Mad Hatters' Review Issue 10, Fall 2008

by C. Mehrl Bennett
Luna Bisonte Prods, 2008

Reviewed by Bob Grumman


C. Mehrl Bennett's Words & Junk is a collection of 43 visio-textual artworks in full color, one to a page, plus a diptych, on facing pages, which may be my favorite piece in the collection. That's odd, because it is the least colorful of them, and I love the frequent risks Bennett takes at the borders of too many colors, and too much clash of colors, always triumphantly. The diptych consists mostly of sine-like waves of black lines on white, a brownish discoloration singing much of the white. There is a strong op-art effect. On the image to the left, a sort of inset shows a letter R being moltenly formed in steps under the word "REA." The rest of the image, to the right of the R, shows O's turning into D's. "READ." With that action's magnetic lines of force prominently depicted.

In the second image of the diptych, the same graphic is shown, except shifted left to reveal the D's multiplying off into a darkness. Above them is the word "ZEN." To make, "REAZEN," and--for me--a wonderful visual poem about the trans-rational reason that the best reading can raise one into.

Another piece I especially like depicts a metal frame; both on it and in it are uneven stripes, some horizontal, some rising from left to right, and one with mountain-like points thrusting up. Each stripe is one basic color: blue, purple, violet, pink or green. It'd be an appealing but minor abstract-expressionist landscape except for four stenciled words, one in each corner: "SKY" and "HIGH" at the top, "BLUE" and "WAY" at the bottom. These context historical depth into the work by alluding to certain paintings of Larry Rivers I've always admired, and to the work of several current visual poets, notably Guy R. Beining (perhaps accidentally), in which stenciled words are important, and include the names of colors. More important, the words hint a metaphor into being, of art as something labeled and warehoused, to which the metal frame contributes inorganicism. There's a suggestion in the piece, too, of a scientific instrument suggestive (very roughly) of a spectrometer, rather ineptly trying to measure a scene far too complex (and psycho-significant) for science (or labeling).

I might add that the isolation of the simple words in the piece, and their desegregation from literature into visual art should slow an engagent into more fully experiencing their meaning, their full sensual and emotional meaning, and the phrases, like "blue way," that they form, than they would in prose, or old-fashioned kinds of poetry.

One piece by Bennett that I'm sure would qualify as "beautiful" for the most philistine of beholders (and for me), is a simple two-dimensional floral pattern in brown against a mostly grey background. But about ninety percent of it is contained in a dark-edged inner rectangle slightly higher than it is wide. In the bottom right of this rectangle, the word, "LIGHT," on its side and yellow, juts up, thereby (one assumes) causing a pink hue to mottle over the parts of the pattern and background that are in the rectangle--with a subtle spill of light blues and greens beyond the rectangle to the right. The effect of light. Trivial? Maybe, if that was all it was. However, it is also the effect of the word "light." So you simultaneously experience a thing in Nature, and a named thing in Nature. Something seen, and something seen and read. A tripling, because two different experiences plus the experience of the relation of the two to each other.

To finish off my random tour of the pieces in Words & Junk, I'd like to turn now to one of the many multi-colored works in it. I'd call it "Breaking the Glass Ceiling." (I must admit I wish Bennett had given titles to her pieces, though certainly many artists don't.) "Breaking the Glass Ceiling" is a surrealistic who-knows-where that features a bridge labeled "THE/COR/POR/ATE/LAD/DER/TO/SUC/CESSS." Going under this bridge is a black path inscribed with words about a woman using "the underpass" to break through "the glass ceiling." Shards of broken glass indicate her success, but the path ends beyond the broken ceiling in what seems to me coal or some kind of dirt--definitely nowhere very appealing. That it's all some kind of zippy, high-charged but not that important game is suggested by the craziness of the scene, as well as the word "secret," spelled with a dollar sign--which, along with the paths, bring to mind Parker Brothers' Monopoly. In short, satire (effective satire), as is the case in many of these pieces. But also an expression of life as a blast, or: satire and lyricism. With the piece's effectiveness as a work of visual art contributing to the latter.

The bottom line is that Bennett doesn't just build visually rewarding locations, but also verbal doorways into unexpected domains as valuable for musing. No one interested in contemporary visual poetry should be without her Words & Junk.

C. Mehrl Bennett
C. Mehrl Bennett comes from a fine arts background; B.A. in painting and drawing, spent many years as a mail artist, and has an art exhibit history from the 80ís and early 90ís that focused on junk assemblage (found objects- thus the claim for PRO FOUND). She lives in Columbus, OH, with spouse (they met through mail art), poet John M. Bennett. Her word art has been published in Lost&Found Times, Vispoeology, Otoliths, Naked Sunfish, Womb, Word For/Word, and Black Box.

Related Links:
Blogger Profile
Digital Collaborations
John M Bennett's Storefront

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