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Once Upon a Time is Now Forum

This forum is for reactions, comments, and discussion of "Once Upon a Time is Now", both the installation as it appeared in English House at Bryn Mawr College and the web version available on Serendip.

Please feel free to contribute to/join/rejoin the conversation at any time. It is a place to share thoughts and ideas both about the exhibits themselves and about things that come to mind from hearing what comes to other peoples' minds.

Comments are posted in the order in which they are received, with earlier postings appearing first below on this page. To see the latest postings, click on "Go to last comment" below.

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The Guest Book
Name: Lucy Kerma
Date: 2004-10-22 10:44:03
Link to this Comment: 11170

How lovely to come by your exhibit this way, Elizabeth, as it was to see it in person. Interesting to see what was different on line, what I saw this time that I had missed before: especially the computer images, textures of the pictures that I had only seen from a distance, the complexity on the table at the end. Very rich. Missed seeing the dresser, though -- was that a problem with my computer?

Interested, too, in wondering if the virtual tour was different because it was a "particular man's" interpretation. Elziabeth, does it feel that way? Paul, is there a reason you described yourself as a "particular man" and not a "particular person"?

Thanks to both of you.

Name: Anna Goldf
Date: 2004-10-23 11:13:15
Link to this Comment: 11176

I really liked the yarn tryptich/tableau part...I can't really explain why, but it really appealed to me, especially after I read the verbal part of it.

To be honest,
Name: Kathryn Ti
Date: 2004-10-23 13:17:07
Link to this Comment: 11180

I was a bit dissappointed when nothing fell as I lifted the sheet covering the doll house-like structure, as was advertised would happen in the directions for examining the art. Points off for that, heh heh heh. On a more seriosu note, I enjoyed how tactile the exhibit wasand how it allowed the observer to participate in the art as well, so it became almost a sort of performance art. Although I have been exposed to a fair amount of more modern and post-modern art, and the fact that my formal training has been very limited, I still often have trouble truly appreciating this kind of art mostly because I don't quite understand it. I think for myself that often when observing this art I focus entirely on what the art is trying to communicate, rather rather than enjoying the art for it's aesthetic value.

"It does open wounds"
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-10-23 17:15:32
Link to this Comment: 11183

"It is the photographs that give one the vivid realization of what actually took place. Words don't do it." (Donald Rumsfeld admitting that he knew about the abuses --and the photographs documenting the abuses--at Abu Ghraib)

I live (sort of) in English House, and over the summer, while I was upstairs in my second-floor office, writing (among other things) the various explorations and expansions which arose for me in response to Writing Descartes, Elizabeth was in the basement, assembling, dis-assembling and re-assembling the exhibit that premiered yesterday evening as Once Upon a Time is Now. I went down to visit the site a couple of times while it was in progress--one time Elizabeth was there, one time she was not; one time the room was locked, one time it was not (hm: which time is "now"?).

I told Elizabeth then what a strong comparative sense I had of myself upstairs, doing the work of the conscious mind (aka "thinking too much"), while she labored below giving expression to the unconscious. I had such a vivid experience of descending from my light-filled office into the darkness and dankness of that cellar space, with its exposed pipes and peeling walls--they are for me the very powerful and troubing location for the exhibit, and strongly condition my reception of it. The exhibit itself is for me one of fragments and holes and tears and tearings--hard to shape into a whole, hard to get hold of (and of course, each time I walk through it, each time I stand in a different place, it shape-shifts--especially the way those mirrors mirror different aspects of the room, of the self looking into them....)

Today--in response to the invitation to represent my own relationship to the exhibit--I realized that another strong element in my reaction to Elizabeth's work centers around my awareness of the difference between the medium I use upstairs and the one that Elizabeth's been working on below, the difference between words and images. To rise up from the chair, where I was sitting in front of the word-filled screen, to then move around in a basement filled with material objects, was for me strongly reminiscent of an earlier gallery tour: the on-line Conversation in Images. I found myself now, as then, wanting to turn my experience of those images into words, to "read" (and so control?) them.

That earlier exhibit had been a troubling one for me to view, filled (as it seemed to me) w/ images of wounding, of injury, of hurt. Reading, today, the October 2004 PMLA issue (which highlights the intersections of visual and verbal), I came across the words of Samuel Beckett who (according to one critic) "understood the longing for less insight more clearly than did any other twentieth-century artist." That was my desire, looking at that exhibit: to see less, to see less wounding, to be less wounded. It was like how Beckett described seeing--"a sudden visual grasp, a sudden shot of the eye. Just that." To see those images seemed to mean to take them into the body, and be hurt by them....

