Member / Past Artist-In-Residence
Alex Kostiw is a graphic designer, artist, and educator in Chicago. She works with folks to tell their stories through brand identities, publications, and printed matter. In her own practice, she deals in poetic and reimagined text and image, visual structures of comics, and conceptually driven forms. Alex teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
- Graphic Design
Sep 2016–Dec 2016
Reading is both encounter and empathy, an act in which we are given another place or perspective and allow ourselves to mistake it for our own. My practice explores reading and its potential through books of experimental comics and short fiction. I think of books as mysterious containers or knots in our reality—small, yet holding a remarkable density of experience.
My books are typically slim and light and have an interactive quality, opening for the reader in unusual ways. They require the reader to twist or turn or peek into the work to unravel its content. The physical form reflects the story’s twists and turns; creates opportunities to surprise and entrance the reader (say, with a mark hidden in a fold, or recombining images); and moreover, suggests that what we see is just a trace—an idea that is tied to comics’ structure. I am fascinated by the gutters in comics, the gaps between panels where much of a story lives. This white space is rich with implicit moments that the reader knows reflexively. It locates the story, its environment, and its characters are existing somewhere between the book and the reader’s imagination, but not wholly in either place. To explore this notion, my comics and writing play on and push how little I can give to a reader while still establishing the sense of a substantial narrative. While the sculptural book form creates literal hidden spaces, sparse visuals and brief text invite the reader’s careful attention and realization that the gaps are not empty, but home to an invisible world.
A great influence on my practice has been Anne Carson’s if not, winter, her translation of the poet Sappho’s work, which survives only in small fragments. The result is disjointed lines consisting often of short phrases or even just single words that, despite being incomplete, feel incredibly loaded with meaning. The full, original meaning of the poetry is inaccessible to the reader, but the poignancy of its fragmentation makes what remains potent. I parsed out some of my thoughts on the book in an essay comic [Sappho], but haven’t shaken its hold. My illustrations are also informed by traditional comics, which usually render things simply to make the story easy to inhabit, avoiding the static feel of realism. Economic use of line and color allows me to shift between figurative and abstract, making illustrations almost open-ended, hinting at specific characters, objects, and settings with restrained detail, and activating negative space. My narratives also put the tangible and intangible in tension, posing questions of what is real, what isn’t, and to whom. They put emotional and physical distances between characters, and point to them as a realm of misunderstanding. Some pieces create that kind of distance for the reader as well by introducing a recognizable subject, then skewing it into something unfamiliar.
My work seeks to complicate the reader’s understanding of reality by fostering the sense that there exists more than what they can see and comprehend. Reading becomes a kind of magic that actives a narrative and grazes its invisible world; and, with the work relying on the reader’s physical and imaginative efforts, my aim is for the magic to be carried in them beyond the page.
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