The Aesthetics of Language
This week we continue our series highlighting artworks derived from or inspired by the written word, in conjunction with the special exhibition R. B. Kitaj: Don’t Listen to the Fools.
Lesley Dill (American, born 1950) explores language and the body, working in a variety of media, from sculpture, photography, prints, and papermaking to performance. To Dill, words do not just have meaning, but an aesthetic presence, whether they are typed, handwritten cursive, or printed. This aesthetic plays heavily into the artist’s work.
The poems of Emily Dickinson (American, 1830–1886) are a major source of inspiration for Dill, who often uses passages from the poems in her own works. Dill’s Divide Light #2, 2002 (pictured), gets its title from a Dickinson poem that begins, “Banish air from air, divide light if you dare.” In the artwork, a delicate paper hand—a cast of Dill’s left hand—holds these words, which have been stained with tea. Threads hang from the letters, acting as an extension of the work’s energy. About the work, Dill has stated, “I wanted to make hands that were naked hands … that were … raw, that were vulnerable, that were inside the protection of our normal skin.”
In 2008, Dill debuted an opera she wrote, designed, and directed called Divide Light, based on the complete works of the poet.