her own protean male face as an example, she demonstrates how “topological equivalence” equates to “one-to-one transformation.” She also illustrates how the “true stretching” process she used differs from “stretching illusion” such as “anamorphosis, caricature or computer morphing”. His signature process has been experimenting with “infinitely elastic plastic”. Importantly, Gordon states, “Topological equivalence was, in fact, my real reason for deciding to use one (and only one) base image for my nearly 30-year-old project and it’s still the case.” More than twenty years later, she argues that mathematics and topology had a greater influence than other philosophical theories as her work developed.
Gordon, like other female artists over the centuries, has not been well recognized for her accomplishments in the patriarchal art world. His highly complex images, objects and installations have long awaited the attention they deserve. Fortunately, several people collaborated to praise his creativity. In 2021, artists Roberley Bell, James Morris and Colleen Buzzard co-hosted The Protoplast of Proteus / Bonnie Gordon, presented in Rochester, New York. They invited Nancy Weekly to participate in the selection of works since she curated an expanded version of their exhibition for the Burchfield Penney Art Center. They also hired Courtney Grim, who filmed interviews with the artist to showcase her with her art.
Bonnie Gordon: Mapping image and word, stumbling through streams of consciousness acknowledges Gordon’s development of ideas and methods by including meticulously drawn notes and studies, first impressions, cyanotypes, globes, and scroll sculptures. A space in the gallery is dedicated to a fragment of the astonishing installation, Bonnie Gordon: proofs of concept/evidence presentation exhibited at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in 2002. To fully appreciate his work, says Weekly, the exhibition also incorporates elements of proto-hypertext which Gordon calls “life stories, visual diaries” from the stunning installations that fill several rooms with her. workshop and house.
We are indebted to Bonnie Gordon for sharing her time and vision with a grateful new audience. We thank Claudia Kadryna and other friends, family members and lenders whose efforts helped bring this exhibit to fruition. We are grateful for the generous support of donors and lenders who made the exhibition possible.