This semester (Spring 2014), we are both enrolled in a new V&PA crossover course, SCRN 210, Experimental Production Workshop: Glitch Aesthetics. This course is taught by Professor Hugh Manon, and deals with the newly-developing art of glitch. As a way of examining glitch, we have looked at other art forms for comparisons in style and method. Professor Manon brought in a series of letters in his possession that were sent to the editor of the Ligonier Echo, Richard Schwab. These letters, which are primarily collage-based but also include pages of text, are filled with cut-out images, quotations, historical references, and what we believe is biographical information about the author, V. E. Cullen. The only thing we know about Cullen for certain is that he died in 1991. These letters have not been publicised or shared extensively before; this is a completely new project. They are carefully crafted with drawings, quotations, and collage work on the envelopes as well as the letters inside. Each one is an elaborate piece that requires further examination to discover all of the different elements.
There are approximately 35 letters in total, sent over the course of 5 years, from 1985 to 1990. A good number of them have never been opened or seen before besides upon their creation. They are in good condition now but will degrade over time. We believe that we can get them scanned in 2 months. Since we are both on campus this summer we should be able to use the school’s scanning resources to get these on a computer and then online in a digital archive. After that, we will be able to begin poring over the images and annotating the sometimes obscure references that pepper the letters. Through this it is our hope that we can trace patterns and potentially find a bigger meaning in all of them. Professor Manon has offered to oversee this process and be our faculty sponsor. He will bring the letters in to show the committee awarding the Bickman grant for a physical example of exactly what we are talking about.
A timeline for our project, if we begin our work in June, runs for the entire summer. In terms of concrete goals, from June to July we will concentrate on creating high resolution scans of each component of the letters. This involves scanning every piece in chronological order and editing the images in Photoshop to remove Cullen’s home address, add annotation numbers for future research, and make initial lists of topics for future research. In August, we will conduct sample research on one to three letters to test how much time research will take, and figure out what the most productive way to move forward will be. The eventual goal is to research all of the content, but we want to be realistic with our timeline and anticipate having to continue this research into the future.
Some specific examples of the information we will be looking for include historical information and context for dates and locations mentioned in the letters, reverse image searching and attempts to track down any cut out photos included in the letters, and citations for quotations and cultural references written onto the envelopes and letters. Our intention is to include these annotations alongside individual images in an online archive that will be publically available.
Margaret: Working on archiving these letters speaks to me for a few different reasons. From an archival and research perspective, this feels like valuable experience to obtain. These documents serve not only as a wonderful collection of artistic work in an unusual form, but they are a snapshot of one person’s life in a small town in Pennsylvania. There are many reasons why it is important to preserve these letters - they will not last forever, and the idea of contributing to the preservation of a cultural narrative is very appealing. From an artistic perspective, these letters would be excellent source material for various creative endeavors - including but not limited to content for a script, a concept album, collage-based art, or experimental book making. As a student of theater here, I am very interested in taking this project and turning it into a performance piece in the future. In addition, our plan to make this available online means that others could also explore and be inspired by this collection of letters.
Fenn: We believe that these letters deserve to be archived and seen. The mystique that the collection carries and the time capsule-esque qualities to it are fascinating and could lend themselves to be interpreted through many mediums. As a digital artist, I am excited to craft a website that will do these letters justice. Margaret and I talked about the potential of writing a play inspired by the letters, and I am interested in crafting music that fits their tone. I think that this is a great opportunity to learn about an incredible amount of things that may not have been connected before through the references in the letters.
One thing that will help to make this project successful and practical is our approach from very different perspectives and disciplines. Although we both work within the V&PA department at Clark, we have different experiences (everything from library science to recording technology) and different professional goals. It is important to both of us that we create a resource that will appeal to multiple disciplines, as well as a collection of art that can be better appreciated than it would be left in envelopes to disintegrate.