“More than Bilingual: William Cordova/Major Jackson” acknowledges the writing on the wall

Language is eccentrically flexible: it works as a spider’s web, capturing the essence of thought and feeling before they whirl off into the universe. It is wrought with delectable, deceiving nuances, preserving its womb for words that change shape, and shift meaning. “More than Bilingual: William Cordova / Major Jackson,” which opened Wednesday, Feb. 28 at the Fleming Museum, opens up this dialogue on language and culture. “Language is a hybrid entity unto itself. It lives and breathes, it chokes, and it dies,” Jackson, poet and University of Vermont faculty member, said. Jackson’s poetry accompanies visual artist William Cordova’s drawings in this sand box of folklore, urban signifiers, cultural memory and urban aesthetic. Cordova’s center piece, a monolith of speakers, “Oradores, Oradores, Oradores” (2008), plays on the compound meaning of the word ‘speaker.’ “Speaker. It’s a double entendre. Speaker, speaker of the house. Orator. The speaker is like a physical object, but it’s also somebody who’s delivering a message. I was acknowledging a lot of people that have been up there on stage,” Cordova said.Mao, Chavez, Cleaver, Lee, amongst others are capitalized in white paint on the body of these projectors. “I used the last name, so people could fill in the first name. Or provoke someone to fill it in. You see Lee. And you think oh, Bruce Lee, or Spike Lee, or Lee Quiñones,” Cordova said. Jackson and Cordova beg the viewer to interact with their work by designing a space within to rethink stereotypes and influences. “What’s wonderful about collaboration is that it gives us an opportunity to have cross-genre conversations around ideas, large ideas that are important to us,” Jackson said. “There’s the sense of this melding that happens, even at the level of the poem or the visual art.”Jackson sought out Cordova to realize this exhibit, and revitalize the tradition of ‘poet-painter collaborations,’ a once popular artistic template in NYC in the late 1950s and early 1960s. “In the ’50s and ’60s, there was abstract expressionism that gave a certain kind of plasticity and richness of images and play. Part of that play was incorporating non-visual elements, including text,” Jackson said. “Artists would put text inside their work; among the surrealists and the cubists, many were poets.”Upholding that both language and its interpretation are multivalent, Jackson “lived with Cordova’s work,” the two deciding “not to meet,” Cordova said. “We agreed for him to respond to my visual work, and not really go back and forth. So his impression was simply with the work,” he said.Jackson wished to put theory to practice by indulging in a process he teaches about called ‘ekphrasis.’ It is “an artistic response to another work of art, traditionally to a painting or a sculpture,” Jackson said. Jazz poetry and literature, for example, respond to the life of jazz music by transforming sound into a dance of words. Jackson and Cordova speak to silenced voices, to “individuals who some would say have no future,” and to the “headstones” of their ancestors, Jackson said. Jackson’s “Dreams of Permanence” attributes unknown tag artists as the craftsmen of the “canvas for the poor.” “That’s what we want to do in life, right, we want to – whenever that moment comes – we want to leave something behind,” Jackson said. “Just to think that somehow doing that on the side of a truck, or on a train, or a wall, it’s just self-affirming,” he said. Both craftsmen heard the calling: “Artists will take that language and flirt with those connotations and those significations,” Jackson said. “In fact, it’s our job to do that, right? To kind of rip.”