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Trees Are Alphabets

Below is information about a fantastic-sounding exhibition that will open on the 26th at The Bronx Museum of the Arts. E.J. McAdams’s striking title (which comes from Roland Barthes) reminds me of Nabokov’s character (from his amazing short story “Signs and Symbols” ) that is stricken with “referential mania,” a condition in which “the patient imagines that everything happening around him is a veiled reference to his personality and existence”: “Phenomenal nature shadows him wherever he goes. Clouds in the staring sky transmit to one another, by means of slow signs, incredibly detailed information regarding him. His inmost thoughts are discussed at nightfall, in manual alphabet, by darkly gesticulating trees. Pebbles or stains or sun flecks form patterns representing in some awful way messages which he must intercept. Everything is a cipher and of everything he is the theme.” This, of course, would be a terrifying, unbearable condition, but it is one that, nevertheless, sheds light on our own very restricted vocabularies and systems of meaning. Certainly it would be productive for us to intuit systems of reference not solely about our own human nature. Trees are Alphabets begins to imagine what such systems might look like.

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Trees Are Alphabets
September 26, 2015 to February 7, 2016

Perhaps inspired by his earlier work as a NYC urban park ranger, E. J. McAdams is interested in how we attend to the forces in our environment. Therefore, the attempt to read natural or built elements that surround us has become a major focus in his work. For his installation at The Bronx Museum of the Arts’ Terrace, McAdams was inspired by French philosopher Roland Barthes’ observation that “According to the Greeks, trees are alphabets.”

Trees Are Alphabets considers how the sun, rain, wind, and soil constantly transform the shapes of trees since evolving in primeval forests. McAdams sees in these transformations a vision of an epiphenomenon – like a text – that is forever changing. For the duration of the exhibition, McAdams will write with tree branches, in the hope to make space for a resonant poetic emanation to emerge out of this human-tree collaboration.

About the artist

E.J. McAdams is a poet, artist, and collaborator who lives in Harlem.  He explores language and mark-making in the urban environment using procedures and improvisation with found and natural materials.  One of his text-collages was included in the mail art exhibit “Focus Latin America: Art Is Our Last Hope” at Phoenix Art Museum.  An ongoing series, TRANSECTs, was featured in The Volta and About Place Journal, and published as a chapbook by Sona Books. He was a founding board member of the interdisciplinary Laboratory of Art Nature and Dance (iLAND) from 2004-14 and curated the Social-Environmental-Aesthetics (SEA) reading series at Exit Art that featured poets, visual artists and activists in conversation from 2009-11.

Michael Leong is the author of the poetry books e.s.p., Cutting Time with a Knife, Who Unfolded My Origami Brain?, and Words on Edge. His creative work has been anthologized in THE &NOW AWARDS 2: The Best Innovative Writing, Best American Experimental Writing 2018, and Bettering American Poetry, Volume 3. His co-translation, with Ignacio Infante, of Vicente Huidobro’s long poem Sky-Quake: Tremor of Heaven is forthcoming from co•im•press in late 2019. His critical monograph Contested Records: The Turn to Documents in Contemporary North American Poetry is forthcoming from the University of Iowa Press in May 2020. He has received grants from the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses and the National Endowment for the Arts. He teaches in the School of Critical Studies at CalArts.

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