Joyce Cutler-Shaw

Joyce Cutler-Shaw: Embodied Language

April 28–September 2, 2018

This exhibition explores Joyce Cutler-Shaw’s visualizations of language. Since the beginning of her artistic career, Cutler-Shaw's artworks have blurred the boundary between language and art. Her performances, artist books, poems, and drawings use words as images and messages.

Cutler-Shaw studied poetry at New York University, and later she attended the Masters of Fine Arts program at UC San Diego. As an artist and author, she uses her art to bring words off the page and into the world. Language, in Cutler-Shaw’s work, is physical and ever-present in the world around us. Objects like names, bones, and birds hold meaning and make up a unique language, The Alphabet of Bones.

Cutler-Shaw views names as objects of identity rather than simply words on a page. In Namepoems, Cutler-Shaw brings letters to life by repeatedly writing names until they have filled up the page. Names blur, overlap, and create images and patterns, resulting in a graphic portrait made only from the letters of a first name. From these early visual poems, Cutler-Shaw conceptualized the Alphabet of Bones, a unique calligraphy comprised of drawings of the messenger pigeon’s leg bones. This alphabet is a code, image, and representation. The script can be fashioned into poetry and admired for its calligraphic beauty. This script also represents our skeletons, and the fossil record “alphabets of bone” found in nature and read by doctors and archeologists. Cutler-Shaw shows us a world where language, messages, and secrets are all around us. Ultimately, by engaging with language Cutler-Shaw is asking us to participate in the process of knowing, questioning, and understanding the world around us.

This exhibition is part of the Visual Narrative series which presents solo exhibitions in OMA’s upstairs galleries by four artists exploring literature, language, and storytelling through the visual arts.

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