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The Curators: Why BACKWORDS?

Surface : Context

curator: Jenny M. Chu

Context is everything. I’ve heard this. You’ve heard this. And context probably isn’teverything, but it’s certainly in the composition. Sometimes a glint, sometimes luminous.

It wasn’t until I was in a painting class that I realized what “context” actually meant. It happened on a night when the instructor decided to start the workshop by projecting slides of paintings. The slideshow consisted of some renaissance and some baroque, some impressionism, maybe there was a Renoir or a Monet, and to be honest, I don’t remember it all. But what I do remember was being told that some of those pieces were created from layers of paint, some a few feet thick, that the color we were seeing on the screen (a projected image from a slide of a painting’s surface) was only possible because of the paint underneath. It was the first time I understood. The first time I appreciated renaissance portraits of pensive white faces or impressionism’s still-lifes of fruit bowls.

And what about Picasso’s mystery man underneath The Blue Room?

How many times have we dismissed something for its surface? Because the surface was too unfamiliar, too anomalous, too, in other words, inaccessible? Or how many times have we dismissed a surface because it was too familiar?

Why the shape? Why the aubergine? A parking lot? Why cobalt? Why a stroke and not a dapple? A tinny instead of brass? Bass instead of tar? Why a rat? Rust? A dance?

The way we make meaning is complex and the forms manifested abound. It is innumerable. It is everywhere and everyday.

A friend once said, “you should care about the depth in the surface – it’s better.”

This project, for me,

is exactly that.


curator: Phillip Trey

Backwords is a new adventure and an attempt to confront what I want to know more about.

Art is all around us. It can be displayed in gilded galleries, or stamped in the sides of buildings. Art can be found amongst the notes of your favorite song, or even in the layout of the park you pass by everyday.

Backwords is a foray into how things around us came to be. The idea to start Backwords was inspired in part by a class my friend Jenny and I took at a local art museum. The exhibit at the time was the Tuileries Garden. It was there that I found inspiration and wanted to foster that feeling of awakening. In the past most of my art wanderings have been focused on the literary side of things and I wanted to take that class to expand my perspective. To explore painted, sculpted, and crafted history and emotions.

When I was 18 I had the opportunity to spend a month abroad in Europe. This involved the chance to go to some of the world’s greatest museums, cathedrals, parks, gardens, and epicenters of art, but the problem was I hadn't the right mind for it. I was just happy to be out of high school and out of the country. I didn’t make room for art. Now, seven years later I’m trying to remedy that.

Backwords is a tool to learn, but beyond that, to share. It is also by no means the final word. There is always more to know, different perspectives to be had, and as Edmund Wilson once said, “No two persons ever read the same book.” Similarly, no two persons see the exact same way.

Our lives shape us differently.

I hope you learn something new in reading Backwords, and I also hope you want to learn something more.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​


curator: Matthew D. Kulisch

I looked it up in Oxford’s English Dictionary. Engagement, as a tenent, even as a platitude, isn’t something new. Nor is another harping on the need for honest engagement, or lamenting its absence, a particularly strange thing. And yet, here am I.

Engagement has its stock, somewhat, in the forceful carpe diem of Latin and you can hear its echoes in pop culture YA novels like The Perks of Being a Wallflower, when Charlie tells his reader to participate. Not limited to school, engagement’s worst offender is probably advertising: Just Do It! ringing any bells? Even the most common of our terms, “being engaged,” “getting engaged,” exhibit the trappings of everyday wisdom: it is dispensed, related, imperative; and therefore sapped a little of the wrestling required to obtain it.

Its etymology is interesting, too, coming in the early 17th century from the French,engager, meaning “to pledge.” It has since been applied to war-making, dinner parties, the limbo between asking and getting married—as well as the meaning I’m looking for, Oxford's third, “the action of engaging or being engaged.”

I got the right flavor of engagement—the taste I was seeking—in one of the more unlikely places imaginable: reading “Harry Potter” criticism in college, for a course on Children’s Lit. While distilling down the varied and obnoxious yell-a-thons between neo-conservative Christian witch-hunters on the Right and demands for the perfect social-justice hero on the Left, theorist Edmund Kern spelled out the kind of vision I imagine for BACKWORDS. He said, in speaking of the critics: “I sense minds at rest with certainty, rather than minds at work with uncertainty.”

Above all, to me, BACKWORDS is about a pledge of engagement: a promise to seek continually the means and mettle to be at work with uncertainty. This isn’t advice or dinner: it’s a road to knowing that remakes you as you walk it. As I said, here am I.


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