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On my panel contribution to Story Week 2011



So I was on a panel at Columbia College Chicago's Story Week Festival, and above is a rough cut of the video that was shot during the event. By the way, that opening image is of Dan Sinker, the journalist who did the whole fake Rahm Emmanuel Twitter account thing. Two points: a) he teaches at Columbia College; b) if you don't follow American politics or know about the recent Chicago mayoral election, you won't know what the hell I'm talking about.

The whole video gives you clips of the events that took place throughout the day. If you can't wait, and want to skip to the part where Patty introduces our panel, it's at about the 4 minute 38 second mark.

The panel I was on was called Story and the Arts. Patty (my wife, the writer whose debut short story collection has just been published, Associate Professor in the Fiction Writing department, etc) had the idea of asking people who work in a broad range of disciplines at Columbia to give 15 minute presentations about their own work, speaking to the theme of how they use (or work against) story/narrative in their field.

The contributors were: Darrell Jones, dance; Tony Trigillio, poetry; me, visual art; Audrey Niffenegger, writing/printmaking; Bruce Sheridan, film-making; Rod Slemmons, director of the Museum of Contemporary Photography (which is part of CCC).

Darrell led off by performing a piece that mixed dance/movement, taped sounds and music, and spoken word. There's an all-too brief segment of that at about 4:45 in the above clip. To be quite frank, it was, to quote the Bard, abso-fucking-lutely fan-fucking-tastic. Poor rest of us, who had to follow him.

Tony discussed the battle in contemporary poetry between experimentation and narrative, and then discussed one poem from his latest collection, which inhabits the world of Lee Harvey Oswald from the late 1950s till his death.

I also talked about the tension between narrative and process/materials in my own work. As examples, I chose a few of my James Joyce etchings, one of my installations, and the sound/print collaboration I did with Patty, based on her grandfather's archive of letters and photos.

Audrey seemed to welcome the opportunity to NOT talk about 'The Time Traveller's Wife' but instead to take a canter through her printmaking work, which goes back nearly 20 years to the time she was at the School of the Art Institute. I had a great discussion with her afterwards about etching, aquatint, and the other esoteric recipes of printmaking. When one printmaker meets another printmaker, they generally recognise a fellow soul: someone who knows things that normal human beings simply have the common sense not to gent involved in.

Bruce showed two clips from one of his films, about a New Zealand writer from the mid-twentieth century. He had really fascinating things to say about the relationships between the spoken word and the visual space in film.

Finally, Rod showed examples from exhibitions that have been mounted at the MCP, including work by Diane Arbus, Dorothea Lange, and others, focusing on photographers who played around with narrative expectations that arise from the 'reality' of photos, and other artists who incorporated (and excluded) text in their photos.

The discussion afterwards was carried out in front of a somewhat thinned out audience. This happened because the previous panel ran late, and we didn't start taking questions until after 6 pm. But we got great questions from the audience, there was a lively and engaged back-and-forth between the panellists, and everyone agreed afterwards that it had been of great value. This was confirmed by the emails that flew around amongst the contributors on Friday, saying how energized everyone felt by seeing the work of their fellow contributors. I guess that includes me -- but I have to say, if you want to have your mind blown, check out Darrell Jones' work first.

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