Thursday, 14 June 2012

We Bury the Landscape: An Exhibition-Collection by Kristine Ong Muslim (3.5/5)

Goodreads says: We Bury the Landscape is an exhibition of literary art. Ekphrasis, collected. One hundred flash fictions and prose poems presented to view. From the visual to the textual, transmuting before the gallery-goer’s gaze, the shifting contours of curator Kristine Ong Muslim’s surreal panorama delineate the unconventional, the unexpected, and the unnatural. Traversing this visionary vista’s panoply of “rooms of unfinished lives,” the reader unearths and examines and reanimates—revealing the transcendent uncanniness that subsists underfoot.

I say: First off, I received an electronic copy of this flash fiction collection by the author, but that didn’t affect my review. I normally don’t accept review copies because I don’t like deadlines or obligations, but since this was already on my endless TRB list, I snuck it in there.

And I’m glad I did.

I asked Ong Muslim about the title of the collection, as I didn’t really get the connection, and she said “We […] took a line from the prose poem "Abandoned Dwellings." We bury the landscape - like a metaphorical plea of not having to look at the "landscape" but what's on it or what's beyond it.” I really like that explanation, and it certainly adds another dimension to the 100 stories/poems.

More than anything I really loved the short flash fiction stories; especially the ones written about the more abstract art. It somehow felt like that art allowed Ong Muslim the liberty to transform the images into whatever she liked – almost as if her imagination ran a little more freely.

All of the artwork can be found here.

What I really liked about this collection was Ong Muslim’s vision; her play with words when she touches the abstract part of life; those subtle emotions/feelings that I imagine only someone who has been there can recognise and touch; and at the same time providing something so tangible one would have to be a fool not to understand it.

The Red Orchestra
after Salvador Dalí‘s Music - The Red Orchestra - The Seven Arts (1957)

We shaped ourselves into violins whenever we sought strumming. Into pianos, when we ached to be touched in places no one could reach. There were tubas and percussions, the shrunken and the bloated. We comfortably let out our breath in metered intervals, but most days we weren‘t in the position to breathe at all. The musicians pretended not to notice the blood welling from where our flesh tore apart as we twisted into familiar instruments. The bony fingers of the conductor coiled and uncoiled, slashed the air with the precision of a matador‘s sword striking bone. The audience sat in awe, entranced by the sound of our pain.

That last sentence is just pure perfection.

I really fell in love with a lot of the stories and poems (and the fact that I was introduced to a lot of new artwork), while some of them didn’t really touch me in the same way, hence the 3.5/5. I’ll undoubtedly read more of Ong Muslim’s work – I need more contemporary poetry/flash fiction on my shelves.

Favourite stories: Sketch for a Dirty Princess, A True Story, Strange City, Everything That Rises, For the One Who Got Away, Sphinx Embedded in the Sand, The Red Orchestra, and many more (it'd just be silly to name them all).

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