All that glitters may not be gold — but Diana H. Chu’s Trance ‘N Dance, number 19 in the Czap Books/Grindstone Comics visual poetry series Ley Lines, is — although the riso printing doesn’t, in fact, glitter. So where does that leave us, besides with an admittedly gorgeous-looking mini?
I’m still in the process of answering that question myself, but there’s no question that Chu has created a de facto visual “museum guide” like no other here. The rub is that the exhibit that she’s offering up for display has a lot more to do with many more things than the book’s back-cover blurb would perhaps, at first glance, lead one to believe — but that may not be a bad thing. It’s up to you decide — it always is with this series, that’s one of the best things about it — so consider my role here to be every bit as much that of an interpreter as it is that of a traditional critic per se. How does the extra hat feel? Maybe I’ll be able to let you know by the time we’re finished here —
So, the page presented above is fairly representative of what you’ll find herein, an intriguing mish-mash of objects from times and places various and sundry juxtaposed with both proper labeling and short-form explanations for what it is we’re “seeing” and fairly free-form verse. The overall effect is unique, to be sure — for good and ill. In my considered view it’s more often the latter than the former, so that’s a plus, but it does mean you need to be prepared for something that runs the risk of not registering with you completely when you go into this book. As with all Ley Lines publications, this one is ostensibly dedicated to exploring the work of an artist from outside of the comics sphere — in this case Patti Smith, although in fact she’s got plenty of company — but it’s every bit as committed to exploring the meaning of that work, as well. And that’s where the scattershot focus here ends up being, in my view, perhaps a bit overextended — though again, that may not be a bad thing, as Chu’s aim (which we’ll get to, I promise), while specific, is better communicated by conscripting a number of participants, even if there might be a couple/few too many here.
What she’s giving form and voice to, I would venture to state, is a field manual mapping out the whats and whys of something and somewhere else — a rhythmic circular loop around maybe not so much a higher as it is a different state of consciousness. Returning to the back cover blurb, we see reference to “a guidebook to another plane, a love song on repeat” — and that, friends, is entirely accurate. Maybe even seductively accurate, weird as that no doubt sounds.
Prepare, then, not just for Smith — although she’s well-represented — but also for Henri Rousseau. For Jimi Hendrix. For statuary from Egypt, Greece, Rome. For the rhythmic trance the title refers to — but the transcendence it aims to achieve? That might be a hit-or-miss proposition. I do, however, give Chu serious points for her ambition in that regard, as well as for the visual means by which she attempts to take us to that other state of consciousness, or being. By that I refer to her illustrations, which, while obviously photo-referenced, are nonetheless more concerned with capturing the essential character of what she’s depicting rather than with physical exactitude (although she acquits herself plenty well in that regard, as well), and that makes all the difference — on this dimensional plane or any other.
By book’s end, you’re either going to come back down to where you were when you began, or to circle back around to that same point, albeit with some extra insight into a different state of mind — and while the former may be indicative of a more memorable overall experience, neither is a bad outcome. In fact, neither is actually an outcome at all — and you may very well find yourself inclined to start Chu’s guided journey all over again.
Trance ‘N Dance is available for $6.00 from the Ley Lines storenvy site at http://leylines.storenvy.com/products/26972817-trance-n-dance-ley-lines-no-19
Review wrist check – Zodiac “Super Sea Wolf 68 Saturation” in burnt orange with blue dial.