Palimpsestic Impetus: A word-nerd chooses her titles

This week I had to hand in titles for my BFA thesis show; the gallery director needed them to make labels to stick on the wall next to our work.
Titling non-existent art is a tricky, tricky business!

First, I decided on a layout for the work. I will be hanging 7 pieces; one large one (probably 36" x 36") will be in the middle, with three more small ones on each side. The three small ones (probably 9" x 9") will share a large set of glass panels, and will be spaced vertically under the glass. The final arrangement ought to look like a triptych.

Triptych is a term generally applied to sets of three 2-d works which are meant to be displayed side-by-side, with the center panel being the main element.

I'm hoping to evoke the original, more specific intent of the word:
triptych "hinged, three-leaved writing tablet used in ancient Greece and Rome," from Gk. triptykhos "three-layered," from tri- "three" + ptykhos, gen. of ptyx "fold, layer."

I'm reinforcing this allusion by titling the six small pieces "Palimpsests, No. 1-6."

palimpsest "a parchment or the like from which writing has been partially or completely erased to make room for another text," from Latin palimpsestus  parchment cleaned for reuse, from Greek palimpsēstos,  from palin  again + psēstos  rubbed smooth, from psēn  to scrape

It's a bit of an awkward word, palimpsest; it doesn't exactly roll off the tongue. But it satisfies several needs:
1. I've been wanting to use it as a title for a really long time.
2. It sounds smart. Yeah, that's right, I'm smart.
3. It's actually perfect, thematically speaking. My little ink paintings are about growth in a reclaimed space that only exists in the wake of erasure and loss. They all begin as pristine little paintings which are corrupted and partially erased; a new painting grows out of the remnants left behind. 

Henri Michaux, Belgian/French writer and artist, ca. 1936. Photo by Gisèle Freund

While I was writing my thesis paper a few weeks ago, I was reading Miserable Miracle by Henri Michaux. The book is based on a journal he wrote while heavily experimenting with drugs. It would be unreadable if any normal fool had written it, but Michaux was an incredibly talented and unusual man. The edition which I was reading was awesome; the editors had thoughtfully included text which Michaux had scribbled in the margins of his journal. There, I found the phrases "Impetus in jerks," and "Impetus indefinitely renewed." The phrases stuck with me, and I scribbled them in my own little journal.
At that point, I was still developing my final thesis statement. Until then, I had focused on the erasure and the corruption, and I hadn't yet consciously realized that my thesis was more about rebirth and growth.
I couldn't stop repeating Michaux's peculiar phrasing in my mind.

(Let me pause for a moment, to define impetus for anyone who isn't quite sure what it means.
impetus: an impelling movement or force; incentive or impulse; stimulus; the force that sets a body in motion.)

Impetus seems to aptly describe my motivation to make art, and more specifically, to make art about memory and loss. The "indefinitely renewed" part is even better: it describes the realization at which I was concurrently arriving. My memory loss had caused anxiety that I would lose myself, but I realized that was impossible as long as I keep making art. It heals my brain, keeps it full, and fills in the voids lefts behind when something is forgotten. Thus, my impetus to make art will be indefinitely renewed.
Sorry for the blah-blah-blah, but it was necessary to explain why the central panel of the triptych will be called "Impetus, Indefinitely Renewed."
I recommend it highly; be prepared for some meandering, it's to be expected.

So far, I think I have the little palimpsests done, although I know I will make a million more, and choose my six favorites. All of my attempts at the large central piece have been investigational (read: failures). Just in case it doesn't happen, I requested titles for 3 more palimpsests, which will be shown with the others in a square layout of 9. This is a last resort, but hey, a girl's gotta have a backup plan.

So, I have SIX AND A HALF DAYS until my completed work has to be dropped off at the gallery. In ten days, I will be installing the work. In twelve days, I will be handing in the final dvd disc with all my work on it. In THIRTEEN DAYS, our thesis show opens (see my last post.)

No comments:

Post a Comment