Hurricane Sandy, the feared Frankenstorm, has arrived. She has become a nationwide trend on twitter, notably trailing the top trend of the moment, #YoFollowBackDaddyFlocka. Although I’m not sure how Hurricane Photos ended up among twitters that I already follow, it may be my current favorite source of updates. As Sandy leaves New York’s dogs at a loss, I am simply thankful that, for the time being at least, my home and neighborhood still have power.
Priorities leading up to Sandy’s landfall include, for most of us, grocery shopping, testing the flashlights, and figuring out what other household appliances can take batteries. What happens when you’ve got time to spare, though? Well, if you’re not living in an evacuation zone, you might spend the last few hours before public transit shuts down in the Whitney, which is exactly what I did yesterday thanks to free admission. Each of the three exhibits I had time to see seemed to have a linguistic element or a comment to make about the way Americans use language. Most notable in its linguistic commentary, though, was the Signs & Symbols exhibit of 1940s and 50s American artwork.
A highly curated exhibit, Signs & Symbols focuses not on artistic storytelling, but on the artist as scientist or anthropologist, each room suggesting a different kind of study or linguistic development. While I sometimes felt the presence of the curator was a little overwhelming, I also appreciated the editorial angle of the exhibit. Today, without notes or visual references, I can only recall one piece particularly clearly… and I can’t remember the title or the artist. (If I don’t write something down, I have little hope of remembering it…)
The piece itself is a small rectangular collage: a rectangular off-white base, with a smaller rectangle of pink tissue paper centered on the base, containing a grid of even smaller rectangular paper elements of various colors – three rows, four columns. The wall text insisted upon the rhythm of the piece and suggested its relationship to the sonnet form (which the artist had apparently worked with in prior writing projects).
The leap from somewhat-structured, gridlike collage to sonnet seemed a bit vast for me… and I was ready to throw my hands up at the overwrought argument of the exhibit, when I took a moment to count the elements of the collage. Two larger base pieces, and a three by four grid. Two plus twelve. Fourteen. Okay, I get it. Although I would still hesitate to agree with the analysis of the wall text, I will say that I enjoy this imagining of a sonnet. A Shakespearian sonnet comprises twelve rhyming lines of the abab/cdcd/etc variety, which come to rest on a final couplet. It follows a rigid structure, although there is still room for color and embellishment.
I appreciated the moments of linguistic synesthesia Signs & Symbols managed to create… and I am beginning to wonder even more about the connection between language learning and our other senses.