Written Wor(l)ds

Merit Award 2017

Written Wor(l)ds was part of Creative Mapping, a special topics course that brought together University of Houston MFA/BFA Graphic Design, School of Art and MFA/PhD Creative Writing, Department of English. The Written Wor(l)ds exhibition set out to represent both the words and the worlds of selected literary texts.

The challenge posed was to translate the world of a literary text from words on a page into a three-dimensional installation, staying as true as possible to the information provided by the source. This required a close reading for the details, images, and descriptions the writer used to evoke the book’s atmosphere, as well as consideration of how to represent and/or select from the work’s multiple settings, the passage of time and changes in atmosphere.

The project required something in between a carefully circumscribed combination of faithfulness and interpretation intended to convey not simply the setting but the world of a text, in all its enchanting power. Each team chose one work of literature with a strong sense of environment—one that immerses the reader in an atmosphere (a combination of time, place, objects, mood, and perception) to interpret and transform into an installation.

The eight teams installed a multi-layered interpretation of their chosen book. The books were: "Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury, "House of Leaves" by Mark Z. Danielewski, "Incarceron" by Catherine Fisher, "Lord of the Flies" by William Golding, "Methuselah" by Robert A. Heinlein, "Nana" by Emile Zola, "The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho and "The Shining" by Stephen King. Each installation effectively conveyed the content through typographic interpretations of excerpts from the book and fabricated/found physical objects. Each of the eight installations offered a unique array of mixed media.

Each of these worlds was created through the use of edited language and constructed form in physical space. To establish limitations and overall cohesiveness, the genesis of each installation was a wooden pedestal. A container relevant to the selected book was placed on the pedestal: a box, a book, a suitcase, jars, cans…and from this container the world could expand: unpack, spew, ascend, descend, explode…into the space and surrounding walls.

The introductory exhibition wall text by the Creative Writing students reads: “Good stories transcend the words that are used to tell them. The text may be fixed, but literature is ultimately collaborative: each reader brings the people, the places and the stories contained within a book to life. Written Wor(l)ds takes this imaginative process a step further by placing each interpretation in three-dimensional space. Here the translation of signifier to signified is made material. Eight installations embody their texts in various ways, manifesting story, character, setting and mood in order to offer viewers a new and predominantly visual way to experience books that range from classic to modern, from horror to science fiction. Writing allows for a level of expansiveness not bound by natural laws. Hotels engulfed in flames, time travel, and planetary exploration can all be conjured immediately and effortlessly, although subjectively, through language. Writers can fit whole worlds on a sheet of paper. This exhibition, on the other hand, is the result of careful reduction, of choosing what is representative of the overall work, and essentially transferring that work from the mind to the physical realm. Here is the word made flesh. Here content is embodied in objects, carved in physical space. Here is the metaphor made tangible, the symbolic material. Books are maps of the imagination and these installations offer condensed, visual representations of these maps. Each installation tells a story. Good stories invite the reader in.”

The opening of the exhibition was well attended. Originally scheduled for a two-week duration, it remained in the gallery for six weeks and served as an exemplary use of the student gallery at the School of Art. Tours were conducted to recruit new students and potential donors. The funding source offered enthusiastic congratulations for the results of the semester. 

Jury Comments: 

"In Written Wor(l)ds, the Nana installation was a singularly beautiful moment mingling of type and form. The ephemeral nature of the book’s language twisted around the dress was just breathtaking. In fact, I’m tearing up just thinking about it."

"The sensitivity to texture, light and craftsmanship in this piece is enthralling and beautiful. The collaboration of two different student departments to work together only enhanced the end result, which clearly expresses a true collaboration of visual and written media."

Client: 

Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts, University of Houston

Project Area: 

390 sq ft

Open Date: 

December 2014

Project Budget: 

$1,000

Photo Credits: 

UH Graphics, Studio302

Design Team: 

Cheryl Beckett (graphic design faculty), Peter Turchi (creative writing faculty), Jeff Albers, Dana Kroos, Danny Wallace (creative writing students); April Ayugat, Dawn Baxter, Yu-Lin Chen, Jose Cruz, Susan Dastaran, Francisco Delgado, Megan DeMaranville, Jim DeVega, Camille Domangue, Andy Freestone, Andres Garcia, Stef Gonzalez, Sasha Ichoonsigy, Kathleen Kennedy, Michelle Lam, Jonathan Lopez, Crystal Pham, Maria Ramirez Jaller, Sarah Salazar, Katie Shockney, Corbin Spring, Alex Tomic and Dan Vo (graphic design students)

Fabricators: 

Xstickers

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