There's a split second in every avid reader's night when he or she begins to fall asleep and the roles of book and reader switch. The reader is no longer the master of the book, filling in the spaces between the lines with interpretation and imagination. As consciousness fades, words lose their meanings, phrases loop infinitely and pages swallow the reader's field of vision.
Troy Passey's exhibition at the Boise Art Museum, which opened Nov. 24, fixates on that moment. Entitled Left Unsaid, it explores a reality where the word "knife" might actually cut—or, conversely, the words of Edna St. Vincent Millay ("when it is over, for it will be over") are repeated hundreds of times in a vortex shaded with black paint, draining them of context and meaning.
The handwritten word is central to Passey's work. In many pieces, his anxious, Stephen Gammell-esque chicken scratch provides eerie shades and textures. In "Barbed Wire," those words join three stakes sticking out of the ground to form a cattle fence. In other pieces, text contrasts with the blank white, pitch black or both to form horizons and landscapes.
According to BAM's promotional material for the exhibit, Passey "deftly employs the metaphors that, when read or said, suddenly appear in the mind's eye." But in fact, the effect of his work is the opposite. In many pieces, he reverses the process of interpretation by replacing implied familiar objects (e.g. houses, trees) with text. Passey doesn't read words, words read Passey.
Also now on display at BAM is Billie Grace Lynn's exhibition, White Elephants, which opened Nov. 17.
Lynn's lightweight, inflatable white elephants are life-size. Even at the zoo, it's not easy to get a sense of the towering height of these creatures or feel the full presence of their mass. But standing next to them in BAM's Sculpture Court inspires a feeling of combined fear of their power and awe at their stature.
Elephants have featured heavily in the imaginations of the cultures of India, Africa and beyond, but for many Boise Art Museum-goers, the elephants will be a reminder of that which is deliberately left out of a discussion. Despite their unmistakable presence, this herd was designed to invoke a sense of absence. What exactly that is, viewers must decide for themselves.
Lynn's White Elephants will be on display at the Boise Art Museum until May 19, 2013.