Another PMLA critic quipped that "The image may teach nothing, but it does open wounds." I do think these images teach something; they continue to teach me quite a bit (in large part, about my discomfort w/ parts, my preference for wholes!). The fragmentation is hard to see. It feels very much like a descent into the unconscious, into the work of the surreal, of the shredded and torn--and I have a very strong impulse, as I walk again among the various parts of the exhibit, to link them together, to make a story out of them that has clear beginning, middle and end...

and then to walk out of that basement, into the sunlight of the lawn.

image for the unconscious
Name: Sharon Burgmayer
Date: 2004-10-24 23:47:27
Link to this Comment: 11205

By far my favorite piece in the exhibit was the dresser with the mirror in the back. I LOVED! shining the flashlight through the holes in the sheer zebra-patterned viole and discovering what was inside: the sequined scarf, the mask, the eeried veiled reflection of myself in the mirror, reflected through the voile... It felt immediate and familiar to me, not that I was looking at myself in that interior, but at some else's (presumably 'lizbeth's) interior world—of memory perhaps? And, it felt also very much like looking in on someone's unconscious... since the unconsicous (I believe) is mapped considerably through images who stand in for events, knowledge and emotions around those. Or, (an interpretation with more complexity) the vaguely reflected view of myself looking in seems like an apt image of the conscious looking in on the unconscious, puzzling yet enraptured by the hard-to-understand yet captivating images inside.

continuing ...
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2004-10-25 11:50:01
Link to this Comment: 11208

I took some pictures documenting the opening of the non-virtual version of the exhibit . If interested, have a look.

Lucy's question arose in a different context where Anne's thoughts were also posted. Here's some relevant bits of what I said there:

I didn't have a sex/gender intent when I said "... a particular man ...". It was (so far as the thinking part of me knew/remembers) just a way of emphasizing "particularity", as in "I'm a particular person and other particular people may well see things in their own particular ways".

What makes it interesting is that, having written the words, I did pause and wonder whether they were significant (and even thought briefly about changing them) because I had a sense that as a man (of my particular sex/gender variant) there could indeed be things about Elizabeth's installation that I wasn't well "tuned" to and that others (of sexes/genders different from my own) might be responsive to than me.

For whatever its worth, I don't see "shredded and torn" in "Once Upon a Time" ... What I saw/responded to was "spaceness". "Where "spaceness" means, to me, the freedom to move this way and that, to change perspectives, as one's attention is drawn to one interesting thing or another."

Is my sex/gender particularly significant in what I (in particular) saw, and/or in what I didn't see? That, it seems to me, is an empirical question ... and maybe some useful empirical observations will emerge [from discussion of Elizabeth's installation]

Looking forward to hearing more reactions (on that theme and many others) to both the non-virtual and the virtual forms of Once Upon a Time Is Now.

Date: 2004-10-25 20:10:02
Link to this Comment: 11221

RE: Spaceness
Name: Arlene
Date: 2004-10-25 20:18:47
Link to this Comment: 11222

The changing perspectives, changing the interprtation of what was seen and changing what actually was seen, seemed to me like a major part of this piece. Everyone has their own version of the same story based on their point of view and interpretation of the same things. We each set up a unique context that filters what we see and results in individual, seperate realities. This was fun in a visual way. I liked looking in the dresser from slightly different angles and seeing a hint of red, or the disappearence of strpes from the cloth, or a surprise such as the glittery cloth or myself in the mirror. I also liked the concept of discovering something new in the sense of spying on parts of the installation. Uncovering hidden images as well as hidden meanings. So many layers of different ways to experience this piece...

more thoughts
Name: Arlene
Date: 2004-10-25 20:25:16
Link to this Comment: 11223

As sculpture I was the most intrigued by the wrapped shoe.
That seems as though you could explore more variations. I loved seeing the
process of painting on the computer. Of course that is something I
would relate to.

The other element that connected me to the piece was the concept of time that allows change and layers and different perceptions of the same thing. There was a lot to consider in the piece. Another level were the fairy tale references. That was on purpose too, I think. Even the shadow made me think of peter Pan and not growing up and being changed by time. Though of course that is a fantasy. The shoes and mirrors were a part of that too and the books. There is sexuality in fairy tales too and that was another thread.

