What surprises you about Kaylen’s flash fiction in conversation with your art? Did “Exhibit A” refract any element of the art that made you see the piece differently?
Artist Jennifer Moses: First, I just want to say that I love this story. After this pairing the painting has more layers of meaning for me and it makes me wonder if I would have come up with a similar image had I been responding first to Kaylen’s writing…I might have. After reading, I can see many more aspects of the main character in the painting. The story adds dimension to the figure: head turning back or facing forward, beanie or eyeball. I wanted the legs to do this but the poem adds psychology and emotion.
This poem was chosen in response to Jennifer Moses’s painting, “Skipping Along”—can you talk about the experience of finding words that were in conversation with the image? What leapt out first from the art? A particular image? A mood? A line?
Writer Kaylen Baker: The colors in “Skipping Along” caught my attention first, which is usually what I’m most susceptible to in paintings—I’m like a child that way! But once I took a good look at it, I had to put it away; I needed to feel the impression it had left, rather than see it. The words came later, as I fell asleep, and when I began to write, certain lines fell into place, as if they’d fallen out of the painting. (I even hid the painting’s title in the story, backwards; it seemed appropriate since the figure in the painting and the story both go in strange directions.)
Paired with the writing, do you think the art does something different or has a different tone?
Artist Jennifer Moses: I think that the poetic narrative both expands the tone and reaffirms it. It expands the tone with a wistful feeling of memory, absence and presence, and ultimately loss. The humor also becomes more nuanced—in addition to the humor there is pathos. The intersection of humor and pathos is something that I strive for but I think that I mostly fall short of achieving. Kaylen’s writing highlights this intersection.
This painting was part of a series of works made for a recent exhibition titled “Ghost not Ghost.” All the paintings were made over old sanded paintings, thus the primary reason for the title of the show. They are haunted by the old paintings and also by my private hauntings. They are full of frolicking “ghosts,” some that leap with glee and some that rattle their chains. The tone of “Exhibit A” is spot-on in terms of the show in its entirety. The fact that the history and underpinnings of the image were unknown to Kaylen is testimony to how astute and sensitive her response is.
Paired with the art, do you think the prose does something different or has a different tone?
Writer Kaylen Baker: Yes, yikes, I may have gone to a darker place with the words. Or rather, my narrator is at odds with what she’s looking at, which creates a dissonance between emotion and reality. In some ways, this dissonance is present in Jennifer’s painting. But it’s funny—we attribute the tone of story to the voice of the narrator, when in fact the other character could embody the painting. So in some ways, the voice of my narrator reenacts the feeling of looking at the art, of being a spectator, rather than the painting itself.
Have you ever had a writer respond to your work before? What was the experience like?
Artist Jennifer Moses: Through Broadsided Press I have had three opportunities to collaborate with a poet. This is the first time that a writer has responded to my piece and not vice versa. This experience has been both inspiring and fodder for new work.
Have you ever written work that has been inspired by visual art? What was that experience like for you? Why were you inspired to do so?
Writer Kaylen Baker: Often! Though I can’t say why. Maybe I like the challenge of disassociation, of seeing and then unseeing, to then find the story. I want to evoke something without being too descriptive, and I want to avoid summary yet be playfully explicit. I want to tease out a story—that’s what it is, it’s like a flirtation between two art forms.
How does literature fit into your creative life as a visual artist?
Artist Jennifer Moses: I often use poetry or novels as a conceptual starting point for my work. Sometimes it’s just a line or chapter, sometimes an overarching theme.
Describe the collaboration in one word.
Writer Kaylen Baker: Exhilarating
Artist Jennifer Moses: Brilliant
If the Broadsided collaboration were a piece of music, what would it be?
Writer Kaylen Baker: “Gallipoli” by Beirut.
Artist Jennifer Moses: “Marche En La” by Ennio Morricone.
Read any good books lately?
Writer Kaylen Baker: Eimear McBride’s The Lesser Bohemians. And—can I add a second? Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber.
Artist Jennifer Moses: Lab Girl by Hope Jahren and the new translation of The Odyssey by Emily Wilson.
Seen any good art lately?
Writer Kaylen Baker: Corinne Mercadier’s photo collection, “Espace Second.”
Artist Jennifer Moses: Philip Guston…always Philip Guston.
Anything else? (Here, we invite the collaborators to invent a question, add a comment, or otherwise speak to what the questions so far have not tapped about their Broadsided experience).
Artist Jennifer Moses: The existence of a broadside in a world full of rapid-fire computer images gives me a sense of hope. In these times seeing an image with writing on actual paper requires spending time with it. One has an experience that is more than momentary; we pause.
This year, we invited responses to Jennifer Moses’ mixed-media piece “Skipping Along,” and were particularly struck by Kaylen Baker’s short prose piece “Exhibit A,” which brilliantly engages with the movement, presence, and absence in Moses’ piece. Baker’s story about a man with memory loss seems almost straightforward, but the more we read and discussed it, the more the story and its images began to blow off the page onto Moses’ image. Baker’s character, a man with a “hole” where “memories should be,” instead sees paintings, and as the speaker and the man discuss Moses’ image, the piece of art and the story it appears in merge, seemingly blown “like wind from behind.” While the romance in “Exhibit A” ends badly, these two pieces of work truly seem made for one another.
—Elizabeth Bradfield, Miller Oberman, and Alexandra Teague