Glimpses into the unacceptable
By Amanda Krugliak
God, sex and animals talking are the three chief reasons books are banned and are the subject of Nigel Poor’s exhibition at U-M’s Institute for the Humanities, through Dec. 21. The video below documents students’ involvement in the project, which is featured at North Quad Community Space and Shapiro Undergraduate library.
Poor (photo left) examines and deconstructs the notion of censored books through photographic, sculptural and text-based works. This project commenced in 2008 when Poor was invited to participate in an exhibition focusing on this subject and chose to focus her investigation on books that included women’s names in the titles or overtly referenced women; the list consisted of 45 books including Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Girl Interrupted, Julie of the Wolves, and The Diary of Anne Frank. Poor subverts the conception of these books as “dirty” or “unclean” by washing and drying each of the selected books, empowering those tasks typically associated with women’s housework in a new appraisal of these works. She explains, “laundering took the book from being a concrete object with the ability to communicate a story, characters, concepts, etc. to a maimed fragment of itself,” facilitating the reconceptualization of these books under different parameters.
Poor began making photographic images of what remained of these books after their laundering. The resulting photographs present captivating sculptural objects that offer fragmentary glimpses of sentences, character names and illustrations. While she can control the way the remnants are approached photographically, chance dictates the way these books respond to washing and drying. Books of high literary repute are printed on better paper, allowing the pages to resist the severity of Poor’s treatment; lesser works of literature printed on newsprint are virtually washed away. This material is pushed even further through a series of waxed book sculptures that evoke the form and delicacy of bird’s nests. Through these sculptural works, Poor utilizes the book materials to their fullest extent, honoring them in this somewhat elegiac manner.
Poor’s work is held in the permanent collections of a number of institutions including the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego; and Duke University Art Museum, Durham, NC. She has been included in exhibitions at the Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego; San Jose Museum of Art; and San Francisco Arts Commission. Since 2003, she has served as an Associate Professor of Photography at California State University
Sponsored by the Institute for the Humanities in collaboration with Arts at Michigan, Nigel Poor took residence for two weeks in the Alice Lloyd Hall Dorm. She engaged fully with students whose interests ranged from nursing to art to science. She ate in the cafeteria, gave presentations about the banned book project in their classes, sharing her energy and ideas, and opened her studio nightly, where they created their own works.
This resulted in the participation of nearly 30 undergraduate students creating written and visual work about banned and censored books as their own response. The Institute launched an additional exhibition honoring the students’ accomplishments in North Quad Gallery which is now runs concurrently with the Nigel Poor exhibition each show in conversation with the other.
Amanda Kruliak is arts curator at University of Michigan’s Institute for the Humanities, 202 S. Thayer, Ann Arbor. The gallery is open 9 a.m.- 5 p.m. Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.- 3 p.m. Saturday, and closed Sunday.