Laura Bell, a painter based in NYC, and Ian Ganassi, a poet living in New Haven, met when both were artists-in-residence at the Millay Colony for the Arts. In 2005 they entered into the collaboration that resulted in the ongoing series “The Corpses,” a group of collages that began with a half-finished poem and several hand-scrawled phrases on a piece of printer paper stained with coffee rings that Ganassi mailed to Bell. With each mailing, words and images were added and additional pages were begun; at any point, either of them could declare a page finished and set it aside. (The concept is a variation on the Surrealist exquisite corpse.) The idea was to achieve creative momentum without the overthinking and self-consciousness that can take over as a painting or a piece of writing moves to a level of finish. The intention was to shoot from the hip and retain spontaneity.
The Corpses travel wherever Ganassi or Bell happened to be. The gathering of materials has become a consuming habit: the studio, the office, the street, basements, and gardens offer up inspiration. Found objects, drawings, ads, photos, fabric, and poems are married to paint, ink, crayon, and pencil and attached with glue, staples, tape, and string—a visceral and basic process, the anti-Photoshop. “The Corpses turned us into scavengers,” says Ganassi. “We ended up trying to get the whole world into them.”
Completion is variable—a Corpse might travel back and forth many times or make only one circuit before being called finished. Some pages are minimal, some layered. Some develop themes; others function almost as diaries (a hospital glove, a postcard). Politics, religion, history, and literature make cameo appearances. A note dropped by a stranger may become the starting point for a new Corpse. At present, there are more than 200 finished Corpses, with a dozen or so currently in transit.
Laura Bell’s work has been exhibited in New York City, Chicago, Berlin, and elsewhere. She is a recipient of an Artists Space Grant and has been an artist-in-residence at the Millay Colony for the Arts. Selected pieces from the Corpse series were shown in “Disciplined Spontaneity,” at Zone Contemporary Art, in NYC, which included works by John Cage and Joseph Beuys.
Ian Ganassi’s poems have appeared in numerous literary magazines, including Sawbuck, Octopus, The Journal, Caesura, Languageandculture.net, and Trickhouse. His poem “Blunt Trauma” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and he is currently working on a verse translation of Virgil’s Aeneid, which is being published in parts by New England Review.