David Beaudouin's surrealist sonnets and Thea Osato's large drawing/paintings that accompany them grab the mind with vivid images that run into one another and slip in and out of sense as if you, the viewer, are in a dream, trying to make linear what refuses to be read that way. "In your text 'a beautiful think book'/ which seems your mind, an odd lump/ concealed from your physician, its shifting turf/ an earth I walk to learn on." Like the turf, the poem itself shifts as soon as it seems to mean something, and one learns to flow with the lines as if on a river of language, drifting past the successive images -- "Silence turns like a swan in my breath."
These five poems/artworks, along with the book "The American Night Series" of which they form a part, constitute the single most challenging entity in "Prose/Poetry -- Visual Arts Collaborative" at the BAUhouse, an excellent idea that has become a worthwhile if quite uneven show.
Its two curators, Joe Cardarelli and Joe Giordano, both of whom teach at the Maryland Institute and who are themselves a word/visual arts collaborative team, have created a show of works that combine text and visual images. Art and text are nothing new, but a whole show devoted to the marriage of the two is a rarity.
When this one is good, as with the Beaudouin/Osato collaboration, it's darn good, but it descends pretty far, too. There are works that one thinks could
only have been included to fill up the space, but there are others that get to you. Aside from Beaudouin/Osato, the most effective combination here is the result of Paul Kohl's collaboration with himself. His "Why We Lost the War" consists of his poems about the Vietnam War and his photographs of Civil War battlefields.
In a kind of reversal of the expected, we are shocked not by the visual images but by the words; the poems are calculated to jar us, and do, while the photographs of battlefields are quiet and serene. The work suggests that we may forget the lessons of the war (if we ever learned them) once there are no more people whose memory it sears. It also suggests that bigotry is alive and well in Americans, if its objects now and then shift. It probably suggests a lot more, too -- one assumes that the five poem/photographs here are part of a larger series, which might be a fine candidate for a book; Kohl has something to say.
Martha Gatewood's "This Fabulous Dress" is a funny piece of self-revelation and comment on the endearing silliness of human nature. Jennifer La Chapelle's "Chapter Three" addresses race relations through relationships, and it's painted on Army stretchers, thus suggesting wounds, which is what we go on inflicting on one another. Bonnie Fous Reynolds' "Of Once We Were" is a modest but poignant lament on the passage of time.