Title: Enemies (The Selected Collaborations of S.J. Fowler)
By: S.J. Fowler and various collaborators
Publisher: Penned In the Margins
“It is a testament to my refusing to be alone in the creative act” writes S.J. Fowler in the introduction to his volume of artistic collaborations; and it certainly is. Throughout the collection, Fowler’s own prolific creativity is exaggerated by the presence of another source of inventive energy. In each piece, the several personalities involved weave something that brings out the best in all of them. Hidden areas of talent in the contributors and in Fowler are often revealed due to their collaboration.
The styles of the collection are numerous; and the genres spread to include poetry, illustration, painting, photography, music, flash fiction, and print making. However all of the pieces are linked together by their stark presentation of the contemporary world.
Right from the first piece ( a poem called “The Mechanical Root”), the modern tools of the trade are highlighted. Brackets and symbols only readily avaliable on a computer keyboard are used and then left unexplained. Somehow these small ‘mistakes’ are reminiscent of the hazards of more tradional artistic mediums: misspelt words in a handwritten manuscript; chipped pottery; or the cracks in old oil paintings all come to mind.
Due to the variety of the contributors to the collection, the themes that it covers are insurmountable; but feminism, the recession, the meaning of art, Mads Mikkelsen being cast as Hannibal and the human condition are all included. The words and pictures are also thick with historical and literary references.
Although it sounds like ‘Enemies’ is so overcrowded that it couldn’t possibly have any space left for a sense of humour; the collection is actually incredibly funny in parts. Overall it certainly empahsises an absurdist perspective on modern life and art. Questions and statements are often made and asked that unsettle the mind in a humorously absurdist way. For example: “Why should I be proud of reading many books from which I have derived little learning but much distress of mind?” and “It is a buffoon who calls Walt Whitman rubbish because he made some of it up”.
Many of the pieces have their own linguistic logic. Some also have blog-like spelling mistakes and some are delivered in a raw stream of coinciouness. These bouts of spontaneous expression can become uncensored rambling; but mostly they have a purpose. The pieces either highlight the degeneration of language due to technology, or examine abstract expression with words (as opposed to paint).
Several of my favourite lines from the collection are in the poem “1000 Proverbs” (written in collaboration with Tom Jenks). This list of nonsensical proverbs includes lines such as: “A cat in a warehouse is worth two in a call centre”; “We are all as individual as individual fruit pies” and “People who live with pandas should not build with bamboo.” As the collection draws to a close it begins to rely more and more on fast paced humour such as this.
The penultimate item in the collection are a series of emails between Fowler and one of his collaborators. These emails reveal new insights on the pieces in the collection and they also add an extra layer of meaning to the book.