The Space Between: exploring the unsaid

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Jack Ortwerth and Rosa Venditti observe an art exhibit in the "Space Between" show at the Haggerty Art Gallery. Photo by Francesca Norman.

The University of Dallas is a bookish school.

Assistant Art Professor Steven Foutch’s remarks on the Core capture this characteristic of our university:

“Did you know that by the time you graduate UD, and assuming you’ve read the Core, you and your classmates will have about 50 books that you all have read?” Foutch said. “In most universities, that number is probably two.”  

It is fitting, then, that the first exhibition of the 2018 school year at the Haggerty Art Gallery features books. “The Space Between” celebrates the art of bookmaking, and the exhibit emphasizes the importance of the book and the written word.

However, the name of the exhibition, “The Space Between,” implies a conceptual element to this contemporary take on the art of bookmaking.

Books have been the vehicle by which stories and ideas have been communicated and preserved throughout the ages. Books contain language, and language is the way in which we communicate with each other. It is the translation and expression of thought into meaningful sounds: words. But conversely, what is left unsaid can be just as expressive of our thoughts as words.

The artists in this exhibition have taken the abstract terrain of the “unsaid” or “the space between” and given it a body to inhabit. But importantly, in doing so, they have continued the complex dialogue of silence.

The art of bookmaking is central to the exhibit, reinforced by the curator’s choice to display the books in the center of the gallery. However, the walls are lined with conceptual art. This creates a special atmosphere within the gallery, one in which the concept, what is left unsaid or the space between, and the origin of the concept, the books, are in dialogue with each other.

Foutch addressed this combination of the conceptual and the physical.

“Some of the artists’ work is more direct in their narratives, and some of it is more ambiguous or poetic,” Foutch said.

One of my favorite pieces in this exhibit falls under the “ambiguous” category. It is a series of prints by the artist David Walske, entitled “Paraphrasing.” The series features four distinct prints made up of various overlapping colors and shapes.

To me, these prints visually represent what happens when one is asked to paraphrase: you express the meaning of something written or said by someone else, but in your own words. The paraphrase will be different from person to person, however; the next person might detect a nuance the previous person didn’t catch, or perhaps have a different take on what was said or written.

Walske’s four prints, though distinct, are the same size, shape and color scheme, and in this way the four prints have captured the essence of paraphrasing.

I learned after walking through the exhibit that, in creating his prints, Walske used an old school type and letterpress. All the shapes the viewers see in the prints are actually enlarged parts of individual letters.

A more straightforward piece, “Months,” by artist Kathryn Miller, features a stack of handmade paper. The piece is installed on the wall in such a way that one can see the actual “space between” the pages.

“The Space Between” is intended to challenge its viewers intellectually. It is a call for us to reflect not just on the importance of books, especially at a time in which they are rapidly being replaced by screens; it is also important to reflect on what we have been taught by books and the artistry that goes into their creation.

Before leaving the Art Village, I made a comment to Foutch about the struggle of appreciating contemporary art, especially at a school which places a high value on tradition.

He paused for a moment and then replied:

“The value of a liberal arts education is that it gives you the tools to research, examine, debate and articulate your ideas,” Foutch said. “You don’t need to like contemporary art, but you can approach it critically without passing judgment. It is a part of the culture in which we live and are a part of.”

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