Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Virgil Meets the Duckheadtail Crocodile
Last Saturday Virgil found a new friend in, of all places, Lynchburg. I was invited to participate in a panel discussion at the Maier Museum in conjunction with an exhibition of the work of two artists, Sue Johnson and Pam Longobardi. I wasn't familiar with the work of either of them, so I was wasn't wildly enthusiastic about accepting the invitation. It turns out I was dead wrong. Fortunately the curator, Martha Johnson, gently persisted, sending me extensive documentation, and when I glimpsed the portrait of Virgil's fabulous new potential soul-mate in Sue Johnson's catalogue called "The Alternate Encyclopedia," I knew I was supposed to go--at the very least for Virgil's benefit. Virgil prides himself on his reputation for eccentricity and likes to burnish it any chance he gets, (I also received, subsequently, a folder of information from Pam Longobardi, and was also very drawn to her current project, "Drifters," but more about this in a separate post.) Meanwhile it was refreshing to leave the war zone of economic collapse and immerse myself instead in the Borges-like pantheon of Sue Johnson's creatures.
Sue describes herself as a "surrealvisionarymorphicnaturalist," who inhabits a parallel universe in which James Audubon, Max Ernst, Walt Disney, and assorted birds and animals all take tea together, like nineteenth-century dandies, at Alice's table in Wonderland. Incorporate into this cast of characters the likes of Pegasus, Peter Cottontail, and the Ugly Duckling, subject them to dissection as if they were scientific specimens, throw in a few old Bestiaries, anatomy charts, a bit of botany and genetic engineering, and you enter the eerie but utterly irresistible world of Sue Johnson's encyclopedias and cabinets of curiosities, where everything seems scientifically real, but not quite. "I'm very drawn to cross-sections," she says, "as a way of exposing things we don't normally see."
I am also drawn to her free-associative, evocative writing, as well as her images. "The Alternate Encyclopedia," for instance, also contains an alternate Table of Contents, from which I steal the following eccentric tidbits:
"Spelling bees suspended across the globe...Snakes in liquid...The last buffalo sighted ion Duluth....Common workman's wrench and deep-sea shrimp are relatives...Plastic bags prove their worth...Olive loaf aids digestion...Startling proof offered that moon is made of compressed moon-rock material...Local zoo now empty." Sue Johnson teaches at St Mary's College in MD. You can check out this work on her website for more treats at: www.suejohnson1.com
As for Virgil, he remains in awe at all those ducks reincarnated in a brother crocodile's tail. He has determined that if the ducks all quack at once, or if they whistle the entire parts of string quartets, it registers at the oceanography lab in Tokyo. Even the sound of one duck quacking is almost more than he can bear, and inspires him to dance along, something he just loves to do..