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© Dev Hynes.

Work / Art

This exhibition visually reinterprets literary classics

“At the very beginning, my goal was to find an alternative format to the old-fashioned book club, to make it less exclusive and keep the literature a vital part of the culture. I wasn’t sure it would end up being an exhibition,” says curator Anaïs Ngbanzo of her new group show Thoughts Become Words, Words Become Images, which opens today (12 September 2019).

The exhibition includes work by renowned artists like Dev Hynes and Gia Coppola and challenges conventional understandings of adaptation as being from book to film. Instead, the show reminds us that there are so many other media options and alternative expressive possibilities. The show brings together a range of artists who all share their interpretations, appreciations or critiques of literature through their art. 

The criteria for selecting artists for Thoughts Become Words, Words Become Images were wide-ranging, yet Anaïs had to select contributors both for their art and for their relevance in the literary field. “I have always been touched by Dev Hynes’ writing. I became aware of his interest in poetry after reading the article titled Dev Hynes on the Queer Black Poet who Helped Him find Himself,” the curator says. “I really wanted him to be part of the show. Luckily, a common friend introduced us a few months ago. I emailed him thinking he would be too busy but he replied that he would be honoured to be part of it”. As to other artists, Anaïs discovered Lily Gavin’s work last year at the artist’s solo exhibition at the LUMA Foundation in Arles, and knew of Gia Coppola’s interest in literature from interviews she had read.

Multiplicity of voices and multiculturalism is central to Thoughts Become Words, Words Become Images, which stresses the importance of expressive freedom. “While I was working on the show, people would ask me _Don’t you want to choose the book?_ or Don’t you think it would be better if everyone was developing a story based on the same novel?” Anaïs says. “I live between Paris and New York and I spend a lot of time in bookshops. I get frustrated to see that, in both France the US, it is always the same writers being promoted due to PR deals. It was important for me that the writers highlighted in the group show were diverse; the show collates texts by African American, German, Polish and British writers. By allowing artists the freedom to choose their texts, a range of dialogues are opened up that reflect on African-American and African postcolonial issues as well as more personalised emotional human experiences.” 

When asked about her favourite exhibition pieces, Anaïs responds: “I think Amanda Charchian beautifully succeeded in translating one of the five senses that Patrick Süskind’s Perfume: The Story of a Murderer is about”. The artist does so by painting abstract shapes in various vibrant colours over sensual shots of naked women. “Another piece I love is Dev Hynes’ video installation, Hope. I found the scene of the men running out of the hill really poetic. I wasn’t familiar with Essex Hemphill’s poetry until Hynes mentioned it. One day, I played a recording of Hemphill reading his poetry while watching Hynes’ film without sound. When you do, you notice that Hope could be a poetry-film.”

Thoughts Become Words, Words Become Images will be on display from 12 September to 13 October 2019 at HVW8 Gallery, Los Angeles.

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© Gia Coppola.

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© Gia Coppola.

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© Cassi Namoda.

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© Cassi Namoda.

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© Amanda Charchian.

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© Amanda Charchian.

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© Lily Gavin.

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© Lily Gavin.