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On November 12th from 2-4pm at 910 Arts, Ilona Fried and Meg Nix are joining forces to create an unforgettable Buzz filled with andamento, ekphrasis, found objects, and tesserae. Follow the white space and proceed to the interview to get the full infusion:
Ilona and Meg, what made you decide on the title ‘Crazy Paving’ for this November’s Buzz?
Ilona: I tossed out some mosaic grammar terms to Megan and she liked “Crazy Paving” which, in Latin, is Opus Palladianum. Unlike more predictable ways to arrange a mosaic, with similarly sized pieces and a clear direction of movement, in this style the shapes and arrangement are more haphazard to create a dynamic feel. And I happen to like the word crazy.
Meg: “Crazy Paving” was Ilona’s idea since it’s a term used by visual mosaic artists, but like most mosaic grammar, there’s a parallel for writers. “Crazy paving” sounds like what we do as writers—we chart our odd courses, often knowing we’re not quite sane. I like the assonance too—craaazy paaaving. Doesn’t it sound cool? It makes me want to create. It conjures images of a cement mixer. Or today, a snowblower. Or footprints leaving a pattern behind, part accidental, part intentional.
Creative process-wise, what are the similarities between mosaic art and the segmented essay?
Ilona: I think both involve choosing something around which to organize the composition; in mosaic, that could either be a color, material(s), a shape, an image or an idea. In the essay, it could be a word, idea, theme. Both can be inspired by a title.
Meg: When Ilona and I were talking about doing this, she said something that resonated with me as a teacher of young writers. She said, “Mosaic artists take things that are already broken and arrange them.” She was talking about shards of glass, found objects, etc. But I’ve found that students who are writing about intense experiences (abuse, break-ups, love, betrayal), are taking fractured experiences and incomplete memories and trying to organize them. The segmented essay allows for this because we write it in spurts. The artist arranges tile by tile around an idea. We arrange segment by segment around a feeling. We both have to decide how the pieces should rub up against each other in a way connected to our vision or intent.
While reading the Crazy Paving schedule, there were two words that jumped out at me, andamento and interstices. Ilona, can you explain what these words mean in relation to mosaic art?
Ilona: Andamento, from the Latin andare, to walk, describes the placement of the tesserae (components) in a flowing or rhythmic pattern. The challenge of mosaic is to take solid objects or pieces and arrange them so they are visually “readable”.
Interstices means the gaps between the tesserae. The artist chooses whether to space them tightly or loosely, whether to fill the spaces with grout (or not), whether the grout should contrast with or complement the tesserae; all these decisions depend on choice of materials and intent.
How do these words [andamento and interstices] relate to the segmented essay?
Meg: Andamento, or flow, pertains in writing to our word choices, syntax, and the overall organization of the essay. If a person is writing a mosaic essay about a car accident, their andamento (word lengths, sentence lengths, segment lengths) will be wildly different than someone writing about a trip floating down a river.
The interstices in a mosaic essay are the white spaces that occur between each segment. These aren’t simply negative space. White space can be a reader’s breathing room after a particularly intense scene, or white space can signal the passing of time, a change in setting, or a change in perspective or focus.
Meg, you will lead a writing exercise toward the end of the Buzz combining both genres (mosaic and writing)–how does having a jumping off point, or a predetermined form already in the mind, help a writer break into the blankness of the page?
The predetermined factors we’ll be using are the art on the walls and the format of the mosaic essays.
We’ll start the writing process at the Buzz by using the visual mosaics in the gallery. I think for most writers, the hardest part is beginning; we only get to start our huge, universal, earth-shattering ideas with one single word. This scariness may be especially burdensome for nonfiction writers because we don’t get to create meaning in the same way that a fiction writer can. We’re starting out with the existent chaotic details of actuality and the memory. Having an external starting point is a way of beginning to organize our thoughts, and through the organizing, we can create meaning. This is where the idea of ekphrasis comes from (using art to spur writing, or literally, “to call something by name”). Writers in every genre have used ekphrasis—Ode on a Grecian Urn and The Picture of Dorian Gray being prime examples. It’s easier for some of us to riff off of a specific object rather than begin with the mess in our heads.
Secondly, the structure of the mosaic essay can be a relief and an adequate point-of-entry. For me, the process of writing the segmented essay in compact, non-linear parts mimics the way my brain works—in bursts of memories, to-do items, associations, juxtapositions. The fun parts are moving the segments around and playing with white space and eventually, seeing how the original artwork or idea evolves.
Here is a segmented mosaic of a question for you, Ilona: orange, stethoscope, snow leopard, orange juice?
Ilona: Dan, I have been waiting for someone to ask me exactly this! How did you know that I dislike orange juice and cold stethoscopes against my bare skin, but that I love the color orange and could gaze for hours at the snow leopard in the Denver Zoo?
[I know because to be the Creative Curator of Lighthouse means I must know]
Crazy Paving is scheduled from 2-4pm, it seems like there is intention involved in every facet while constructing both mosaic art and the segmented essay, I’m wondering, is there a specific reason for this early afternoon time?
Ilona: The mosaics are best viewed in diffuse natural light, which plays off the angles of the tesserae and brings the art to life. Unless we get another storm, I am hoping that some sun will shine through the gallery’s skylights.
Meg: What Ilona said! And I like writing in the afternoon.
Join us! Attendance is free as are the snacks, coffee, and tea. Crazy Paving is from 2-4pm on Nov. 12th at 910 Arts [910 Santa Fe Drive, Denver, CO 80204 (303)815.1779]. Bring writing material (pen/notebook, laptop) to begin your segmented journey.
Dan Manzanares is Lighthouse’s Creative Curator. His desk in WriterSpace has dinosaurs on it.