“Messages From the Fence” by Terri Warpinski

The Photographer and the Poet

Terri Warpinski talks about her words-image collaboration in a show about the southern border at Maude Kerns

Transcending Borders, which runs through April 30 at Maude Kerns Art Center, offers a photographic look at the U.S. southern border from a variety of artist perspectives. The group show includes photos exploring surveillance by Marcus DeSieno of Ellensburg, Washington; photographs of workers in Oaxaca, Mexico, by Richard Keis of Corvallis; and a collaboration between Eugene photographer Terri Warpinski and Portland poet Laura Winter.

Eugene Weekly interviewed Warpinski, a retired art professor at the University of Oregon, by email about the two women’s collaboration, which is titled Liminal Matter. It contains two series, “Fences” and “Traces,” that contain Warpinski’s photographs and poems by Winter inspired by the photography.

EW: First off, Liminal Matter. That’s a book, yes? 

Terri Warpinski: Liminal Matter: Fences and Liminal Matter: Traces are two editions of our collaboration that are much like books — each a set of broadsides (unbound printed pages) in a custom case or box. However, Laura and I would more describe them as portfolios.

Will the work be displayed as a book or as wall-
hanging photos? 

We have a display set of the individual broadsides that are mounted for presentation on the wall. We will also have the boxed sets visible in a display case.

What got you going on “Fences” and “Traces”?

I began working on landscape photographs that were based on the U.S. border with Mexico in 2008-09 when I was on a sabbatical from the UO and teaching as a visiting professor at the New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. It was a time when there was much construction of fortified fencing taking place just before the Obama administration came into power. I continued to photograph along the border from Texas to California over the next six years. During this same time, I also traveled to Israel and Palestine, and Berlin to photograph those border walls present and past. That larger body of work resulted in Surface Tension, which in the book form is also part of this exhibition.

Speaking of “Traces,” are you familiar with Tom Kiefer, the guy who has been collecting possessions left behind at border stations by migrants? 

I am quite familiar with Tom’s work, as we were paired in an exhibition at Arizona State University’s Northlight Gallery in Tempe two years ago.

Have you worked with poets before? Sounds like an interesting idea.

I have not worked with a poet before. I have collaborated with a creative nonfiction writer in the past and found that experience to be enormously rich and creatively rewarding.

If I understand correctly, Winter looked at your work and wrote poems. What did you learn about your own work from that process? Is she a sophisticated viewer of photos? I mean, was this like a photo review? Or more like working from the heart?

Laura began writing poetry related to my photographs without my knowledge! I know that sounds funny, and it actually is. We met as artists-in-residence at Playa Summer Lake [an artist colony in eastern Oregon]. She was there with the intention of continuing work with ideas related to the high desert. I was using the month to work on editing my photographs for an exhibition and to mock up ideas related to making a book of that work. That work became “Surface Tension.”

As part of my working method, I would make prints and use communal pin-up space to work on sequencing ideas. Laura happened upon the work prints and began spending time with them. Laura connected to the work on a very human and visceral level. After a couple of weeks, over a nightcap by the firepit, Laura shared that she had written some poems related to my work and would I be interested in reading them — and of course, I was. And I was very moved by the intimacy of her reading of them. 

And how might it have gone if you worked in the other direction, photographing from her poems?

That is a very interesting proposition; an iteration of a working method that we have not landed on yet! In “Fences,” Laura was given free range to work with and from my photographs. At times, she selected images to work with that I might not have chosen to otherwise show or exhibit. In “Traces,” she wrote the poems, and I selected from my photographic images to pair with them. Who knows, maybe the third installment will be the Keefer method!

Transcending Borders runs through April 30 at Maude Kerns Art Center, 1910 E. 15th Avenue. Hours are 10 am to 5:30 pm Monday-Friday, and noon to 4 pm Saturday. For more information see MKACenter.org.

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