Introduction, k abram

The Wizard of Oz is a letdown, really. Populism aside, Dorothy wanders through her technicolor dreamscape, encountering her anthropomorphised fears at every turn, finally makes her way to the Emerald City—the culmination of the journeys she and her furry, tinny, and hay-fevered alternate personas have embarked on—pulls back the curtain and finds… a green-suited old man?

As artists, work can sometimes begin to bubble out of us, seemingly untraceable, handed to us by a place or moment. In her piece The Guesthouse Project, Farah Rahman describes her experience at a residency, “opening up constantly and incrementally. Listening, receiving…” Often, this is enough. The artist—inspired—creates work for the public—discerning and engaged—to experience. In her story Muse, Elena Romanova whimsically reimagines this process from the viewpoint of a young muse searching for a human with “a magical light in the eyes” to inspire towards artistry.

At Crossing the Dissour, however, we ask our artists to step behind the curtain. For every moment of inspiration, there is a moment of deep thought, a series of defining and redefining the goal of a project, a search for the distilled idea at the core of the work. In ‘Closer; not too close,’ Kerri ní Dochartaigh writes, “Sometimes we have to make our way back to the very beginning; to our source, to try to dig for what it is we must try to unravel; the muddy, unfathomable images that both haunt and define us.” We have asked these 11 artists to take us on this journey, to dig and attempt the unravelling process out in the open. 

In some cases, the explanation of the work becomes the work itself, lines blurred between piece and process. This is true in Michael Swank’s Transmutation, layering photography, video streaming, interview, and personal essay in an attempt to trace the “outside forces that create the opportunity for change… and the person who emerges.” Sojung Kim’s series similarly layers procedure and product, her process picture blending into the motifs and structure of her final paintings. 

Other times, a new work is born out of reflection upon another. As Christopher Cusack unapologetically reminds his critics in Juxtapositions, “I knew what I was doing when writing that piece; and sure as hell I knew why.” Michele Mirasola shares how literature figures into her paintings, and how painting figures into her writing. Looking for a catalyst to introduce figures into her work, Sinéad Ní Chionaola returns to photographs taken on holiday with her children to inspire a new painting series. Embracing their chaos and movement just as she does in her journal excerpts, Ni Chionaola connects ritual, creativity, and the constant interruptions of everyday life. 

Artist residencies and travel are popular ways of escaping the mundane. Painter Dunja Krcek discusses an upcoming experiment in having no fixed address in conversation with editor Ryan Mihaly. Filmmaker Hannah R.W. Hamalian shares her series of playing card prompts for generating ideas, which were partially created while in residence at Greywood Arts, our publication’s host. And what happens when the residency becomes the practice? Greywood’s Artistic Director Jessica Bonenfant shares her musings on the topic.

This issue of Crossing the Dissour contains the opportunity to walk diverse paths of process, grappling alongside each artist to identify a place that their art originates. As an artist myself, prone to wandering through the remote and often bizarre paths of my own mind, I can only promise a single universality: there is no man behind the curtain, pulling the levers and cueing the steam. In my revisionist Wizard of Oz for the contemporary artist, Dorothy must pull back the curtain and confront herself. Then, as with our artists, the work begins. 

k abram is a poet based in Chicago, Illinois. Her artistic interests include body, gender, environment/place, diaspora, and anger. Recently, her work was selected as a finalist for the Sycamore Review’s Wabash Prize for Poetry. You can follow her work on Instagram @ok.abram.