The worlds of visual arts and creative writing intersect this month in Miami at "Abe's Penny Live," an event hosted by Brooklyn publishing house, Abe's Penny in conjunction with "O, Miami," the city's poetry festival, sponsored by the Knight Foundation, and sculpture students from the New World School of the Arts. The collaborative exhibition, which opened April 1st and will close on April 26th, features photography by Lee Materazzi, Francie Bishop Good, Samantha Salzinger and Robby Campbell. Viewers are invited to write poems inspired by the photography in any one of the sculptural installation "writing environments" created by NWSA students. Anna Knoebel, Abe's Penny's editor, fills us in on the happenings at Artseen Gallery in Miami.
How did you connect with the New World School of the Arts and "O, Miami" for the Abe's Penny Live event?
We've known P. Scott Cunningham, O, Miami's director, for a while. He even contributed to Abe's Penny. So when I heard he was organizing a poetry festival, I asked how we could get involved, even if it was just to help out by spreading the word. Christy Gast, the Manager of ArtSeen Gallery, had already offered to host an "O, Miami" event at the gallery, so when Tess and I suggested our idea for Abe's Penny Live, Scott suggested ArtSeen. Christy liked the idea right away, thankfully, because she was integral in getting the show together.
What has the reaction of the audience been to the interactive nature of the exhibition since its opening?
We've had a hugely positive response. The show opened on April 1st and right away people filed in, picked up pencils and paper, and started writing. There are so many great photographs from opening night of adults and kids making use of the writing village, or even a nearby wall, to write. There are also typewriters, which in and of themselves are fun to use since most people hardly come into contact with them anymore. We heard from one person that after seeing the show her son was so inspired he spent the next two days writing in his room. During one reading a few days after the opening, a guy on his cellphone was loudly telling a friend, "ArtSeen! It's the place to be!"
Four photographers, Lee Materazzi, Francie Bishop Good, Samantha Salzinger and Robby Campbell, were chosen to display their work in order to inspire the writing of visitors. How many written entries has the exhibit collected so far? How are the collected poems displayed at Artseen for the duration of the exhibit?
Since Tess and I are back in New York, Christy agreed to mail us the submissions periodically. Her first package arrived with over 200 entries: poems written on scraps of paper or folded into shapes the ways kids in school pass notes. One entry was crumpled up and flattened back out, as if the writer almost threw it away. Another entry was a pencil and paper portrait called, "Poem". The "Wish You Were Here" exhibit, which asks people to write messages on postcards, contains a bulletin-board like display area where people are tacking their submissions. Other writers have written directly on the writing village, which is covered in notebook paper in many places.
The collaboration of photographers and writers is integral to Abe's Penny and the Live event. How did you decide to incorporate sculptors and their "writing environments" into the project?
The writing village idea came up when we were discussing Abe's Penny Live with Christy Gast. Christy teaches sculpture students at NWSA. One stipulation for using the gallery space is that students or alumni from the school participate as well. Christy suggested her sculpture students build something and of all the ideas, the writing village made the most sense. It makes the space feel alive because people go in there and immediately get to work. It's hard to resist writing there.
Can you describe the range of different "writing environments" crafted by the sculpture students at NWSA for the exhibition? How many students contributed work to the exhibit?
The accepted proposals varied widely. Cynthia Cruz, Patti Her and Leonardo Valencia proposed a nook-like space covered in inspirational collages, with space to hide a bottle of whiskey. Nicole Doran proposed a tiered space so that writers who need privacy could retreat underneath while writers who wanted to be on view could write on a chair overlooking the gallery. Sleeper essentially proposed a platform bed. When they all arrived at the gallery to install, instead of competing to make their spaces, they found a way to integrate all the ideas, down to the sea green paint sleeper had planned to use on his platform. He used the paint, then accented the rest of the installation to create continuity. Nicole told me that the NWSA students are a close knit group, but they don't interact with the writing community much. This exhibit gave them that opportunity and I was really happy to see them all there on opening night.
How have the Live event and the "writing environments" themselves added to the original concept of Abe's Penny?
The writing village and exhibition as a whole are so successful, we already have plans to for other events, but also the event made us see Abe's Penny a little more clearly. The collaborative nature of the magazine has been there since day one, but this event proved how important it is. Just like Nicole pointed out, different groups of artists tend to stick together and support each other, but there isn't always interaction between groups. We knew that people interested in writing would find something to enjoy about photography and vice-versa, but Abe's Penny Live gave us the chance to witness photography enthusiasts engaging with poetry and writers engaging with art. We literally double our audience this way, but most importantly people come away inspired.