I loved the found, random things that came out of the setting. The
condensation thing near the shower curtain seemed planned and the
pipes and fixtures and basement added a creepy element that I liked. I think a pure white gallery would have made different connections for the parts. just as you said moving the dresser changed the piece, the actual place for it had enormous influence on the perception of it as well.

all the contrasts
Name: Leah Blank
Date: 2004-10-26 20:07:52
Link to this Comment: 11228

I usually do not enjoy modern art because it confuses me. But I felt extremely interested and curious as I looked at the exhibit, and I walked through it again. I liked the mirrors scattered throughout the exhibit, and seeing the hazy, blurred, shadowed, and sometimes clear reflections of myself. The old hats and gloves and other accessories on and in the dresser reminded me of playing ¡°dress up¡± with my Grandma¡¯s old scarves and purses. The old children¡¯s blocks on the table and the picture of the girl in the hammock also seemed old, but the so much of the exhibit seemed new and modern (like the computer). I liked all contrasts. The intense reds contrasting against the black and white, and all the different textures. The paintings and the images made with the yarn could be so many things, and I like how they made me wonder what.

very neat
Name: Maeve O'Ha
Date: 2004-10-27 23:58:52
Link to this Comment: 11240

It is often hard for me to grasp modern art...I must say though, that I really enjoyed the canvas that had been painted over and over with many different layers. That made so much sense to me. Once Upon a Time the canvas looked extremely different, and although we cannot see the layers, they are still there now. All the different layers of the past worked together to form the image that we see now.

Name: Nissa
Date: 2004-10-28 18:19:44
Link to this Comment: 11258

Very powerful. Very visceral.

It made me think.

I don't think it would have worked as well on me set anywhere else. It was the starkness of the room itself, and the buzzing of the lights that emphasized exactly what it was that had been put there, and how deliberately. Cinderella and her glass slipper never put me so much in mind of the original myth, with the cut-off feet.

Thank you for this.

writing and femaleness
Name: Natsu
Date: 2004-10-28 19:00:05
Link to this Comment: 11261

Having been advised to read the material presented at
the entrance before entering the room,
I was reading the phrases posted on the wall
and again perceived Elisabeth's idea that writing is something
linked to being female.
When I first read about this idea in our class forum,
I couldn't help feeling that this was an extremely strange idea,
but I today I suddenly remembered how
many Asian women wrote by male names in the past.
They had to pretend to be male becuase
women were forbiden to write,
but they could not surpress their want to express
themselves in words.
I don't know if there was a similar situation
in the western world or not,
but this made me think that maybe there is
something in women that makes us want to write.

Name: Katie Bald
Date: 2004-10-28 20:27:56
Link to this Comment: 11262

To me, the most striking aspect of the exhibit was the pure depth that the mirrors were able to give it. When I walked through the art, I felt a real sense of dimension and of being inside of it - as though I was a part of what was being displayed as well. I not only felt physically in the room itself, but the mirrors (especially those on the floor), gave me a strong sense of floating through the art. It was really quite impressive to feel a strong sense of belonging in what one would usually see as a piece to view from the outside. I have never experienced such art before.

Name: Sanda Win
Date: 2004-10-28 22:08:09
Link to this Comment: 11264

Although, I didn't understand everything, I thought it was really cool!
As I walked it, the first thing i saw were the mirrors and they gave this sense of having different parts within you, different sides of you so you act and think differently from time to time. (I don't know if I'm making any sense) The things that were presented really fit with the room. I liked the yarn idea, and was tempted to pull it. Another thing was the doll was creepy.

to write the world is to make the world
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-10-29 21:33:48
Link to this Comment: 11268

It's been exactly a week now since Elizabeth's opening , a week for mulling over, a week of walking by that open door (en route to classes I teach in an adjacent room), peeking in, re-visiting, re-newing initial impressions of the "shredded and torn"...and a week in which (in preparation for a talk on Language I'll be giving @ Swarthmore) I've been (re) reading some of the work of Jacques Lacan , whose ideas about fragmentation and mirroring have helped me understand better some of my own reactions to Elizabeth's installation. I record those understandings here, in case/the hope that others might also find them useful (and do so with many thanks to Mary Klages, from whose good lecture notes I drew this summary):

Lacan described three phases of development: the Real, the Imaginary and the Symbolic. In the first stage, of the Real, the baby is just a blob driven by NEEDS, which can be satisfied; this is the psychic place of fullness and completeness. In the second stage, as the infant begins to form her own identity, she becomes aware of her separation from her mother, and develops DEMANDS for her recognition. This is when the mirror stage occurs: the baby experiences its body as fragmented, or in pieces--whatever part it sees is there just when it is seen, and disappears otherwise. But at some point, seeing itself in a mirror, the baby has the illusion that it is a whole person. Lacan calls this a misrecognition, a fantasy; which is why he terms this phase, of demand and mirroring, the realm of the Imaginary. (It's of considerable interest to me to realize, at this juncture, that my own first foray into Writing Descartes, We Are, and We CanTalk, Therefore... speaks about the need to see myself mirrored back by others, and the sense that without such mirroring I am not coherent.)

