His compositions are evocative. The halogen glow of the laptop flickers as J.R. Harper scrolls through cached images of photographs. “Check this one out, I think it’s pretty intense,” he says.
A long-haired man, scruffy, unshaven, sits perched on a porcelain throne, sans clothing, mouth agape, taking his next bite of the half-eaten hamburger he clutches in his hand. Two women, front and back, envelope him. The title reads “American Dream.”
“Sitting on the toilet, getting head and eating a cheeseburger, baby,” Harper said. “It’s the American dream.”
Harper is one of several artists whose work was chosen for publication in the Fall 2008 edition of Touchstones magazine, UVU’s student-produced literary journal of prose, poetry and visual art, published by the English department. “My Word,” the reception and release party, which features selected readings and art exhibits will be held at Center Stage at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 2.
Loran Cook, this semester’s editor-in-chief, who has worked on Touchstones‘ staff for several semesters now, says he thinks the content for each genre is very strong, but admires one in particular. “I think this one is a really strong prose book,” he said.
Cook said that he wanted to make this edition stand out from previous ones.
According to both him and Managing Editor Jorgen Hansen, the idea of imposing a theme was tacitly toyed with at the suggestion of English professor Karin Anderson.
“Karin Anderson said, ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be great if we did a horror issue?'” Hansen said. “And that’s Loran’s genre.” But according to Cook and Hansen the possibility of pigeonholing artists into one genre could have been a detriment to the journal. The idea was jettisoned in favor of the traditional, quality-based criteria.
Cook said that he particularly liked creative non-fiction piece submitted by a student named Vanessa Nuckolls, titled “On Being Fat.”
“It’s just such a powerful piece from the first page,” Cook said.
English major Brian Anderson said that his submission, a creative non-fiction piece titled “Spelman’s House,” has been in progress for the past five or six months.
“It’s about the inner-workings of my family,” Anderson said. According to Anderson the story collates the deterioration of a neighbor’s house with his own personal experience. “These people moved into my neighbor’s house and just kind of thrashed it,” he said. “It just started to be a horrible looking house. And that was sort of metaphorical of what was going on in my life at the time.”
The click of the button on Harper’s laptop reveals the next image in his archives, the one he submitted to Touchstones, titled “Spaghetti Nights.”
It depicts a beautiful young woman, hair bleached blonde and teased up, thin limbs, her pallid skin faintly reflecting the bluish fluorescence of light beamed from overhead. She crouches beside a toilet sitting on her heels — her body hunkered over the bowl. The seat is up. With elbows resting on the rim, her left hand cradles a clump of the spaghetti overflowing from the toilet bowl before her yearning eyes. Her right hand digs in for more. Harper says he thinks the composition is pretty self-explanatory. He says the woman is obviously locked into an anorexia-induced, psychological reality reversal: one in which, instead of regurgitating meals into the toilet, she now finds herself compulsively ingesting them from the toilet.
The photo shocks, a fact that, according to Hansen, made it dubiously desirable.
Hansen said it was the lighting of Harper’s piece that first caught his attention, but it was the bizarre concept and composition that swayed Hansen to assert its approval. “I had to argue to get that in,” Hansen said. “We had a call out. Our poster asking for submissions was for disturbing things. Come on, I mean, we’re going to reject something because it’s disturbing and we’re asking for disturbing things?”
Harper said that he had been experimenting with unconventional “continuous lighting” methods which entailed multiple “desk lamps strapped to tripods and boom-arms.”
“I was lighting with televisions and halogens,” Harper said. “I love experimenting with light.”
As for the toilet, Harper said that it was clean enough to eat out of, even though the model wasn’t actually eating from it. “Oh. She did smear it on her face though,” Harper said. “We got down and dirty.”