Godzilla vs. The Tower: The Collages of Holli
The NASDAQ MarketSite Toweropened in December 1999 and
located at the heart of Times Squareproclaims itself
the largest video screen in the world. Given that it's eight
stories tall and occupies 11,000 square feet, this isn't difficult
to believe. What is difficult to believe is that The Tower
is actually a building with offices and windows. From the
street it looks as if the video images are simply being projected
onto the building from somewhere else, until you realize that,
in fact, the building itself is the TV. Of course, calling
it a TV is like calling a DJ's turntable a record player.
The exterior walls of the building are a display which transmits
"Light Emitting Diode (LED) technology", a larger-than-life
resolution screen showing 18 hours of advertisements, news,
and up-to-the-minute stock information.
However, the six hours of the night that The Tower is turned
off are almost more interesting than when it is barraging
mesmerized jaywalkers with oversized Calvin Klein ads. For
when off, The Tower is covered with the residue of digital
video signals: little red and blue dots and white lines scattered
randomly across the Tower's gargantuan black screen.
This may not have struck me as being so impressive if I hadn't
been thinking about the large scale collages of Holli Schorno.
This isn't because Schorno's process has anything remotely
to do with digitalizationthere isn't even a computer
in her studio. Her materialscomprised of discarded biology
and chemistry textbooks, obsolete maps, dusty encyclopedias,
foreign language workbooks, and grade school primersare
somewhat the opposite of high-tech. They are the casualties
of the now evolved digital superhighway, driven to obsolescence
by high-speed web engines and hyper-textual multi-media environments.
Yet, like the server of any network, Schorno's
bookshelf looms high over the studio, asserting itself
as the organizing principle, the central hub of her work.
Like the Tower turned off, from a distance Schorno's work
looks like a digital grid made up of colors, dots, lines,
and random shapes: a network of data strips that could expand
infinitely if it weren't for the boundaries of the canvas
or the exhaustion
of the maker. These grids are made out of precisely aligned
two inch strips (5 cm. x 5 cm.), cut out of the kinds of books
mentioned above. Schorno laboriously pastes them together
one at a time as interconnecting rectangles and squares that
spread across her canvas like a virus: a self-perpetuating
orderly web that, standing back, looks like an aerial view
of a city, or a map of a circuit board. Closer inspection,
however, reveals that the
grid is readable. This is The Tower turned inside out:
whereas the digital residue of the video signal means there
is no information being transmitted, in Schorno's work it
is the digital residue itself that contains the information.
Each strip is readable and provides an essential link with
the next, and so on, and so on, compiling a massive web of
In A Humument, the artist Tom Phillips created poems
from the pages of an old Victorian novel by "plundering,
mining, and undermining the text". He crossed out lines
of text in order that an alternate text be revealed in its
place. He then painted images and patterns over the text he
had eliminated, making the words that were chosen stand out;
in the midst of this colorful layering came the emergence
of a new story. Although Phillips' project transforms the
original book into a work of art, it still maintains the form
of the book. Schorno takes this process one step further and
eradicates the original books by restructuring them into a
brand new textual apparatus that looks nothing like a book,
but is still readable. Although abandoning the form of the
book, Schorno's "apparatuses" still function as
In spite of the obvious digital and architectural analogies
one can make to Schorno's compositions, the work is inherently
organic. The strips on the grid are not random. In cutting
up the books, Schorno carefully reads each strip for how it
will fit in with the larger compositional whole. Obviously,
Schorno is not an ordinary reader. Like a thief entering a
house and taking only what she wants and needs, she looks
for an exact series of conditions to be present before she
begins snipping strips out of books. She reads, for example,
books for their color: a blue and yellow diagram of a chemical
compound; red and blue marginalia over the tops of words;
pink, yellow, and orange highlighter in a book read by several
people. Schorno follows the track of the highlighter, marveling
at where it stops, overlaps with another reader's highlighter,
skip chapters, and continues. She remarks on the marginalia
of a reader who started writing notations in blue ink, and
then switched to red. She wonders why the reader suddenly
switched inks midway through the book. Does the fact that
the writing on one page is sloppier than on another indicate
that the reader was having a bad day? Flipping quickly through
a decades-old biology textbook she points out the color schemes
used to draw diagrams and charts.
Although reading for color, she also reads for language. It
is not surprising that Schorno began by "making"
poems, cutting-up texts and pasting short phrases together
onto a small canvas. Like the cut-up poems of Ronald Johnson
(Radi Os) and Susan Howe (Eikon Basilike), Schorno's
poems are almost more visual and audible than they are readable,
at least in a traditional sense. Yet, like any book, there
is a sequence to her poems, an imposed order that gives them
a fragmented but lyrical continunity [ Poem
Poem 2 | Poem
3 | Poem
4 | Poem
5 | Poem
6 ]. From this initial plunge into language, (what Steve
McCaffery might call "the interplay of a graphic 'surface'
and a heard 'sense'") came her desire to transpose the
sounds of language into the colors of painting, and visa versa.
Reading a Schorno collage is like reading a densely layered,
projective poem that is layered not for sense or narrative,
but for the sounds and the way the images, words and colors
all interact to create the grid.
Just because she cuts strips out of a book doesn't mean they
will appear in the collage. She reads the strips, and those
that "make it" are placed in a large bowl. Those
that do notand there are literally thousandsare
scattered all over the floor of her studio like confetti.
Seeing this process of elimination makes Schorno's collages
come alive as organic, living apparatuses that are extremely
finicky eaters. "Aide-Moi"
uses strips cut from comic books, and the words and images
come together as screaming mouths and proclamations, voices
severed from their context and protesting loudly. In this
piece Schorno's editorial control is particularily visible,
but all of her pieces exude this rigourous process of elimination.
There must be a precise continuity of colors, words, and shapes
that work to feed the compositional whole.
The sketches on the wall in her studio of her next project
are leaving behind the square and rectangular grids to explore
the circleclusters of shorter strips forming oblong
shapes joined together by straight linesand look uncannily
like chemical models. In fact, scattered throughout the linear
grid of her most recent work-in-progress, "Elastic
Collision", are circles: a helium model, spokes of
a wheel, sketches of galaxies. The grid is gradually shifting
its shape: its base is shifting from digital to molecular.
The MarketSite Tower boasts that each image projects 18,677,760
light emitting diodes. Although lifelike and resolute, those
diodes lack the matrixical beauty of Schorno's project. As
I was standing in Times Square in front of The Tower I imagined
a battle between the diodes and the strips, one representing
hyper-technology and the other textual intelligence. I imagine
an artful Godzilla emerging from the paper mitosis of Schorno's
collages, smashing the monstrous NASDEQ tower and scattering
the poetry hidden in blinks of data all over Times Square.
McCaffery, Steve and Jed Rasula. Imagining Language: An
Anthology. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1998.
Phillips, Tom. A Humument: A Treated Victorian Novel.
London: Thames and Hudson, 1997.
On Holli Schorno:
Schorno's works on paper were featured in "Destroyer/Creator"
at the John Weber Gallery, New York, "Scripta Manent"
at the Esso Gallery, Houston, TX, and "Lontano Da Dove?"
at Galleria Alberto Peola, Torino, Italy. Her collage poems
have been published in Newark
Review (Volume 2, Set 3 [clicking on the cover image
will bring you to the first page of the issue; at the bottom
of this page is an index
link, from which you can find more work by Schorno]). A new
project, "I have no mouth, and I must scream" will be included
in Newark Review's upcoming cybertext issue. She currently
lives and works in Newark, and is preparing for a show in
January 2001, at Gallery 16 in San Francisco.