Word as Image - Ji Lee
Ji Lee’s Word as Image is a small square shaped book about the size of a CD case. It contains about 100 concrete poems based on the simple premise of finding some way of illustrating the meaning of the selected word from the shape of the word or the letters that form it. At the end of the book he provides a few guidelines for creating these images. These include extending the letters, rotating or flipping them, seeing the letters as objects, covering over part or all of a letter, using the letter “i” as a person and altering the size of the letter. He also suggests looking at the letter inverted or on its side to find an object or different interpretation of it.
He works almost exclusively with the single word but occasionally with two as in Men’s Room.
It is interesting that nowhere in this book the terms concrete poetry or visual poetry are mentioned for there is a sense in which this is Concrete Poetry 101. I think this is where it would start for most practitioners. For me it did. I see a lot of what I do as just playing around with words. Then I would have progressed to playing around with patterns of words or grid patterning of words. After that I moved on to playing around with signs – so far only road signs. I have not played around with the abstract work of making patterns from unconnected letters or collages. But you never can tell, I might.
When I say ‘playing around’ I don’t mean to cheapen what I do or what other concrete poets do. I could equally say that Schubert plays around with sounds to make his symphonies and songs. And, just as Schubert’s ‘playing around’ has a delightful and meaningful intellectual and emotional outcome so do some of Ji Lee’s (and other concrete poets’ ) works result in a delightful, intellectual and emotional outcome.
Introducing Mr. Albrecht Durer
Let’s just go way out on a very long limb here and compare what Ji Lee does with some work by Albrecht Durer. Take the famous praying hands illustration for instance and then compare it to Ji Lee’s version of the word pray. Both keep you staring at them for a while. Durer’s work obviously took a lot longer to execute and required a highly developed drawing talent. Ji Lee’s is a concept based on seeing a shape of praying hands in an inverted Y. Is there something deeper? Something in the code of language and letters? Maybe. Just maybe.
Now let's look at the two renditions of the famous last supper. Both Ji Lee and Albrecht Durer take a liberty of putting Christ in the centre of the table. (Also Durer only has eleven disciples - assuming Judas has left the building!) Leaving that aside it is interesting again that the central letter is the t which is the shape of the Christain cross. Such concidences with language definitely set off internal brain resonances.
Then there’s Durer’s Hare and Ji Lee’s rabbit. Did you have the same response of looking at the word a little bit longer and thinking of rabbits? OK I’m interchanging hares and rabbits – guilty – but you could also do Hare in the same way – with an upside down r for the ears. Both bits of art maintain your interest long after you first look at them.
There is no question that Durer’s work is far more complex and I’m not suggesting an equality of value but I really can imagine a devoted Christian (or non-Christian artist) devising a thick art paper copy of Ji Lee’s Last Supper and framing it and hanging it on a wall.
The power of words.
Ji Lee's Word as Image is well worth the price of admission. His website has some more recent works and some animations and will reward a visit.