Connection, art, and the written word

This post was written by our guest blogger Mirjam Frosth. Mirjam describes herself as “a multi-hyphenate professional in the arts with a background in poetry, visual art, and bookmaking.” Mirjam’s previously published works and other projects can be found at mirjamfrosth.com. You’re more than welcome to say “hi” to her and follow along for updates on her Instagram profile @mimmble.

Mirjam Frosth profile portrait
Gallery visitors sit on a plank floor to observe a light sculpture in Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
Gallery visitors observe a light sculpture in Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. Image © Mirjam Frosth

Frank O’Hara, poet and curator at MoMA in the 1960s, took endless inspiration from everything that made up his life. Paintings, lunch, Coke, oranges, avocado salad, yogurt, work trips, the movies, and most importantly, people. For him, all of these forces were tools for what really mattered — human connection.

I’m a bit like O’Hara in the way that I’m also a poet and a cultural worker. It’s common that this combo is met with confusion or even irritation — I went on an interview once where the interviewer called me “distracted” and “unfocused” for being both a member of the literary arts and the visual arts. People think I’m a journalist or an art critic. People think I write ekphrastic poetry in tribute to paintings. And in their defense, I do, on occasion. When I was Writer-in-residence at the Harn Museum of Art, I wrote haiku in conversation with pieces in the Tempus Fugit exhibition.

But these lines between the painted making and the written making are not as boldly defined and separate as you would think. I’d go as far as to say they’re deeply connected, one in the same, a two-headed dog that greets you at the door. I was asked once how I juggle the two worlds. I said that I don’t — it’s all the same connective force.

I’m thinking about a series of Artist Rooms I saw at Tate Modern, in London. It was a collection of art based on text. Lawrence Weiner’s sculptures, made entirely out of words, take form in the mind of the reader as they’re read. In the room beside it, laughing teenage tourists accidentally sat on the art — Jenny Holzer’s marble benches engraved with poetry by Anna Świrszczyńska. The walls featured more text-based art, like Douglas Gordon’s piece, written directly on the wall in ballpoint pen, which read “I am the curator of my own misery.”

I didn’t remember all of those names, though. I had to look them up as I wrote this. What I do remember is this: The security guard who laughed with the teenagers who unwittingly sat on a piece. I remember what I wore, and the nearly inedible sandwich I bought for lunch that day at the museum cafeteria. I remember the buzzing sound of the tower made of old radios, (Cildo Meireles’ 2001 sculpture, Babel,) and I remember the sound of people chattering as they stood around it. I remember walking into a room and seeing a dozen kids drawing on tablets, and I remember their tired parents sitting in chairs behind them. I remember the art student sketching in a corner of a gallery. I remember her shoes. She had painted stars all over the white toes of her Converse. I remember the way she looked up at the people. She wasn’t sketching the art on display. She was sketching us.

I’m thinking about how I looked into a gallery at Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and saw two women sitting on the floor, leaning into each other and whispering. Two tangled strings of lights hung down from the ceiling and curled into a pile on the floor. It was Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ 1992 Untitled (A Love Meal). The strings, like two people, are entwined and lit until the day the bulbs burn out. I went and had a salad at the cafe in the museum’s enormous white atrium with my partner afterwards. We people-watched the other people eating, we wondered about the distracted servers, we talked about that one really devastating piece (Özgür Kar’s 2019 At the end of the day) and we went back to our hotel and I worked on a poem, but it wasn’t about any art I saw that day.

At Moderna Museet, in Stockholm, they have a robot. It brings art to you on command. You say to the operator of the robot that you want to see Guerrilla Girls or Picasso, and it brings down a wall of art for you. It’s called The Study Gallery. It puts the patrons of the art into focus, giving them the opportunity to control their experience within the gallery. They get to come up close to the pieces brought down, and then they go to lunch at the museum restaurant. They have coffee, and bread, and butter, and salad, and salmon, and bananas, and oranges. And they talk about the art, or maybe they talk about school or work or their love lives or their friends.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that inspiration and the connection between visual art and literature isn’t particularly simple. They’re the same in the end, the words and the paintings, because they have the same thing in common — people. Literature and art are a connective force between people. We read, we write, we view, we make, and then we all go get food together afterwards.

Mirjam Frosth gestures towards a sculpture created from pillows in an art gallery
Mirjam Frosth gestures towards a sculpture created from pillows in an art gallery

8 Comments

  1. Wow! Such an inspiring piece, Mirjam. I shall now make a point of visiting Tate Modern when I’m next in London during the spring. Also, I love your photo with the pillow exhibit!

    • Thank you, Gail, for your kind feedback!

      The pillows were so great. It was my favorite piece in the Harn Museum during my residency there. It was Connie Hwang, Jess Larson and Sean Miller’s 2016 “UF Health Dream Registry,” which was shown at the 53rd annual Harn Faculty Exhibition in 2019. They’re a series of hospital pillows, embroidered with descriptions of dreams that are submitted by patients. It’s still ongoing! They keep record of the project here, at this website: https://dreamregistry.net/

      I hope it’s as interesting to you as it still is to me! It’s another great example, in my opinion, of the interconnection between art, poetry, and most importantly, people.

  2. Thanks for this piece Mirjam. Really interesting. It’s always puzzled me, the long tradition of the literary establishment refusing to accept that an artist can work in two or more mediums. I wonder if it has something to do with the old, puritan contempt for theatre as something frivolous. On the stage, if anywhere, there’s a long tradition of crossover between writers, performers, visual artists, choreographers etc. That has only expanded with the invention of movies. (It’s very nearly 100 years since the first ‘talkie’!) But one still meets – as you did – the crticism that one is ‘unfocused’, working creatively to mix words and art.

    • Thank you, John, for reading my piece!

      I also wonder why we’re so often relegated to creating within a single genre at a time. I suspect that it has something to do with the simplistic boxes we like to put people in. A person is first and foremost one thing, one job, and it’s how they introduce themselves. One can be a firefighter, or a mom, or a pianist, or a doctor. Especially in our social media-infused era––you have to select the one thing you are from a drop-down list. No person has ever been all that simple!

  3. I wasn’t aware that a dichotomy exists between visual and written art. To me, they complement each other. Thanks for your insights!

    • Hi Debbie! I agree. The dichotomy between visual and written art is largely a constructed one. Ultimately, it’s all art! Thank you for reading and for your lovely comment. 🙂

  4. Thank you for your writing Mirjam.
    My father was a gifted amateur artist/craftsman, so the visual aspects of literary work have always been important to me. Being primarily a musician myself I’d tie all the arts into one bundle and deal with them together.
    I often write to music, but hate the use of music all the way through TV plays which just becomes backgound noise rather than being there for a purpose.
    Perhaps the dog is three-headed.

    • Thank you, Gill, for your wonderful comment! I love that your father passed on that love for the arts down to you. The connections we have between generations are always deeper than they seem on the surface.

      I agree with you on how music is often entwined with other visual media. Purpose is everything! I suspect that the dog may have more heads than we can count.

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