What? I know, you’re confused, right? There’s no photo in this post. Odd given this group and its focus on the image. Please bear with me – all will hopefully become clear as to the lack of imagery.

We are working away quite busily on our collaboration for the third issue of our zine, Call & Response. For issue two, the calls were images each of us contributed; we each selected someone’s image and then went off and made an image in response. Those responses in turn became calls that elicited further responses. And then issue number two was born.

For the upcoming issue, the calls are being issued a little differently. It’s a take on the childhood game “Post Office”. The one where everyone sits in a circle, the first child thinks up a sentence or a story and whispers it in the ear of the child to her right. He listens, and then whispers the story into the ear of the child to his right. And on it goes until the circle is completed. Only then does everyone hear (a) what the original story was and (b) how transmogrified it has become in the retelling from child to child.

We decided to do a variation of this game as a call: one of us issues a description of no more than 140 characters of an image they’ve made. The other three members of VI go off and make an image in response to the description. Kim wrote a post when we started this collaboration that illustrates what we’re doing very well.

We’re part way through the process, and it has been a lot of fun and very eye opening. Kim went first with the description:

“Tranquil & calm – yet something is missing. Where did the water lilies go?
Blues & purples dappled with pinks
Strangely empty
Was it just my eyes or did my memory fade too?”

She then told us that we’d easily guess what her image was. Mike, Francis and I went “huh?” None of us thought it was obvious.

When we met a month later to share our responses, we also talked about how we’d approached making them. Mike and I had both taken it on as a puzzle that we could solve (is it any surprise that we both academics?), while Francis selected certain key words and phrases and responded to those. All of the responses were intriguing and generated much discussion, and when Kim revealed her image to us, let’s just say that those of us trying to solve the puzzle did not succeed.

Personally, I found this first round very revealing about myself. I’ve long been the type of person who takes things very, very literally and who tries to “please” by following the straight and narrow, ever since I was a child. In workshops, if there’s an assignment I’ll follow it to the letter, and then be amazed and envious of fellow class mates who’ve taken license with the assignment and made something really incredible. And yet in my realm, science, I’m constantly having to do the cliched “think outside the box”, coming up with novel approaches to solve problems. Ironic, much?

So listening to everyone talk about their process, I decided that for the next call I would loosen up and grab onto something in the description and see where it lead me. Francis gave us the next description:

“The sign says Westcoast!!! Bigger than life, but not to scale. Drive by, anyone looking? Wall of paint, painted to sell. Art and Commerce?”

Of course, he had to add that he thought his description was too easy. Uh, not to me, friend!

We met last week to show our responses to this call, and there was an interesting development. I went first with my response that had focused on west coast, bigger than life, not to scale and anyone looking. Then Kim showed us her response, with the explanation that after hearing what Mike and I had said about trying to solve the puzzle last time, she had taken that approach for this call. It became a bit all consuming for her from the sounds of it. I don’t recall if Mike shared which approach he’d taken, but I think I not straying to say that he had also picked out key words/phrases. When Francis revealed his image, lo and behold Kim had made an image of the exact same subject. Completely different in scale, framing and lighting but undeniably puzzle solved!

Now it’s my turn to send out a call. I took a different tack, using an image that I had connected to a snippet of a poem by Mahmoud Dharwish (with apologies for changing one word):

“I searched forests for her
But only found the moon’s daughter.
I didn’t find her heartbeat.
I didn’t find her in the surging silence.”

I did not exclaim that this was likely too easy. Their email responses to the call all started with “Oooooooooo…”

My affinity for poetry rests in the way that poets juxtapose two words that normally would not go together, that make me reconsider my view of the world and what I think I know. In this snippet, it’s surging silence. I have long thought of silence as being an absence, an absence of sound. But here is that word “surging” being used to describe the quality of the silence. Emotions can surge; the ocean can surge; these are presences that in certain conditions mutate and grow rapidly. So now I’m thinking of silence in a new way, as a presence, one that can grow, rapidly, even perhaps uncontrollably. And although I’d made the connection between the image in question (to be revealed next month after there responses are in) and these lines from Dharwish’s poem, it’s only now, doing this collaboration that I’ve gone even deeper into the connection and it makes me eager to go out and make images of a surging silence.