Artists, performers feel touch of a poet

Neruda inspires collaboration at Hunts Point’s MUD/BONE

By Tatyana Gulko

Photo by Tatyana Gulko
Amy DiGi’s portrait of Pablo Neruda

The words of the famous Chilean poet Pablo Neruda echoed off the walls of MUD/BONE Studio 889 on Hunts Point Avenue.

“Let us not bite the shells that silence gathers,” Michael Wiggins began, as a group of artists and actors listened attentively. Together, they were planning to transform Neruda’s words into pictures and a performance that will be shown in Hunts Point this summer.

Their final product: “Encounters with Pablo Neruda” premiered at a gallery in Beacon, New York on April 14 with an ongoing live performance. The encore will take place on June 13 at 6:30 p.m. at MUD/BONE, 889 Hunts Point Avenue.
“We’re refining the connection between theater and printmaking,” Wiggins explained in an interview. “They are really going to collide here.”

The project challenges the artists to use the verse of one of the most influential writers of the 20th Century to create their pictures—prints which are transferred from plates to paper.

“To sit and listen to the poetry and not be an active reader—to be able to just sit and hear the words and close my eyes—the images would come easier for me,” said artist Amy DiGi, who along with Alejandra Delfin, Anita Antonetty, and Laura Cantor will exhibit their work.

Widely read, Neruda’s poems have been translated into dozens of language and reflect on almost every subject, including his political involvement in Chile and his Communist politics.

“What makes him interesting,” Wiggins said, “is that he had a great awareness of what was going on in his day.”

Wiggins directs himself and actors Sarah Douglas and Armando Batista in performances that will also feature the music of Marni Rice. Their performance revolves around the poem “No Hay Olvido/There’s No Forgetting,” a poem that asks “Por qué una negra noche se acumula in la boca? Por qué muertos?” (“Why must the blackness of nighttime collect in our mouths? Why the dead?”)

Not wanting to give too much away about the performance, Wiggins described the final product in the most general terms: “A man, a very good looking woman, a very good looking man and an accordionist just taking a run at it.” He promised: “It will come in waves.”

At their Friday night sessions, the printmakers and the actors have spent time working out budgets and updating one another on their independent progress, but it’s the poetry readings that the artists say they have found particularly valuable.

Pointing at the section of the wall in MUD/BONE where her work was displayed, DiGi said she was inspired to create a print depicting a skull to represent the idea of love after death in Neruda’s “20 Love Poems.”
“That skull is hot,” she said.

Like Neruda, Delfin was born in Chile, and she found a personal connection with the poet in their common birthplace. She said Neruda’s political activism, as well as his Latin American ties touched her.

While reading from Neruda’s poems in “The Heights of Macchu Picchu,” she said, she rediscovered a connection to her own culture.

“When Pablo goes to Peru he went to Machu Picchu and something became clear to him,” she continued–“that he was part of this culture that was bigger than whatever was happening in the world.”

Using the printing press to reflect on Neruda’s poems about the ocean, Delfin experiments with different colors depending on her mood.

Neruda’s bond with the ocean, expressed in many of his poems, also made a profound impact on DiGi. She quotes Neruda as she points to a print of the ocean: “the water is busy with all its blue business.”

“Think of the ocean that way,” she said, touched by how visually the poet writes. “It just makes sense.”

Cantor said she found working with poetry a bit intimidating. “Fortunately, the man wrote about everything, so I picked very concrete poems,” she chuckled.

As she painting a linoleum block to get it ready to run through the press, Cantor expressed her desire to become more involved in the Hunts Point community. A student at Lehman College working for her masters degree, she said she loves working with the more experienced professional artists at MUD/BONE and learning from the way they feed off of one other. She could spend more time becoming involved with art on her campus, she said, “but I wouldn’t get the same support. It’s not the same environment.”

Hunts Point residents are also able to take part in MUD/BONE’s artistic environment through printmaking and acting workshops.

While Wiggins is very excited for residents to see the creativity of professional artists that is flourishing on one of the busiest streets in the neighborhood, he also has plans for what “Encounters with Pablo Neruda” will accomplish on a larger scale. “I hope that people become more and more aware of that there are so many artists, not only in the South Bronx, but especially in Hunts Point,” he said.

Ultimately, Wiggins says, he wants “to create a work of art that people can look at and see themselves reflected in.” He believes there is natural connection between theater and printmaking. As the printmakers feed off the readings and the performers are fed by the artists’ images, Wiggins hopes the final performance will be “a true conversation with the poet.”

“We’ve never done anything like it. It’s moving into a great unknown territory—the best place,” he says, saying that journey keeps him “addicted” to his work.

DiGi agrees with him and adds: “That’s the drug about art—it keeps you coming back for more.”

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