Hot shades in the summertime … — #Berkshireweekend

The ear is the way of the heart. The words are tacked up on a bulleting board in the hallway at Mass MoCA, and they’re in French, printed on a scrap of paper in a collage of past conversations.

Some of them are casual thoughts, and some meet each other with unexpected honesty — notes slipped across the table — in Joseph Grigely’s In What Way Wham? White Noise and Other Works — Mass MoCA’s newest summer show. He explains that people have written them to him when they don’t know sign language. He has been deaf since the age of 10.

Walking into the rooms he has made here, walls lined floor to ceiling with these moments, feels like sitting with him as an art student at lectures, joining him for a drink in a bar or a studio at night in New York, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin. Someone picks up a pen and a flyer or tears a page out of a notebook and leans over to jot an idea.



And he has been able to preserve those exchanges across decades. They run together here in vivid snatches, like the experiences on the bulletin boards outside — where a French saying overlaps an art opening in Sweden, a magazine spread asking a question about Rumblefish, a photo of a old red red jeeplike car with a European license plate and white roof and white bumper, and the word ‘Ofili’ on the hood …

But instead of post cards, these are conversations in real time. You can feel them happening, sometimes on the edge of another, or under its cover. Like passing notes in class or annotating a book … they bring a sense of honesty, of slipping under the surface remarks and saying what you think — unexpected flicks of raw response.

the touch is wonderful
it was designed for the blind
to help with maps
we can pretend not to hear him
it’s too bad we can’t dance in here
you don’t have the time to concentrate or get into something taking your own time
now the truth comes out I was studying for the priesthood
my Scorpio collection



A poet could find infinite prompts, seeing and feeling a way through words without contest, without context.

Taking them in slowly, I begin inescapably to wonder … when he is sitting in an artist’s talk, or having a beer in a crowded auberge, how does Gridely think about the experiences he is recalling here?

The title of the show, white noise, implies something blurred and impenatrable. In his work Blueberry Surprise, he has lined the long hallway with phrases in black, red, yellow, moving from idea one to another without a break, as though he’s navigating a book with an infinite number of storylines, Italo Calvino to the tenth power.

‘Do you want to take a shower and rest while I get dinner ready? Spinning in the bright spring sun — the sun warms up lanolin on the wheel. … Ramps? I don’t know I get flustered in front of the broccoli …

Sunlight glows through a maple tree in the Mass MoCA courtyard.
Photo by Kate Abbott

Sunlight glows through a maple tree in the Mass MoCA courtyard.

And how beautiful these words and thoughts and textures. How much care implied in that first question — how much gentle exchange.

Grigely tells curator Denise Markonish, in her notes to the show — “language is transformed into what is visible: glances, gestures, movements of the mouth … the beauty of being deaf is the privelege of watching the world with the sound turned off.”

And she asks us to think about how we would experience a world in silence.

“Would you, like South African poet David Wright, who became deaf as a child, depend on the cues of movement to understand the sound associated with a bird’s wing?”

Wright choreographs the world, translating sound into movement. Grigely sees feeling on the page, and in the faces and bodies of the people writing to him across the table.

The phrase that stopped me at the opening, ‘L’orielle est le chemin du coeur — it’s not not le chemin au coeur, the way that leads to the heart, but le chemin du coeur — the path belonging to the heart. In silence that path seems encompassing here, patient and attentive and finely attuned.

Points of light show in a blue-green sky over dark hills in Edvard Munch's Starry Night, 1922–24. Munchmuseet. Artists Rights Society , New York. Press photo courtesy of the Clark Art Institute.
Edvard Munch

Points of light show in a blue-green sky over dark hills in Edvard Munch's Starry Night, 1922–24. Munchmuseet. Artists Rights Society , New York. Press photo courtesy of the Clark Art Institute.

We feel the earth move under our feet …

Summer art is opening up and down the county — Edvard Munch: Trembling Earth comes the Clark Art Institute on Saturday. Joseph Grigely’s ‘In What Way Wam?’ explores communication and silence at Mass MoCA. And Ron Mehlman’s stone and glass sculpture at Chesterwood in Stockbridge.

Edvard Munch, Summer Night by the Beach (detail), 1902–03, oil on canvas. Private collection, © Artists Rights Society New York
Edvard Munch

Edvard Munch, Summer Night by the Beach (detail), 1902–03, oil on canvas. Private collection, © Artists Rights Society New York

Events coming up …

Find more art and performance, outdoors and food in the BTW events calendar.

Berkshire sculptor Robin Tost's Spirit Bear honors the relatives of the black bears who live in the Berkshires.
May 23 2024 @ 9:00 am
The annual celebration of local creativity returns with more than 100 hands-on or behind-the-scenes events and open studios across the region, from May 17 to 27.
Mass MoCA catches sunlight on a summer day.
May 23 2024 @ 11:00 am
Mass MoCA and the Williamstown Theatre Festival present The Plastic Bag Store, an immersive, multimedia experience by Brooklyn-based artist Robin Frohardt.
Plums gleam in purple and gold at a farmers market table.
May 23 2024 @ 3:00 pm
The West Stockbridge Farmers Market offers fresh produce — fruits and vegetables in season, eggs, meats and cheeses, breads and baked goods, fudge and jams and more.

By the Way Berkshires is a digital magazine exploring creative life and community — art and performance, food and the outdoors — and I’m writing it for you, with local voices, because I’ve gotten to know this rich part of the world as a writer and journalist, and I want to share it with you.

If you’d like to see the website grow, you can join me for a few dollars a month, enough for a cup of coffee and a cider doughnut. Members get access to extra stories and multimedia, itineraries a bookmark tool. Let me know what you're looking for, and we’ll explore together.

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