Emily Dickinson’s Room
a three-channel video installation, 2009/2020;
Emily Dickinson’s voice – Małgorzata Ossowska-Czader;
sounds of birds – Kate Bush
Iza Maciejewska’s video installation Emily Dickinson’s Room features a private interior (a bedroom-studio) of the renowned nineteenth-century American poet, where she stayed in seclusion for the last 20 years of her life and where she created her innovative poems. Called ”a recluse of Amherst”, she withdrew from the world in order to protect her “self”, to immerse in a fortress of her inner personality, emotions and imagination, and to express them in her poetry. To communicate with the world outside she used letters and she talked only to her closest friends through a bedroom door that was ajar. She also shared her life with others, enclosing her poems, which were revolutionary in form and content, to her letters.
In this way she wrote “Letter to the World”. Four lines selected from the poet’s work:
“The Soul selects her own Society ‒
Then — shuts the Door ‒
To her divine Majority ‒
Present no more ‒”
could become a motto of her existence. Emily Dickinson's biographers have been trying to figure out what traumatic events marked the beginnings of her poetry and her withdrawal from the public and social life. If a psychoanalytic interpretation was carried out, there might have been some unresolved conflicts, the inability to satisfy some needs, frustration that caused anxiety and strong emotional tension that pushed her to adopt the defence mechanism of her own "self". The most rational defence mechanism against a neurotic fear of the world is substitution (compensation or sublimation), which in Emily Dickinson's case means the escape into the world of imagination, the world of art. Her gesture of renunciation, seclusion is a reaction to disappointment with the surrounding reality, which she turned into her artwork.
The poet says:
”The Missing All ‒ prevented Me
From missing minor Things.”
The awareness of a variety of worldly offers and also their transience, a continuous process of their inevitable loss was frustrating for her. Asceticism is the consequence of the impossibility of having All she would like to have. Shutting the door of her room and the door of her Soul, that contains all that is most important to her, satisfied with the carefully selected, her own Society. As it is the Soul and the Brain (as the poet says in another poem) that gather "almost All". The latter is “wider than the sky” and it is “just the weight of God”. It might have been the strict Protestant, or even Puritan rules observed by the family, the autocratic father, the subordinate role of a women in the society of that epoch, and also ‒ as some biographers state ‒ the inability to find support in religious certainty, unrequited love, the lack of response from readers that led 30-year-old Emily to the introvert lack of interest in the outside world and in being active there. She was withdrawn, focused on her own experience and unrestrained imagination ‒ the realm of true freedom, living in the world of poetry – “Palace of Possibility” ‒ as the author names it, where there are
“More numerous of Windows‒
Superior ‒ for Doors”.
Indeed, Dickinson’s poems opened a new epoch in English poetry. Her modern, original lines are free of any principles, rules and regulations typical of her time. This great reformer of the poetic speech, endowed with the philosophical mind was also a tireless seeker of the truth and her self-consciousness.
Iza Maciejewska's work, which is a tribute to the poet's genius, is a three-channel video ‒ three screens occupying the adjacent gallery walls on which synchronized images are projected. It is, as the author explains, "an attempt to recreate the place that triggered Emily Dickinson’s creative potential. It is a space where, without any rules, and often defying logic, reality is mixed with fantasy, the world of art with life, the world outside with the world of the interior, the artist's world with the world of the viewer."
Emily's room created by Maciejewska is a utopian place, ideal to develop creative imagination. There is no continuity, no linearity of time here, no space enclosed by walls. The law of gravity does not work here. The time on the clock goes back, the space extends, objects levitate or change their position, the door opens and closes "itself". The walls, which are their own mirror reflection, become transparent; we can freely pass through them. The boundaries between perception and imagination blur. We can see a shadow of a woman pacing back and forth, whispering lines of the poem: “The Soul selects her own Society...”. We can hear birds singing, human voices speaking in turns, coming from behind the window with a view of some trees moved by the wind. They sometimes also break into the room. And the room ”breathes” and ”pulsates” to the rhythm of the heartbeat, leans diagonally like a ship hurled by rough waves; we can see it upturned too. We are overwhelmed by the surrounding images, emerging from the three walls of the gallery interior. We are there, and also in the bedroom of the recluse of Amherst ‒ the realm of imagination. We cross the threshold of the poetic "Palace of Possibility", where nothing comes as a surprise to us, where everything is likely to happen.
The last frame of Iza Maciejewska's film shows a view of soaring birds. ”Due to their flight, they were always considered to be mediators between the sky and the Earth, the embodiment of what is immaterial, particularly the soul” – we can read in the Herder Dictionary of Symbols. Birds are also associated with destiny and immortality (e.g. in Quran). In various mythologies of the West, also in India they are perceived as “spiritual-psychic hybrids or as spirits of the dead”.
The interpretation of this frame and the whole film seems to be clear. The artist certainly wanted to call up Emily Dickinson’s spirit.
Today birds can also be understood as a symbol of freedom, a liberated spirit, unrestrained creative energy.
