When Louise Erdrich first showed me her paintings, I was intrigued, not just
because my sister was making something mysterious and beautiful, but
because I quickly began to imagine the paintings as an abstraction of
Louise’s process as a writer. She was fitting line to line, the way she urges
us in her poem “Advice to Myself.” That poem itself had always reminded
me of the found object constructions Louise had made since her college
years. My curatorial impulse was engaged: I saw a show.
We wondered to each other if Bockley Gallery might be interested in an
exhibit and we approached Todd. My idea was to present Louise’s found
object work with her linear paintings. My interest was in how text and
visual image connect in art by Louise and people close to her. From the
beginning my vision of the show included the iconic Red Woman by Aza
Erdrich, the cover of Louise’s novel The Round House. It interested me that
Aza also sometimes worked with text and image and that Louise and Aza
had begun some graphic illustrations of her stories. We began to talk about
a show on text and visual art.
Perhaps because we are sisters, Louise allowed me an extraordinary level of
collaboration and I found myself taking the role of what she calls
“instigator” urging her to finish works that made sense to me as part of the
show I envisioned. I also had the job of counter-instigator (counter agent?)
pushing her to forget the narrative she sensed and let the works speak their
connections. Tell a great novelist to forget narrative? What was I thinking?
Another part of my vision included a media installation that allowed
Louise’s voice into the room—an asynchronous reading. Luckily Pallas
Erdrich agreed to take on the task and began working vintage and vintage-
style phones into the exhibit. Louise began to record “calls” reporting
events that may or may not fit together. The idea that these calls were to
some investigator came up. This made sense to me, because sometimes
the role of a curator is a bit, just a bit, like that of a detective.
We also began to discuss a mental process that Louise had been reading
about, apophenia ---the urge to make meaning of a series of unrelated
events. In my reading on the subject, I discovered the notion of apophany,
a kind of mistaken epiphany. The installation, Agency Apophany came to
be out of our conversations and is my contribution (in collaboration with
Louise) to the show. In the waiting room of our kitchen table business you
can leave your own “calls” about life’s mysteries in the folder provided.
You can also read about the objects in Louise’s works in Table of Contents,
and read the texts associated with these images in Back Story. My own
findings are there in a red folder, provided as a few poems-as-curatorial
statement. You can listen to them, too, if you use a smart phone.
These artworks by Louise, Aza, and Pallas can be appreciated without any
context. They might also be considered, in light of this installation, as cases
that refuse to resolve—not a murder mystery, Louise says, but an
investigation into some of life’s mysteries.
It’s funny how trapped we are in our personhood. Louise is foremost a
novelist, even her art includes characters. This show reveals something
essential about me as a poet and essayist, too. Each of my books has
referred to artwork by contemporary Native American artists---many have
shown at Bockley Gallery. I’ve also have been curator of a dozen art
exhibits in recent years, and I have been writing ekphrastic poems—poems
on visual art. This exhibit feels like an extension of those interests and
In working with Louise, at first I did not sense any overarching narrative
forming between her works. In fact I was not looking for one. The texts in
her works (painted on, written into, scraps of typed-up scripts) seemed like
another part of her palette, nothing more. I was enjoying the abstraction.
Louise was plotting.