Susan Bee reads a poem by Rachel Levitsky ©Emily Greenberg

Coinciding with the closing of its “Former Islands” exhibition, Heliopolis held a poetry reading in its gallery space this past Sunday, June 29. An earlier reading took place last Saturday.

Founded in 2008, the small artist-run space lent a casual, cozy atmosphere to the readings by writers Christine Larusso, Ian Dreiblatt, Rachel Levitsky, and Carolyn Lazard, as well as two of their artistic collaborators, Alison Kobayashi and Susan Bee. Audience members, many of whom participated in the “Former Islands” exhibition, crouched on the gallery floor sipping beers and mingling with friends. In between readings, there were informal exchanges between the artists, writers, and curators.

Ian Dreiblatt & Olivia Ciummo ©Emily Greenberg

It was a fitting closing party for a show built on cross-disciplinary collaboration. Curated by Rachael Rakes and Leo Goldsmith, “Former Islands” ran from June 6th to 29th and featured work by 11 artist and writer pairs. Prior to the show, each pair was asked to trade images and text to generate new work. What resulted was a diverse and eclectic mix of narrative installations including video art, sculpture, drawings, sound art, paintings, iPad animations, screen-prints, and of course poetry and text art.

Each pair approached the exchange with a different strategy and directionality. Some wrote poems in response to a visual image. Others sought to illustrate the poems or to perform them through audio and video. Still others combined image and text directly in single compositions. For me, some of the most revealing exchanges were those where text assumed aspects of sculpture and installation – Rachel Levitsky’s poem rolled up as a scroll, or Christine Larusso’s epistolary poems stuffed into envelopes and installed in a mailbox on the wall. Reading these works requires a physical interaction: the viewer must unroll the scroll or open the envelopes, actions which feel as intimately informal and matter-of-fact as Heliopolis itself.

Christine Larusso reads from "Cento of Past Lovers" at Heliopolis ©Emily Greenberg

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