Beyond the West Bank

Laray Polk's book is rich in suggestion and charged with intellectual fire

Knowing well that skepticism and words go hand in hand, Polk has written and graphically designed a text that brings together such unlikely bedfellows (or perhaps not) as Joseph Goebbels and George W. Bush. The quotes she chooses revolve not so much around politics per se, but around television, Goebbels telling us in the 1930s of the fundamental importance of TV in the 20th century and a spokesman for Bush telling reporters that the president is perpetually tuned in to current events by way of CNN. With respect to design, Polk's information comes to us as if in flashing Times Square real-time, transforming the linear sequence of stock market numbers into Deconstructivist hypertext. While the presentation of her work is slick, suggestive of cinema and contemporary computer-aided design, the actual installation is low-tech. In related fashion, the show's technique and meaning are rooted in the much older tradition of printmaking. Trained at the University of Dallas in painting and, more significantly, printmaking, Polk approaches "truth" as it is based on the slippery relationship between original and copy--a problematic inscribed long ago with the advent of the very mechanism itself, Gutenberg's ingenious movable-type printing press in 1450. Just as words--the Word, for that matter--are open to deliberation and questioning, human nature for Polk is something dynamic, changeful and open to negotiation. Polk brings home this belief in what she calls her contract with the public. Rooted in the pithy words of McLuhan, Polk's agreement is based on the notion that "there is absolutely no inevitability as long as there is the willingness to contemplate what is happening."

In its no-holds-barred intellectual sensibility, Polk's work tears down the hierarchy that might otherwise raise the question of whether this it truly art. Yes, it is propaganda, but it is also art. The two are not mutually exclusive. There is very clear design intention in this work, notable in the layering of images and overall graphic design. They are pictures for delectation, sensual and intellectual alike. And, most important of all, Polk's message is powerful. We are not the way we are because of fate, God or manifest destiny. Rather, we have control of our destiny, and we must urgently take heed of this control and guide it in a peaceful and just manner.

"Curse of Identity," from Laray Polk's Gaza Zoo.
"Curse of Identity," from Laray Polk's Gaza Zoo.


is on display through September 25 at the University of Texas at Dallas Visual Arts Building. Call 972-883-2982.

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