Iza Maciejewska encourages viewers ‒ involved in daily activities and routines ‒ to indulge in the world of art. Like surrealists, she wants to undermine our sense of reality, to open our minds, to expand the boundaries of perception, sensitivity and awareness. She wants us to go beyond what directly appeals to the senses, to awaken the dormant realm of fantasy, to see what the artists see.
The installation is accompanied by fragments of Emily Dickinson’s poetry – the viewers can estimate its value themselves – or two objects representing human life-size figures, moss-grown, which are to illustrate one of the poems. Presented in the adjacent room of the Gallery, they lead to the world of the poet’s room created by Iza Maciejewska’s power of imagination and talent.
Entering that world, and at the same time the space of mind and spirit of the nineteenth- century ingenious nun of Amherst, being under the influence of her poems, the 21st century artist builds a bridge between two creative expressions. Regardless of the time, artists are united by free imagination.
translated by: Elżbieta Rodzeń - Leśnikowska
The City Art Gallery in Lodz, 2016
Were I with thee
Wild Nights should be
To a heart in port –
Done with the compass –
Done with the chart!
Ah, the sea!
Might I moor – Tonight –
I'm Nobody! Who are you?
Are you - Nobody - Too?
Then there's a pair of us?
Don't tell! they'd advertise - you know!
How dreary - to be - Somebody!
How public like a Frog -
To tell one's name - the livelong June -
To an admiring Bog!
We never know we go,—when we are going
We jest and shut the door;
Fate following behind us bolts it,
And we accost no more.
Ample make this bed.
Make this bed with awe;
In it wait till judgment break
Excellent and fair.
Be its mattress straight,
Be its pillow round;
Let no sunrise’ yellow noise
Interrupt this ground.
Surgeons must be very careful
When they take the knife!
Underneath their fine incisions
Stirs the culprit,—Life!
Water, is taught by thirst.
Land - by the Oceans passed.
Transport - by throe -
Peace - by its battles told -
Love, by Memorial Mold -
Birds, by the Snow.
The rainbow never tells me
That gust and storm are by,
Yet is she more convincing
My flowers turn from Forums --
Yet eloquent declare
What Cato couldn’t prove me
Except the birds were here!
Some things that fly there be —
Birds — Hours — the Bumblebee —
Of these no Elegy.
Some things that stay there be —
Grief — Hills — Eternity —
Nor this behooveth me.
There are that resting, rise.
Can I expound the skies?
How still the Riddle lies!
The Soul selects her own Society —
Then — shuts the Door —
To her divine Majority —
Present no more —
Unmoved — she notes the Chariots — pausing —
At her low Gate —
Unmoved — an Emperor be kneeling
Upon her Mat —
I've known her — from an ample nation —
Choose One —
Then — close the Valves of her attention —
Like Stone —
This is my letter to the World
That never wrote to Me –
The simple News that Nature told –
With tender Majesty
Her Message is committed
To Hands I cannot see –
For love of Her – Sweet – countrymen –
Judge tenderly – of Me
Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
My labor, and my leisure too,
For his civility.
We passed the school, where children strove
At recess, in the ring;
We passed the fields of gazing grain,
We passed the setting sun.
Or rather, he passed us;
The dews grew quivering and chill,
For only gossamer my gown,
My tippet only tulle.
We paused before a house that seemed
A swelling of the ground;
The roof was scarcely visible,
The cornice but a mound.
Since then 'tis centuries, and yet each
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses' heads
Were toward eternity.
Did Our Best Moment last -
‘Twould supersede the Heaven -
A few - and they by Risk - procure -
So this Sort - are not given -
Except as stimulants - in
Cases of Despair -
Or Stupor - The Reserve -
These Heavenly Moments are -
A Grant of the Divine -
That Certain as it Comes -
Withdraws - and leaves the dazzled Soul -
In her unfurnished Rooms
I never felt at Home—Below—-
And in the Handsome Skies
I shall not feel at Home—I know—
I don't like Paradise—
Because it's Sunday—all the time—
And Recess—never comes—
And Eden'll be so lonesome
Bright Wednesday Afternoons—
If God could make a visit—
Or ever took a Nap—
So not to see us—but they say
Perennial beholds us—
Myself would run away
From Him—and Holy Ghost—and All—
But there's the "Judgement Day"!
That Distance was between Us
That is not of Mile or Main -
The Will it is that situates -
Equator - never can -
I hide myself within my flower,
That fading from your Vase,
You, unsuspecting, feel for me—
Almost a loneliness.
If you were coming in the Fall,
I'd brush the Summer by
With half a smile, and half a spurn,
As Housewives do, a Fly.
If I could see you in a year,
I'd wind the months in balls -
And put them each in separate Drawers,
For fear the numbers fuse -
In only Centuries, delayed,
I'd count them on my Hand,
Substracting, till my fingers dropped
Into Van Dieman's Land.
If certain, when this life was out -
There is a pain — so utter —
It swallows substance up —
Then covers the Abyss with Trance —
So Memory can step
Around — across — upon it —
As one within a Swoon —
Goes safely — where an open eye —
Would drop Him — Bone by Bone --
If I can stop one Heart from breaking
I shall not live in vain
If I can ease one Life the Aching
Or cool one Pain
Or help one fainting Robin
Unto his Nest again
The project partner is the City Art Gallery i Łódź