Let’s begin with the rudimentary; this is not a book for philistines: the cover art of the book was posted on a social media site and was considered as possibly not meeting the site’s standards on nudity. The issue is under review at the time of this writing. Fair enough, I am eager to learn of the judgment. The cover of It’s Fiction is adorned with a charcoal figure drawing, a nude, by Yanyun Chen titled Johanna. Considering that Ms. Chen won The Best Figure Drawing of the Year 2013 at FAA Sweden for her charcoal figure drawing, also a nude, titled Anna I, which is included in this book, there is no doubt about the standard of her drawings regarding nudes: it is high. Thus, and obviously, it is nudity in art itself that is the issue. Well if this doesn’t meet the standards, then neither do Michelangelo’s David or his works in the Sistine Chapel – ah the smutty, low standards of the Roman Church. Now I am not comparing Ms. Chen to Michelangelo, but her drawings are amazing pieces of art. As is the whole of It’s Fiction.
The foundation of It’s Fiction is comprised of Chen’s drawings; however, there is much more to this book than her magnificent pieces. This is truly a collaborative work that delves into art, philosophy, and poetry, into the act of creation and the processes of forming understandings. Delere Press has set its standards high, not only for content, but also for presentation. Each of its publications is printed on high quality paper with layouts that have undergone rigorous consideration. The result is that all of their publications are works of art from cover to cover, and It’s Fiction surely falls into the category of work of art. Chen’s works, sixteen in total, are engaged by (with this phrase meaning to encounter and interact with, making it much more appropriate than the phrase commented upon by) three authors: Anders Kølle, Dustin Hellberg, and Jeremy Fernando.
Kølle’s essay, “The Sight of Creation” does not attempt to interpret Chen’s interpretation/representation/rendering of her subject matter, but rather brilliantly encourages acts of interpretation by the reader while fostering an appreciation, not only for artists venturing into the void, but also for the void itself. Kølle elaborates on the uncertainties and insecurities that artists face, and posits that Chen’s work pushes us toward contemplating “the very conditions of the possibility of identifying.”
In “Poems,” or “Y,” Hellberg reads Chen’s works but does not try to explain, or reiterate, them through poetry, for that would fail. Instead, he takes Chen’s shrouded offerings and riffs upon them generating a poetry that demonstrates a tenderness toward its content and a maturity in its construction that could stand alone. What the reader gets is a poet getting a vibe, getting inspiration, from an artist’s work. This combination, where poems and drawings enter into a dialogue, enhances the reader’s experience of each.
Fernando’s “Sketching in white ink” is an intelligent, learned, playful, pseudo-montage of his writing (which is accessible, philosophic, and poetic) and snippets from Cixous, Derrida, Foucault, Lotringer, and Zielinski that ponders the process of creative production, from the blindness with which the artist enters the void, to the gift of the final work. Fernando echoes Kølle’s trumpeting of artists engaging the void by enthusiastically, and with obvious delight, diving into both the void and the art to produce his piece for this collaborative effort.
And of Yanyun Chen’s drawings? There is a poignancy in each piece as the subject/object emerges from the darkness in which it is situated. Chen does not ground the subjects/objects in locales, in settings. She floats them in the void, gives them to us, allows us to ground them through our own past experiences. She offers her work to us; perhaps in the hope of entering a silent conversation with us “about what it means to draw, read, think,” to be in Being. So if you have any interest in art, philosophy, poetry, go ahead and accept this offering.
Chen Yanyun, Anders Kolle, Dustin Hellberg, Jeremy Fernando. It’s Fiction. Singapore:Delere Press, 2014.
Michael Kearney is Associate Professor of Literary/Critical Theory at Kogakuin University in Tokyo. He is the editor of From Conflict to Recognition: Moving Multiculturalism Forward, has published articles and chapters on literature, music, art, and theory, and has a book of poetry forthcoming from Delere Press.