Off Ludlow Gallery: “What’s Left Unsaid…”

April 24th, 2021  |  Published in April 2021

The ironic fact that this exhibition, delving into the current state of communication today, is sited in a repurposed community postal office, is not lost on this writer. Netherland native Yvonne Van Eijden shows paintings and smaller works that emerge from her intriguing investigation of how human communication takes place.

Van Eijden posits that along with the process of speaking, writing and listening between the lines must also be considered.

Van Eijden spoke about her interest in living languages and the role of the human brain in the retention and articulation of language skills. Her pursuits led to interaction with Earl, the chief of an indigenous community, speaking Potawatomie and found on the Upper Pennisula of Michigan. In conversations with this tribal chieftain, Van Eijden explored the phraseology and pronunciation employed in the daily use of their increasingly elusive communication tools. Van Eijden recounted how she requested the chief to ‘spot translate’ common English language lingo into his native language. This often resulted in a long string of seemingly random consonants interspersed with a deficiency of vowels, making syllabification difficult. The request for an actual pronunciation added the element of guttural inflections further refining the multiple possible interpretations of the same phrase.

This statement by tribal member Jim Thunder, Sr. summarizes the commitment to survival:

“The reason that some of us work on our language is that without it

our ceremonies will become meaningless. … If we lose our language,

we will have done to ourselves what a government failed to do for

centuries — to eradicate our language and our way of life as the Creator

meant for us. Our religion has endured because of our language. Our

ceremonies are dependent on the use of our language. Today our young

people are confused and have no identity because they do not know our

language. …Without it we cease to be Bodwewadmi.”  Jim Thunder, Sr.

The painting “NBEGDÉNMA” serves as a visual of this process.

 

Yvonne van Eijden
NBEGDÉNMA
Acrylic on Canvas

Floating in a field of handwritten scrawl, is the painting’s title NBEGDÉNMA, the Potawatomie phrase for our common contemporary concept of “Let go”.

First we notice the contrast of a seemingly unpronounceable nine letter word reduced to a five letter two word simplicity. These phrases hover above and below a painterly abstraction of a human facial plane that is vanishing from view in deepening tones of brushstrokes and broken edges. The obscuring cloud of white brushstrokes smear the lead of handwritten English script into swirls of grays, choking any possible legibility.

Other exhibited pieces expand on these elements.

This essay is a review only and stops short of drawing obvious parallels to the demise of our language skills and the use of language as a tool of pervasive abuse and inflamation in our social and political discourse.  The concepts of this exhibit resonated so deeply with my own convictions as a professional calligrapher who loves words and treasures writing and language as a humanizing artform.  I believe that we do hold our own future in our hands as summarized by Jim Thunder.

In another tangent, Van Eijden explores the language center of the human brain.

The tale of a young Dutch woman in this story runs a parallel to her own in terms of nationality and emigration. A young Dutch woman, visiting the United States, meets an American man and marries. In turn, she adopted the English language in addition to her native tongue. The shock of a severe accident resulted in her loss of the English language ‘spot’ in her brain. Though fortunate in retaining her mother tongue, she experienced isolation in every facet of human interaction. Even the simplest communication required a translating relative as bilingual skills had not been cultivated in her closest circles.

Van Eijden invited a brain researcher from Children’s Hospital to further understand the anatomical phenomenon that this story brings to light. Inspired by the photographs and stories shared by the neuroscientist, Van Eijden shows a series of drawings abstracting the anatomy of human brain language centers on what could be a curling sleeve of tree bark. Perhaps the support was specifically selected for the association of the alternate definition of ‘bark’ as it relates to the brutish communication of animals.

Displayed in the gallery is a copy of the Potawatomi Dictionary published by the Forest County Potawatomi Community.

Also showing in the gallery are a series of sculptures by woodworker, Robert Fry.

Robert Fry
Too Blue
Wood & Acrylic Paint

These pieces are generally geometrical in format. Bold primary color certainly lends itself to the simplicity of the forms. These abstracts round out the gallery with subtle balance and sculptural interest. Mr. Fry is renowned  for his knowledgeable wood techniques.

Robert Fry
I Had a Thought or Two
Wood & Wire

In Van Eijden’s acrylic paintings, the process of painting both elucidates and obscures her discussion. Her presentation explores her realization that the attributes of writing, speaking and understanding human communication is of an evanescent nature.

This realization is explored in the act of painting through a bilingual context combining a scrim of scripts with phrases of the Potawatomie language, a fading indigenous native tongue.

This essay is a review only and stops short of drawing obvious parallels to the demise of our language skills and the use of language as a tool of pervasive abuse and inflammation in our social and political discourse.

The concepts of this exhibit resonated so deeply with my own convictions as a professional calligrapher who loves words and treasures writing and language as a humanizing artform.  I believe that we do hold our own future in our hands as summarized by Jim Thunder.

bark1:  noun the sharp explosive cry of certain animals, esp. dog, fox or seal.

Exhibition at Off Ludlow Gallery through May 22, 2021

–Marlene Steele

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