Words have layers. Each letter has its own aesthetic quality, and the attributes we give each letter in handwriting subtly tailors these qualities. Then there’s the look of the word itself, the way it holds shape on the page:
W O M E N
U N I T E
There are visual connotations one makes not with the concept it represents but with the word itself. As an American, WOMEN is not MUJERES is not FEMMES, though they’re united in strict definition. And my cultural relationship to the word isn’t just conceptual, it’s also visual and audible. This is why word choice matters so much in writing and poetry.
Words are already fences, symbolically, meant to distinguish one thing from another. It’s a construction made out of constructs. These layers start to emerge through the chain-link fence motif.
But I’m running into this paradox. Here Chicago-based artist Jaclyn Jacunski employs the effigy of something that’s meant to separate—to define one from the other, inside from outside, allowed from not-allowed—while at the same time advocating for solidarity.
Why? As the pattern repeats, the words warp; they become other, further disconnected from meaning the larger the pattern grows. The fence begins to manifest the problems of one-size-fits-all-feminism—its roots in whiteness and class privilege, the historic denial of class, racial, sexual identity. What is initially well meaning becomes, in its overwhelming simplicity, divisive rather than cooperative, a barrier to ultimate unity.
Fences, webs, nets, labyrinths: it’s about being trapped.
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This is part of “Radical Storytelling,” originally submitted to the SAIC Collections on 14 Dec 2013.