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​Bookpage drawing on Miss Manners' etiquette book

"Do you miss Japan?" Several years ago, somebody asked me that when I was feeling homesick. I replied with confusion, "Oh, no. Of course I am not!"


At that time, the word "miss" to me was simply for "Miss" Universe or "Miss" Japan. Noticing the surprised expression on his face, I digested the awkward silence.

Even though language is one of the strongest communication tools available, it is also an abstraction. In an attempt to reach a mutual understanding, even parties that are native speakers of the same language may have a communication gap because of this characteristic. I believe there are various degrees of miscommunication creating a niche for the birth of the absurd, the humorous and the surreal. I call this phenomenon the “possibility of language.”

It is no wonder that I, as a non-native English speaker, encounter more than the usual amount of miscommunication. I have experienced numerous “possibility of language” incidents over the last several years since coming to the United States, but not all of them were funny. However, I cannot be dismayed every time I face absurd or awkward moments as a result of miscommunication. Trying to make fun of those situations is my way of surviving, and it influences the work I make.

Meanwhile I struggle with English and awkweird situations, I started to wonder how I could deal with those kinds of socio-linguistic gaps in fine art. One of the impressions I got through the study of contemporary art works was that knowing (or reading) its context and verbalized concept is the key to see and “get” the works in addition to enjoying its visual aspects. So I started to embed bookpages on the picture plane as literal context. Some of the text is hard to read because of the layered gesso over the bookpage as a part of my attempt to recreate the occurrence of the “possibility of language.”

The bookpages of this series of work are from an etiquette guide,  Miss Manners’ ® Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior. I chose this book because of its mighty sense of humor for problem-solving, and for its slightly old-fashioned approach to the varied problems which still remain essentially intact today. I find many similarities between my concern for the cultural-linguistic communication gap and people’s questions regarding appropriate behavior under varied circumstances.

Hiromi Stringer

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