The Reading Room
Reading Frank’s Corpus
For several years, I’ve followed Elisabeth Nicula’s documentation of the scrub jays who alight on her back porch. The images are reliably interesting —
This message was emailed to the Reading Room committee. The assumed audience is subscribers interested in art, urban ecology, and/or inventive writing. (Here’s more about assumed audiences.)
Now, for SFMOMA’s Open Space website, Elisabeth has written a comprehensive essay about the project, and it knocked my socks off.
Framing the scale of the imagery, she writes:
We know that I started Frank’s corpus on March 21, 2017. We know that I have taken 82,438 photographs since then, including today’s 115, whereas in all the digital years before that, I took 6,085 photographs. We know without question that since March 21, 2017, I have mostly taken photos of scrub jays. Therefore, according to Peter, “the average pic can be assumed to be a birdpic.”
Let me be honest: when I saw the link, I prepared myself to read this essay with, shall we say, “dutiful interest”. That’s totally fine; I’ll bet many of you browse these newsletters the same way, and I THANK YOU FOR IT!
But dutiful interest was, it turns out, not required, because the essay swept me away. I found it magnetic, provocative, totally absorbing. That’s especially noteworthy for a piece of writing that, as you’ll see, treads some gnarly terrain; it tangles with the analog and the digital, the ecological and the archival. In my estimation, the things at the heart of this essay are basically unsayable —
In the end, I’m not sure if this is an essay about the artwork, or if this essay is the artwork … but/and that blurred boundary operates as a feature rather than a bug.
Anyway, it’s great, and not in like, “one of the eight established ways an essay can be great”. Elisabeth’s moves are genuinely risky (and successful!); this is not an addition to the high-end discursive memoir genre (yawn) but a new genre of one.
It’s an uncommonly interesting piece of writing, from an uncommonly interesting artist, about an uncommonly interesting bird.
Or maybe that last one should be “commonly”, and maybe that’s the point.
Please read Frank’s Corpus.
Sent to the Reading Room committee in March 2021