Marjorie Welish and James Siena: Doing and undoing

Oaths? Questions? First spread of a collaborative book by Marjorie Welish and James Siena.
 Oaths? Questions? Second spread.
 Oaths? Questions? Third spread.
Oaths? Questions? Seventh spread.

In Art on Paper Frances Richard reviews Oaths? Questions?— a book collaboration between Marjorie Welish and James Siena. “The first page is blank, but not empty. There is nothing on it, but rather something in it, a postage stamp�size transparency set in the thick, folded paper. The image is captioned, so we know it reproduces a painting called ‘The High Valley 19’ (1983�4) executed in oil on canvas and measuring a room-size 6 by 8 feet. A close look reveals an image divided in four. The left-hand quadrants are tessellated in yellows and ochers above and white and red below, while the right-hand quadrants are a multicolored crazy quilt; those familiar with the collaborating artists will recognize the work as Welish�s.

“This close looking must be accomplished in the act of turning the page, since light shines through the tiny slide only when the stiff leaf is upright. By foregrounding the radical scale shifts that printing can accomplish, as well as the in-between moment when neither recto nor verso fills the visual field, The High Valley 19 draws the viewer optically, cognitively, and also bodily into the space of the book. On the next page�actually on an overleaf of clear Mylar�the first words to appear in Oaths? Questions? ratify the insistence that looking and/or reading is not simple: ‘AND IT WENT BLIND.’

“Ten full-bleed, double-page linear and geometric abstractions follow, all in more or less primary colors and all made specifically for the project. Each spread is interleaved with clear films on to which are letterpressed poetic passages by Siena and Welish�who worked separately, for two years, in response to each other�s prompts. The exchange evolved from an invitation to Welish by Steve Clay at Granary Books. Writer/artist collaborations are a Granary specialty, and as Welish is both, she could have been her own interlocutor. Instead, she invited Siena, stipulating that he also write. ‘I immediately understood . . . the tactical headspace that he and I share,’ she explained in a public conversation hosted by artonpaper at the Editions|Artists� Books Fair last November, before the book was completed. ‘I was searching for, in a way, the proper antagonist, one with whom I would share a mentality, but with whom I wouldn�t necessarily share the same thought-process in the specifics.’ The upshot of these tactical antagonisms is a study in what Siena calls ‘doing and undoing,’ in which reading, looking, page-turning, and pattern-tracking interlock in an almost musical dynamic. Syncopated by not-quite algorithms, in Oaths? Questions? text and image, transparency and substrate come together and peel apart, their interactions rule-bound but always just a smidgen off the beat.” Read more.

Oaths? Questions? published by Granary Books. Edition of 50, 36 of which are for sale @ $4000 each.

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