Both Are: a compound love story, PRISM, June 2013
A group exhibition inspired by J.D. Salinger’s short stories, Franny and Zooey. Seven artists were invited to create new work responding to J.D. Salinger’s short stories, Franny and Zooey. Using video, photography, collage, and drawing, the works are varied and distinct as each artist finds inspiration in characters, themes and phrases within the dense work. The works combine and collide to tell their own story.
Erin Elyse Burns
Maggie Carson Romano
I invited seven artists to create a new work in response to J.D. Salinger’s short stories, Franny and Zooey. Full disclosure, Salinger is one of my favorite authors, so I admit that I was mainly inspired by my own curiosity and a strong desire to see the story and its characters visualized. Yet, despite having read the book countless times, when my husband recently asked me what the stories were about, I found it surprisingly difficult to explain.
Here is an attempt: Franny is a 20-year-old woman spending the weekend at her boyfriend’s college. She has recently begun reading and carrying around a religious book, ‘The Way of the Pilgrim,’ which instructs in the continued repetition of a short prayer until it becomes internalized, acting almost like a heartbeat, and the individual achieves enlightenment. But the weekend away is cut short when Franny experiences an emotional breakdown during lunch and is brought to her parent’s home in New York to recover. Her slightly older brother, Zooey, is living there as well and he spends the better part of the story in the living room, conversing with Franny about their upbringing, views on spirituality and the meaning of life. Honestly, although accurate, that description falls flat for me. It feels more like a Cliff Notes than what one would say about a beloved narrative. But it is hard to describe the what, when the appeal and allure of Salinger’s work does not come through a traditional plotline or a shocking twist, but rather in how he brings out the drama and significance of the details. With distracted glances and harsh stares, shaking or clenched hands, piles of cigarette ashes and well-worn letters, a truer reality is experienced, one that feels familiar in its specificity and connects us to the physicality of the characters within their domestic space.
Franny and Zooey act as mirrors facing each other, reflecting and repeating, volleying thoughts, ideals and judgments onto each other and then back onto themselves. The artists in this exhibition have entered into their own conversation with Franny and Zooey, allowing the book to reflect upon them, and for their art in turn, to respond back. Within Russell’s minimal collage, one can see the body’s tension within its domestic environment, one that both echoes and contrasts itself. Bolme photographed herself pressing her palms to her eye sockets, recreating a particular habit of Franny’s. The images now reference the steam wiped away from a bathroom mirror, revealing parts of the story but never the whole. Throughout the story, the bathroom continues to acts as a place where the characters go to escape and find solitude, though not always successfully. Burn’s video explores this idea, drawing inspiration from the opening scene with Zooey in the bathtub, ash burning and falling from his cigarette, dirtying up his bathwater, thus negating the cleansing ritual.
Objects, such as letters and handkerchiefs, provide supporting roles within the stories, both adding to the conversation, highlighting the time period and our understanding of the characters. Hooning’s print of an opened, empty envelope reveals the huge significance of written communication, as these physical mementos transform into sacred objects, kept close in jacket pockets and between book pages, folded and refolded, read and reread. Manch’s handkerchiefs play a similar role; a necessary companion, with both a practical and sentimental purpose. Through Manch’s work, Franny is given a face and Zooey’s mocking statement of “put me in, coach” is captured sincerely and purposefully. A large majority of the book is dialogue and works like Stinson’s two typeset editions act as a conversation within themselves as she replicated exact fragments of conversation between Franny and Zooey, summarizing the book into two short responses. Romano’s photograph of two sunbeams atop a well-worn wood floor express a duplicity and a contradiction as they tell us they are the same, they are different. Each of these works compound together as each artist reflects what they see within the bouncing light of Franny and Zooey’s facing mirrors.
I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work with each of these artists. The conversations I have had with them has been enlightening and revelatory. Thanks to the thoughtful works of these talented artists, I now know what this story is about. It is a conversation, about inspiration and the revelation of things unseen, in others and in our selves.