Trillium Book Award Author Readings June 16

On Writing & Mixed Media, with Ingrid Ruthig

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Ingrid Ruthig (photo credit: Greg Tjepkema)

Writer and visual artist Ingrid Ruthig talks to Open Book about her creative process and the slippage between poetry, text and visual art. Her most recent exhibit, a textwork called Slipstream created in response to her poem of the same title, will be showing at the Aurora Cultural Centre from January 22 to April 9, 2011. The opening reception takes place on Saturday, January 22, from 1–4 p.m. All are welcome to attend. Please visit Ingrid Ruthig's website for details.

Open Book:

You are both a writer and a visual artist, and your upcoming exhibition Slipstream incorporates both of these endeavours. Tell us about the project and how it came about.

Ingrid Ruthig:

Slipstream is a twenty-frame, mixed-media-on-paper series, and the visual presentation of a poem sequence of the same title. Originally destined for a chapbook commission, the text sprang from rough notes I?d written for a larger narrative, and was distilled by imposing the structure and temporal nature of the traditional Japanese haiku poetic form. From ?Prologue? to ?Epilogue,? it documents the passage of 18 hours during a single day, each hour on the hour, by capturing a moment and the view from a window overlooking Lake Ontario. I finished the poem sequence in 2007.

Two years later I?d completed my first extensive mixed-media series, Fragments of the Missing, which gave text from a manuscript of mine a visual incarnation. I decided to do the same with Slipstream, to transpose it from the privacy of the page to a more public visual presentation. The project had one "false start" but eventually came together. I prepared text and image on the computer to amplify their inherent graphic and calligraphic qualities, then printed them on a variety of tissues and papers. Everything was assembled in layers on watercolour paper and set behind glass.


You call this exhibit a textwork. How would you describe or define a textwork?


Even though the work is mixed media — incorporating ink, photographs, printed materials and a variety of papers — text is a vital component, as well as the basis for the artwork itself. I believe one medium can be more fully charged when infused with another. Much like setting words to music, setting them to image intensifies the effect of both. Words and story are just as integral to the textwork piece as form, colour and movement. Even the font is an artform; the style, size and colour of a typeface can evoke a mood or image as immediate as the meaning of the words it builds. I want to acknowledge that text can have a visual life beyond the page, beyond the aural.

It isn?t quite ekphrasis, where a poet creates out of the work of an artist, and one medium attempts to better reveal another. (It seems ekphrasis is popping up all over these days.) So in this case, "textwork," to me, better describes the weaving of printed language with a visual interpretation of the ideas conveyed by Slipstream, the poem sequence.


You plan to publish the poem that inspired the textwork in a handcrafted artist?s book. What ideas are you working through with this poem?


I love books and want to see Slipstream finally take that form. (This year I?ll be working on an artist?s book through the Visual Arts Centre of Clarington as their first poet-artist, though I can?t yet say if it will be Slipstream, or another manuscript.)

The ideas in the poem sequence emerged over time. What became Slipstream first began as glimmers embedded in a much larger piece of writing I?d done, which documented the passage of 18 hours on a particular day. The initial writing overflowed with the usual run-off, but I caught sight of nuggets worth panning for beneath the surface. It was clear that Slipstream had something to do with time, absence and acceptance, but I never know the destination till I get there. At some point, I give in to the creative process and let it lead me where it would. And so the sequence evolved word by word, image by image, into a contemplation that also explored memory, separation and change. More than anything else I was aware of capturing a mood, and of working toward layers of meaning. I don?t think any work should be confined to one interpretation.

Funny thing, your perception of a work, even as its author, continues to be tested and renewed or revised. For example, long after the sequence was complete, I happened upon Bliss Carman?s poem ?The Night Express.? Even though it was totally new to me, it held a powerful resonance. The lines ?only the idle heart inquires / the distance and the end? excited me, because suddenly Slipstream offered new possibilities of meaning. I think this is what happens with poetry, with art — readers-viewers connect differently with the work, and our sense of something changes even as we think about it.


Do you find that you came to understand your poem differently after working on the visual art for Slipstream? How did the work develop as you began translating it into visual art?


The whole process is one of ongoing discovery. I?m not sure I?d use the word differently, but I?d certainly say I understood the poem better, or more deeply, afterward. Taking Slipstream into the visual was just another step in the journey. The subconscious bubbles away non-stop, polishing facets, revealing new levels of meaning. Even as I was writing it, I came to understand it differently — as I did at many points along the way: when I was editing and revising, after it was done, when the Carman poem gave me new thoughts on interpretation, as well as when I was developing its visual incarnation. Even installing the show leads to further re-examination and discovery, because at that point the process becomes very organic. The work?s physical presence, its placement, height, proximity to or distance from the viewer, how light hits it, or reflections, the colour of the walls, the spaces (or pauses) between each panel, they all affect the experience of it. That?s also when I revert to my architect self.

I like your use of the word ?translation,? because in a sense that?s what bringing the text into image is like. The poem was long set by the time the artwork began. The first version of the textwork was in colour and in a very different configuration. It only made the half-done mark before I scrapped it and began again, mocking up possibilities on the computer. It stewed all summer and I finally adopted the monochromatic multi-panel look, which included nods to Japanese and architectural influences.


Tell us about your creative process. What does a day spent writing and/or creating visual art look like for you?


I tend to be project-oriented, and usually have several on the go at once. Despite a natural inclination toward creating later in the day and at night, my workday is currently set to suit the family schedule. I select the project-du-jour by mood, ideas or deadline, whichever happens to be more pressing! By the end of some days I?ll have worked on three or four things. If I?m deep into a single piece of writing or art though, I?ll forego all else and stay immersed till it?s done.


Which poets would you say have had the greatest influence on your work? What about visual artists?


That?s always a tough question to answer, because I?m of the mind that everything a writer or artist has ever read, seen, touched, tasted, heard and learned has influenced what she does and how she does it. And being influenced doesn?t ever end. While many single poems have "tilted" my world (the line ?and Berlioz inconsolable on the radio? from Charlie Smith?s ?Of This I Speak To No One? hits home every time), there are few poets whose bodies of work have elicited the same effect — Neruda is one, for his unexpected imagery and lush language. Of visual artists, there are far too many to name, but from the "old guard" I definitely adore Van Gogh?s intense abandon, Vermeer?s light and Dali?s wacky movement.


What will you be working on next?


Soon I?ll start work on an artist?s book, hopefully two. I?ve just reviewed final proofs for a book of essays that comes out later this year, and I?ve a second poetry manuscript waiting for my attention. And that?s not to mention the "bigger and better" textwork ideas I?ve got percolating in my head.

Ingrid Ruthig is a writer, editor, visual artist and architect (retired) living near Toronto. Her work has appeared across Canada and internationally in many publications, including The Malahat Review, Descant, The New Quarterly, Cordite (AUS), Magma (UK), Grain, Gloom Cupboard, and recently the anthologies Ditch 4 and Rogue Stimulus (Mansfield Press). In 2005 her poetry won a British Petra Kenney prize and the Eden Mills Writers? Festival literary competition.

Recent projects include a collection of her poems; the book Richard Outram — Essays on His Works (Guernica Editions, 2011); the poem sequence and companion textwork Slipstream; and the extensive textwork series ?Fragments of the Missing? (shown in its entirety in Nov. 2010).

Ingrid currently serves on the board of directors of The Driftwood Theatre Group, remains a retired member of the Ontario Association of Architects, and is a member of both the Writers? Community of Durham Region and the PineRidge Arts Council.

For more information about Ingrid Ruthig and her work please visit her website.

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