by Bailey Blaker
On Thursday night, the eve of the opening night of their exhibition Venus: A Collaborative Multimedia Experience, James Wojtal ’18, Emma Brown ’17 and Andrew Perricone ’17 huddled together on the floor of a multimedia lab in Horvitz Hall.
Surrounded by heaps of plastic wrapping from recently purchased picture frames and larger-than-life photographs of Wojtal, the trio was busily preparing the art installation that would reside in the basement of the Horn Gallery from April 8-15.
The project focuses on the greek goddess Venus as an intersection between sexuality and violence. It began last year when Wojtal started writing poems to work through an emotional trauma.
“I had been sexually assaulted earlier that year, and one of the ways that I was coping with that was through poetry,” Wojtal said, “and one of the things that came up again and again was the mythological character of Venus.”
He noted that classical myth had been a passion of his for many years and helped him communicate his emotions.
“I started writing poems dealing with Venus as a mythological character as a way of dealing with things going on in my life,” Wojtal said. “I used the voice of Venus through the writing process.”
After writing almost a dozen poems with this theme, Wojtal enlisted the help of Brown and Perricone to bring his work to the next level.
Perricone began composing music inspired by Wojtal’s poems last spring, but it wasn’t until the trio took a trip down to the Kenyon Athletic Center one afternoon that they settled on the tone of the music.
Brown, Wojtal and Perricone recorded themselves running and singing together in a racquetball court. “That communal thing with the three of us then influenced the way I went and composed the rest of the music,” Perricone said.
The exhibition drew a crowd of around 20 students on its opening night. The music is at once calmly ethereal and gratingly surreal; it makes melodies out of dissonance and gasping breaths and complements the more provocative language Wojtal employs in his poetry. Gabi Acuña ’19 was especially moved by Perricone’s haunting music. “The two forms of artistic expression were very compatible with each other,” she said. “The strangeness of the music matched the strangeness of the poetry.”
The most affecting aspect of Venus is Wojtal himself, or the photographic doppelgängers that call to audience members from the stark white walls of the Horn. Brown took the concept of Wojtal’s emotional struggle and used it to inform the various poses she employs in the photos. Some images feature Wojtal’s body contorted into nearly impossible twists, while others are sliced and shredded with razors Wojtal once used to self-harm; the photos are then reassembled in a symbolic act of healing.
“In the process of doing this, James is cutting up the image of himself and his own words instead of cutting his actual body,” Brown said. “We’re all considering the implications of that kind of self-harm and celebrating James’s body and his beautiful mind.”