The Scarlet & Black

The Independent Student News Site of Grinnell College

The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Professor explores the intricacies of shorthand

By Tessa Cheek

To say that “Kind Favor, Kind Letter,” one of the exhibits opening today, Friday, Jan. 28 in Faulconer Gallery, is light, or even that it is brave—bravely springy for the season, brave in its loveliness—is perhaps to miss one of its fundamental features. In its heights, its delicacies and its sheer interconnectedness, the exhibition is, with the honesty of a good friend, exactly what it purports itself to be—kind.

Professor Emma Lee Running, Art, stands before a piece from her exhibit “Kind Favor, Kind Letter,” which opens this afternoon. Running returned from sabbatical this semester after collaborating on this collection with two other women, Kate Carr and Tatiana Ginsberg – Abraham Kohrman

The three-woman collaborative re-installation was first shown in the Pyramid Atlantic Art Center in 2009 and grew from a year-long body of letters about aesthetics exchanged between the artists themselves—Kate Carr, Tatiana Ginsberg and Assistant Professor of Art Lee Emma Running.

“We met at the University of Iowa. We were all working with Tim Barrett at ‘The Center for the Book,’ and we were making paper,” Running said. “It’s a process that not a lot of people know, it’s a sort of obscure process. We realized from working together…that at a certain point you don’t need to say ‘I need that pan’—someone’s hand is already there and they’re ready. So we started this remarkable communication, and it was just a communication of proximity, but it was also a really subtle communication of aesthetics.”

The concept and content of the show had already sprung from similar ground—the making of paper and the kinds of communication possible by, through and on it—when the artists became preoccupied in an old, transitory language.

“We got interested in the shorthand manual because it’s this lost language,” Running said. “It’s a language of transcription and a language of translation. People, women, secretaries—primarily women—would use it to transcribe letters from their bosses…so it was like a language of men to men with this strange moment where only women could decipher it.”The lines of short-hand appear again and again in the show, both fibrously and abstractly, as well as explicitly in the form of detailed paper-cuts. The use of shorthand, as well as the scrawl of all three artists reaffirms the quiet communication being exhibited. “We were really interested in a single gesture being able to represent a phrase,” Running said. “It’s a distillation.”

Despite being highly distilled, the show reflects a long and complex partnership not just on the part of the artists themselves, but also of the works they have produced together.

“There’s the kind of attention that we pay to material, and the kind of attention that we pay to transformation because we know [that] textile fabric gets broken down into sheets of paper,” Running said.

And, in fact, the off cuts of a muslin chain were beaten down to form the paper of the piece which neighbors it.
This interconnectivity also informed the various subjects of the show—from a series of suspended milkweed seed paper cuts, to the massive, burgundy paper cut of the same form on the wall behind. “[We have] issues of scale, but also issues of materiality,” Running said. “How a plant becomes a textile, and how a textile becomes a piece of paper.”

The installations, though seemingly all of paper, are also made of light and space. Down to the blue suspension threads of its complex mobiles, the show is quiet and also quite sophisticated.

“No one says, ‘all my attention,’ or ‘could you kindly, please,’ anymore,” Running said of the compact phrases of shorthand. “It’s this language of generosity and politeness—and formality in some ways—but they read like lost poems. There’s a mark for ‘all my’ and if you add a loop it’s ‘all my attention.’” This show certainly deserves that.
“Kind favor, Kind Letter” opens this afternoon, alongside “Of Fables and Folly,” in Faulconer Gallery at 5 p.m.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
Donate to The Scarlet & Black
Our Goal

Comments (0)

All The Scarlet & Black Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *