Madison Ave New York

Laura Bell and Ian Ganassi

THE CORPSES

March 26 – April 30, 2024

Laura Bell, a painter based in the Bronx, and Ian Ganassi, a poet in New Haven, met as artists in residence at the Millay Colony. In 2005, Ian mailed Laura an unfinished poem and handwritten phrases on a piece of printer paper stained with coffee rings, and in an accompanying letter asked her to do something to it. This became the first move in what evolved into their ongoing collaborative collage series, “The Corpses,” titled after the Surrealist game of Exquisite Corpse. With each mailing, words, images, and objects are added and new pieces are started; at any point, either of them can call a work finished. At first it was assumed that Ian would contribute text and Laura visuals, but this division soon dissolved, with Laura adding lines cut from ads or subway handouts and Ian melting crayons and experimenting with paint. They each had already been using collage methods in their own bodies of work, Ian with overheard and appropriated lines in his poems and Laura with photos and laser prints in the grounds of her paintings. 

Pop culture, politics, religion, and poetry make appearances, and recurring images and phrases create echoes and connections. A collage might go back and forth many times or make only one circuit between New Haven and New York. The pieces can be minimal or layered; early ones tended to be more spare, later work often gathered more objects, but over the years this has also followed an ebb and flow. Some pieces develop themes or function almost as diaries (a hospital glove, a postcard), and time frames can be felt in political or current events references. The gathering of materials has become a consuming habit for both of them, combining found objects, text, drawings, ads, photos, fabrics, and all manner of mixed media—a painterly, visceral process, the anti-Photoshop. “The Corpses turned us into scavengers,” Ian has said. “We ended up trying to get the whole world into them.” 

The process has retained its initial sense of play, while also reflecting battles over the obliteration of a passage of paint or text or the declaring of a piece finished. The series quickly demanded a level of intention equal to the work they were publishing and exhibiting individually. Called “joyously Fluxus-like” by Robert Shuster in the Village Voice and described by writer H. Byron Earhart as going “beyond collaborative to a kind of conspiratorial imagination,” “The Corpses” has evolved into more than a decade of personal and material call-and-response. At present, there are more than 300 finished works. A new batch is usually in progress or in transit.

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