New York

Glenda Hydler

The Clocktower

Since November of 1972, Glenda Hydler has been creating an ongoing series of books that have been very much related to—and very much a part of—the rhythm of her emotional and experiential life. Her alternating pages of text and photographs bound in individual looseleaf notebooks, (which now number about 80) have focused primarily on the relationships between the artist and others in both personal and more social contexts, The autobiographical texts, which are generally typed in fragmented segments without punctuation, maintain stream-of-consciousness intensity and explore the internal states of the artist during the period of time encompassed by each book. The photographs, on the other hand, are repeated variations of images that describe one particular aspect of the visual world which the artist chose to focus on during the same time span.

Many of the black-and-white photographs are portraits of the artist taken by her friends Terence M. Costello and Jerry Venezia, although some are of landscapes, scenes or objects by Hydler herself. Sometimes these pictures relate directly, either in subject matter or mood, to the text; sometimes they serve as metaphoric allusion to the emotional states described; at other times they have little if anything to do with the text, and act as visual counterpoints.

But always in Hydler’s work the juxtaposition of photographs and text creates a play-off between the intense emotion of the verbal expression and the cooler, more “objective” description of the world of appearances.

I first saw one of Hydler’s books in 1978, when the Visual Studies Workshop (in Rochester) published The Human Dilemma, Part I (1976). Shortly thereafter, when I became familiar. with the rest of Hydler’s work-in-process, I felt that the publication of an isolated book out of the series was a mistake. Taken out of context, one book cannot represent the nature and impact of this ongoing work—it cannot suggest the experience of reading a series, of being submerged in the quirky rhythm of Hydler’s writing and the shifting relationship of her visual and verbal expression. The strength of Hydler’s book-works lies in a rhythm which develops cumulatively over time; her art chronicles the development of a psyche as it reaches outward and withdraws, and, as such, it is inextricably linked to the ebb and flow of the life out of which it has grown. If properly presented, Hydler’s artistic expressions can draw the viewer/reader into an unfolding emotional process that is both intensely private and universal.

This exhibition of Hydler’s work was entitled “In Reverence: Books and Other Works” and was designed by the artist. It consisted of a number of books dating from 1978–80 which were displayed on tables placed parallel to the walls of the gallery, and six framed works that hung on the walls. Like the individual book-works contained within it, the exhibition was designed as a study of rhythms and relationships. Unlike the artist’s exhibition at Franklin Furnace, which took place in 1978, where Hydler simply presented a number of books for perusal, this show was designed around a spatial arrangement that allowed the artist to divide the books into groups based on format or time period, and therefore allowed the viewer to become immersed in a series of texts, to pause, and then to go on to another series of works.

The recent books in Hydler’s ongoing autobiography are more “polished” than the earlier ones, which were often almost crude in the technical and formal execution of the photographs and had a self-conscious “snapshot” feel to them. These new books retain the close personal connection to the artist’s life but have far more presence because the pictures are, by and large, stronger and are thus able to hold their own as independent statements when juxtaposed with the surging rhythms of the stream-of-consciousness text. These recent works are also larger in scope (The early works [usually done at the rate of one a month] contained 32 or 64 pages; the new books often contain 96 or 128 pages and condense three months of experience into one statement.) The play-off of these books with the other elements on display was extremely effective, not only in varying the visual and spatial rhythms of Hydler’s material, but also in confronting the viewer/reader with the diverse ways in which this rhythm can be presented and thus perceived.

The framed wall pieces were essentially 18- by 24-inch variations on, and expansions of, the image/word relationships used in the books. Three of the pieces consisted of photographs and text, and the relationships between these elements shifted among the three as they do in the books. One of the works contained an image of a solitary woman seen rather hazily on a white field as she turns from the viewer; the text, placed under the picture, read “I loved her and she died.” The text was thus perceived in direct relationship to the image even though the context and exact meaning of the verbal statement (whether, for instance, the death referred to is physical or emotional) was never made clear. Another framed work, which displayed a photograph of Hydler and Suzanne Harris roller-skating down a Manhattan street in 1973, was juxtaposed with a longer text—also placed underneath the picture—involved not with the incident visually described but with the way in which experience gives rise to particular modes of expression. And the third, a collage, consisted of a deadpan portrait of the artist’s face almost covered by white scraps of paper on which were typed angry phrases that reflected an emotional state not evident in the portrait itself.

The other three wall hangings were blow-ups of typed (and sometimes hand-corrected) segments of text. Several of these framed texts were lifted directly from the narratives in the books on display, but the shift in format, and the fact that a number of pages were condensed into one self-contained verbal statement framed on the wall, radically altered the viewer/reader’s experience of the words. Where the visually interrupted texts in Hydler’s books are perceived episodically, these more extensive wall texts packed information into a single unbroken format. Flowing without interruption or relief, Hydler’s language gained an emotional intensity that was almost suffocating in its forcefulness. The juxtaposition of these two presentations of the same material illustrated the ways in which typographical presentation of words could alter their emotional impact and, as a result, the experience of their content.

Hydler’s emphasis on the shifts in perception which accompany shifts in the relationships of words, or of words and pictures, was accentuated by the inclusion of four bound books. These were the only “finished” books in the exhibition and represented a departure for Hydler, and a successful experiment with a new format. Altogether these four volumes, entitled The History of a Love, A Shady Relationship, consisted of 1,000 pages; each of these pages, however, had only one typed word or, at most, a few phrases on it, and these were centered within the white field. The experience of reading the books was an attenuated one; there were no stream-of-consciousness surges and no intense links between parts of the first-person narrative of a love affair. The meeting of two people, the beginnings of their relationship, the complications brought on by the presence of a third person, and the demise of the affair were all described in spare, simple language that unfolded very slowly when read in this “flipbook” fashion. Because emotional nuances were so drawn out, and the pauses between events almost torturous in their unravelling, the structure of the book itself began to partake in the temporal process of the affair and to viscerally shape the reader’s perception of the tentativeness and the fragility of affairs of the heart.

All of Hydler’s diverse presentations were, essentially, extensions of her original explorations into visual/verbal relationships. By taking these explorations into new realms involving more sophisticated manipulations of language and image, and more complex usage of time and space, the artist expanded the range of her work enormously. This exhibition seemed a major step forward and an indication that the artist is becoming comfortable enough with her creative means to allow herself to be flexible and to experiment with their implications. I have, in the past, worried that Hydler might end up to be an artist with tunnel vision, one who beats an idea to death without discovering its potentials for expansion, and “In Reverence” did much to put my mind at ease. It seems to me now that Hydler is surveying an artistic territory that is large in scope and almost limitless in possibilities, and that it will offer her as many options as she needs for creative growth and change.

Shelley Rice