As part of our “Fellows Friday” web feature, we focus on the artistic lives of our Pew Fellows: their aspirations, influences, and creative challenges. This week, we speak to 2013 Pew Fellow and poet Emily Abendroth, whose book ]EXCLOSURES[ is newly available this month from Ahsahta Press. Of the book, writer and artist Chris Nagler says, “Sometimes there is a book you love so much you become frightened for the world. ]EXCLOSURES[ is that for me.”
What is your favorite title of an art work?
I’ve always loved the painter Paul Klee’s titles, and the way their presence as text impacts your orientation to his works. For instance, a beautifully intricate, multi-layered, and color-saturated image gets labeled rather firmly With the Egg, suddenly drawing your eye to a single yoke-endowed, ivory splash in the lower center of the image, which gains a different kind of buoyant gravity and hovering importance as a result.
On the other hand, a small, simple line drawing of two elongated, lumpy, and top-heavy androgynous figures—who in their leaning into one another seem to almost merge together—gets affixed with a description that is something far more than merely a “title” for what’s occurring before your eyes. Instead, appended is a mini-narrative that reads: “Occasionally I’d fool people some, / I’d put acid in their drinks, / I’d put poison in their food, / And make it hurt when they mate. / I founded an order with merrily dancing tears on its banner.” I love the joyful labor that necessarily happens as the viewer tries to put those two somewhat incongruous verbal and visual discourses in contact with one another.
How does residing in this region contribute to your artistic practice?
I’ve never considered myself to be a regional writer or to fit into the category of a “writer of place.” For lack of a better way to say it, I’m definitely more a “poet who lives in Philadelphia,” as opposed to a “Philadelphia poet.” [However,] the current dynamics of Pennsylvania politics profoundly shape my understanding of the obstacles that preclude our achievement of individual and collective health, well-being, self-determination, and, ultimately, emancipation (be it cognitive or physical in nature). This, in turn, informs my sense of what art has a mandate to attempt to, first, make legible and, then, to confront. I don’t by any stretch think this is art’s only mandate but, from my perspective, it is a primary one of them. Perhaps since I used the artist Paul Klee as an example to speak about titling, it makes sense to offer his comment that “Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible.” I hope that my work sometimes achieves that.
How has your thinking about the business of your practice changed since you started working professionally?
Given that my primary artistic medium is poetry, I don’t work professionally, or at least not in the way that I think this question implies. That said, I do without question take my own artistic work and efforts seriously and I do situate them as a meaningful center of gravity, experimentation, and potential transformation in my existence. As time, in conjunction with my own writing practice, progresses I find myself working incrementally more slowly and more deeply. I accept that it will likely take me both a long time and a laborious, challenging journey to reach the more interesting and challenging thoughts/results in any given project. Such a process does not map well onto a standard capitalist model of either production or success.
What images or things keep you company in the space where you work?
Immediately surrounding and behind my desk, one will find the following four items plastered prominently before my eyes on the wall:
The Center marks the 25th anniversary of the Pew Fellowships in the Arts with a short film, released in March 2017.
In 2005 the Center awarded Pew Fellowships to 12 Philadelphia-based artists, and grants to 66 dance, music, theater, and visual arts organizations and practitioners in the greater Philadelphia region.
Sojin Kim is a curator and special assistant to the director at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.
Professor of jazz drums at the Juilliard School of Music and New York University, Billy Drummond has toured and recorded with a variety of jazz masters.
Tracie Morris is a poet, performer, and scholar and an associate professor of humanities and media studies at Pratt Institute.
In 2006 the Center awarded Pew Fellowships to 12 Philadelphia-based artists, and grants to 73 dance, music, theater, and visual arts organizations and practitioners in the greater Philadelphia region.
Filmmaker Heidi Saman’s film Namour is acquired for theatrical and on-demand distribution, theater artist Geoff Sobelle presents The Object Lesson at New York Theatre Workshop, and composer Jennifer Higdon is nominated for two Grammy Awards.
Dancer and choreographer Ronald K. Brown is the founder of Brooklyn-based contemporary dance ensemble Evidence, A Dance Company.
We speak to poet J.C. Todd, whose current work-in-progress is a collection of sonnets that “complicates and contemporizes the tradition of war poems.”
Pew Fellow Teresa Jaynes hosts a discussion about her artistic and curatorial process, in conjunction with the exhibition Common Touch.
Thomas Allen Harris of Chimpanzee Productions is an award-winning filmmaker whose work has been featured internationally on television, at festivals, and in museums and galleries.
Pew Fellow Raphael Xavier takes his Center-supported autobiographical dance, The Unofficial Guide to Audience Watching Performance, to Chicago.