Just because artist Lesley Dill inserts poetic texts into her work doesn't mean that viewers can literally read into it. On the contrary, the words prompt us to consider things that are much more profound, and often raise questions more than they provide quick and tidy answers.
"She's not illustrating the text; she's trying to get to the soul of it," says Susan Krane, director of the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art who co-curated the 10-year survey of Dill's work that is SMoCA's latest exhibition.
Using language, Dill navigates the links between physical, mental and spiritual existence. Copper Poem Hands conveys the search for a sense of self with two delicate pairs of copper hands connected by a long cord. Attached are tiny letters that read, "I've felt my life with both hands to see if it was there."
Often, the words are not Dill's own. She plucks intriguing prose from community questionnaires, utilizing it not only in visual works but choral pieces that will be part of the exhibition's audio program. "She really wanted to open up her process to others' language and other points of view," says Krane.
Dill also mines writings by renowned poets, especially Emily Dickinson, whose poetry struck her as unusually modern. For the remarkable Wire Wall of Words, Dill made Dickinson's words into an enormous wall hanging, which begins with "The soul has bandaged moments." Made entirely of twisted and crocheted wire, it's a creation of obvious labor intensity.
"A lot of [Dill's art] has to do with the work of women," says Krane, "the quietude that you feel from repetitive labor."
In Dill's more recent works, which evoke that same kind of meditative state, she addresses spirituality more overtly. Krane says this aspect of Dill's art is particularly relevant right now. "I think people are searching for meaning," she says. "Not just a material sense of satisfaction, but more and more an interior sense of satisfaction."