Thoughts Become Words, Words Become Images | HVW8 gallery

by Armine Gulyan

Literature possesses the immense power of bringing to life all that has been lost, dormant, or unexplored. An art form in its own right, literature allows us to conjure up entire worlds within our minds. This idea has inspired more visually-oriented artists to create works as a means of bringing these worlds to life. In an exhibition titled Thoughts become words, words become images, visual art will play a principle role in the interpretation and representation of the written word.

Curated by Anaïs Ngbanzo, the exhibition will showcase paintings from Cassi Namoda, a short film by Dev Hynes, a poetry-film by Kelsey Lu, and photography from Gia Coppola, Amanda Charchian, and Lily Gavin. The artists have chosen their preferred works of literature to draw inspiration from, thus making way for the exploration of a variety of literary genres. Writers including Joseph Conrad, Essex Hemphill, Patrick Süskind, and M. Anne Pitcher play muse for these artists to develop their own visual interpretation of these introspective narratives.

Thoughts become words, words become images is showing at HVW8 gallery in Los Angeles now through October 13

Q&A with curator Anaïs Ngbanzo

Tell us a bit about Thoughts Become Words, Words Become Images. How did the idea for the show come about?

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.
One day, I met the photographer Amanda Charchian through a common friend, the artist Ariana Papademetropoulos.

We had a coffee and talked about the books we were reading. After sharing my idea of a literary project, Amanda told me how she often draws work inspiration from novels - for the series presented in this show, she was reading, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. Throughout history, there have been many existing art pieces inspired by literature or poetry: René Magritte, Domain of Arnheim, Pablo Picasso, Don Quixote, or Elida Tessler, Dubling.

Today, we most often see the adaption of art from book to film, but there are so many other mediums of expression.

I found it interesting to bring together a diverse group of artists all sharing their interpretations or critiques of literature under one roof.

How did you go about selecting and commissioning artists for the show?

It was quite tricky because I had to select the artist for their arts but also for being relevant within the literary field.

The first artist who joined the group show was Charchian, following the conversation we had.

I have always been touched by Dev Hynes writing and was aware of his interest in poetry after reading the article titled Dev Hynes on the queer black poet who helped him find himself.

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 honored to be part of it.

I discovered Lily Gavin’s work last year. She had a solo exhibition, “Lily Gavin: A Story with Vincent” at the LUMA Foundation in Arles. What she transcended in her photographs moved me.

I knew Gia Coppola had a real interest in literature from articles I have read.

I sent out invitations to hand-picked artists I thought had a real interest in literature and poetry and I was surprised to receive such positive responses.

In the press release, you mention that the show stresses "the freedom of a multiplicity of voices and viewpoints", which feels particularly important in the current moment. Could you expand on this a bit? How does the show do this?

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?“

I live between Paris and New York and I’m spending lot of time in bookshops. I'm always frustrated to see that in both of these countries, it is always the same writers being put on the foreground due to deals.

Lately, I have been focusing on Hungarian literature for example and discovering some real gems unknown to the mainstream. That being said, it was important for me that the writers highlighted on the show be diverse.

At the end, the show gathers African American, German, Polish, and British writers.

By giving freedom to the artists about the book, it opens up a range of dialogues from African-American/African postcolonial issues to the more personalized emotional human experience.

This show is about freedom.

How would you describe the relationship between words and images after having worked and seen the artworks that are exhibited in the show?

I would say words paint a picture in the mind, and in the hands of a good author build a movie in your head.

There’s also the classic saying that a picture paints a thousand words. Both are capable of evoking strong emotions and opening the mind to new points of view.

In the end, writers create a common humanity in narratives with which we can identify, even though their lives may be remote from our own. In this show we get to observe to what degree the artist felt connected to the writer.

Could you please expand on a couple of artworks of your choice.

There is something that I found powerful about Charchian’s print Zoi from the series Mono.
When I see this photograph, I can picture Laure Richis, one of the main characters of the book who is described as this pure red-haired beauty.

The gesture of the model and the way she’s closing her eyes, reminds me of a crucial scene of the book.

I think Amanda beautifully succeeded in translating one of the five senses that Perfume: The Story of a Murderer is about.

Another piece is Dev Hynes video installation: I found the scene of the men running out of the hill in Dev Hynes video, Hope, 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.