Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Charmaine Wheatley Pamphlet that Broke My Heart, and a Few Other Nice Things At Art Metropole

I don't drop by Art Metropole nearly enough. This is the thought that occurred to me when I did at long last stop by the other day to see what might be worth a read while standing and holding my bag. Here's what I found:

Charmaine Wheatley's 30% of Buffalo
A few times in the past on this blog I've noted the fact that I can be a sucker for artworks that are reading/writing-oriented, since these are two of my primary interests. 30% of Buffalo falls firmly into this category, but it's something I think others who are less biased to print than myself would also enjoy... or should, dammit! In this zine/graphic novel/booklet, Charmaine Wheatley offers drawings of and stories from adults who are learning how to read in Buffalo, NY. (The title comes from the stat that apparently 30% of Buffalo residents are functionally illiterate.) I finished this book angered at the public school system (and/or lack of funding for literacy supports in same) and so, so impressed with the so many unsung volunteers and nonprofit workers who engage in trying to help adults read and write. Above and beyond, I was very touched by the stories of the learners who were willing to speak to Wheatley. Frank, funny and true, true, true.

Micah Lexier: I'm Thinking of a Number by various authors
OK, so when it comes to publications, Micah Lexier is no slouch. The man knows his bookworks pretty well. I'm thinking, as an example of the reverse-knockout text project he did for Border Crossings #112, or that collaboration with Colm Toibin and 1334 public school students from a few years back. Anyway, I'm thinking of a number is more a publication about Lexier than by him--it's a survey of his works including essays by AA Bronson and Garry Neill Kennedy. Being all browsy and standy in the shop and all, I didn't actually get to read said essays, but I was impressed by the sharp-looking design and printing and the range of works reproduced. (For those who are extra keen, there's a Toronto launch for this book May 17 at Type.)

Two Boiler Suits and a Playlist: A Guide for Primates by Bill Burns
I actually saw this book at YYZ before I saw it at Art Met, but no matter--it's good in both places. In this small paperback, Burns lists the supplies provided to prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, and provides simple line drawings thereof. It's has a bare-bones, children's-picture-book feel that absolutely works. Why? Because we all know it must completely suck to be at Guantanamo Bay, in so many horrific ways, and probably some banal ones too. But bringing it back to the details of simple supplies, of the physical details of life, of a "kit" for imprisonment, as it were, Burns makes that experience real in a way that the abstraction of "Guantanamo Bay" does not. For instance, I did not know that there were special spherical-design toothbrushes provided to prisoners nowadays (I presume it's harder to make a shiv out of these guys?). Two orange boiler suits--one to wash and one to wear, how.... convenient? Yes, I liked the emphasis on practicalities there. As an added touch, Burns includes a playlist of songs played to Guantanamo prisoners. I can't recall the entire list right now, but it is far from peace-inducing, and also provides that "daily life" dimension of reality I mentioned previously. For bigger spenders, Burns has also produced a box set including some of the records from the playlist. I'm a bit cool on those discs, but I do like the large IKEA-style drawings of watchtowers and prison cells that Burns includes in that larger multiple, which is titled Guard Tower Plans, Prison Cell Plans and the Songs of Guantanamo Bay.

Fuck Death Mug
I have no idea what the Fuck Death Foundation is, but I sure do enjoy their ephemera.

Image 1 & 2 from Charmaine Wheatley's website, image 3 from NSCAD Press, image 4 & 5 from Art Met

1 comment:

LVA said...

What a joy to see word that this beautiful piece of work was noticed in Toronto. I was the family literacy coordinator working at Buffalo's Literacy Volunteers when I first met Charmaine and introduced her to the people we served and the work the organization does.
Her heart is amazing and her work so very perfectly captured the stories of our adult learners. Miss Nellie's doing fine, though she's slowing down a bit (still sharp as a tack, tho) and John is now in GED classes! His girls are beautiful and doing well, too. Thank you for this post--and for sharing joy in the good and anger at the bad...Buffalo would love to have you visit and I would personally be happy to show you our city through my eyes. You can find me on Facebook--Sherry Byrnes