Anyhow: the experience of the Imaginary prepares the child to take up a position in the third stage, that of the Symbolic, in which she learns to use language to cross the gulf between the self and what she lacks, what she desires. For Lacan what is @ this point desired-- to be the center of the system (of language, of culture)--is definitionally not fulfillable.

So here's the Lacanian take on "Once Upon a Time is Now": while upstairs, at the computer, I'm immersed in the Symbolic, trying to use words to cross the (impossible-to-cross) gap between the real and the imaginary, down in the basement of English House is a representation of the mirror stage, a figuring, via the shards of mirrors, of our fragmented selves back to ourselves (as per Sanda's "the mirrors ...gave this sense of having different parts within you, different sides of you).

I don't think Lacan got the "whole picture," though. One piece of the picture he didn't get was the ways in which, in conversation with one another, we might go beyond this separation of Self and Other, not simply mirroring one another back to ourselves, but actually, in conversation (as at the opening?) making new things together:

Another thing he didn't get--and this is the conclusion to a (possible) long-winded revision of Elizabeth's suggestion, above, that "to read the word is to read the world": to write the world is to make the world. There's more about this just now finding expression in the Working Group on Emergence, where the notion that consciousness brings the unconscious into existence begins to be articulated, as I think it may also be in Jeffrey Eugenides' novel Middlesex: "It's a different thing to be inside a body than outside. From outside, you can look, inspect, compare. From inside there is no comparison" (387).

Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2004-10-31 12:46:20
Link to this Comment: 11279

I really enjoyed the installation, although I can't say that I always knew what I was looking at. Despite the fact that I did not entirely understand it, I think what I enjoyed was the uninhibited feeling that the artwork gave me.

the actual vs the virtual
Name: Ann Dixon
Date: 2004-11-11 11:52:20
Link to this Comment: 11513

I enjoyed seeing the exhibition in person very much after spending a few weeks with the virtual exhibition here on Serendip (I'm the Serendip webmaster who worked on the exhibit with Paul). The most striking thing to me when I walked into the exhibition space was the circularity of the exhibit. I had worked with Paul's photos extensively and had no idea that the exhibit as a whole was placed as a circle and not as a museum/gallery norm of a rectangular follow-the-walls around the room box! Thematically, that seemed important (as well as shocking) and I wanted to note that here - that perhaps this virtual exhibit could be presented a different way, with a different perspective, that could communicate this. And perhaps this is also a clue to Paul's gendered subtitle, "as seen by a particular man....?

Congratulations again, Elizabeth, for your thought provoking work.

revisiting this space
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-12-08 18:06:50
Link to this Comment: 11912

Steve Levine gave one of the talks in the Visual Cultures Colloquium this afternoon that put me in mind (again) of Elizabeth's installation, and gave a context for understanding the sort of revision of/intervention into art history that I think it offered. I want to try and describe that here.

Steve's talk was called "Maquillage"(which means both "make-up" and "fakery," and which--following Baudillaire--he presented as an icon of modernity). The talk focused largely on the interplay between images of women making themselves up (in front of mirrors) and making their own self-portraits--set in the long art-historical and cultural traditions in which "women's burden was to be the object of the gaze," and men were equally "fixed" as the ones "for whom the gaze is fashioned."

I didn't realize what a useful history/context this offered for understanding Elizabeth's installation until, showing us a figure of a male artist painting his own self-portrait while looking angrily in a mirror, Steve said, "the mirror is associated with the mother--who holds the baby up to it and says, 'you are so beautiful, you are so beautiful.' The male artist, no longer comparable to the love image of the maternal lost object, unable to envision/arrange himself aesthetically, looks at the mirror in rage." It was this juxtaposition of "mirror" and "man" that made me think, again, of Elizabeth's work.

I remembered Maria's asking Paul why he described his own representation of the installation as "as seen by a particular man at a particular time." Why not "as seen by a particular individual/human/person"? What I want to suggest now is that both the exhibit itself and its web version actually function pretty neatly as an intervention into this gendered history of art. In Elizabeth's installation, the male gaze was not "fixed" on the object that is woman; and the woman was not "fixed" in front of her mirror. The exhibit rather contained multiple mirrors in which the viewers could see themselves from various perspectives. The images in the mirrors were constantly changing; and--because we could all move through the exhibit--our perspectives on it were also constantly changing (I'm thinking here of cubism; of the simultaneous representation of multiple points of view).

And I'm thinking that that gives us yet another interesting revision of Descartes: Not "I can think, therefore I am." Not "I can see [another], therefore I am." Not "I am seen [by another], therefore I am." Not even "I can see myself, therefore I am," but rather, in what Paul calls the "spaceness" of this exhibit, "spaceness" means...the freedom to move this way and that, to change perspectives. Not to be fixed--either by gazing or being gazed upon--but able always to move.

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