When a student who feels stuck on a writing project comes to see me, I often suggest they unsettle their form. Why not try pushing your story into a place it doesn’t belong? I ask. What if your family history could be, say, filtered into a life insurance claim? Can you rewrite this bad-date tale into thirty interconnected limericks? This is merely an exercise to move their narratives away from the classic arcs and tropes that often hold storytellers hostage. Rejecting prescribed forms helps us locate the impulses that require something weirder, I tell them, stroking my invisible beard. A few students end up doubling down on the ill-fitting forms and revising their projects around them, which creates another issue. That new form, I warn, can’t be a perfect fit. I encourage them to lean on the unlikely form until it almost breaks—until the demands of the original story nearly split it at its seams. Formal experiments buzz when they strain at both ends—at what the impulse really is and at whatever it’s trying to be. The tension created is the buzz of incompletion; that’s what makes the work both crafty and dangerous.
Dave Hardy’s sculpture Slack makes some space for my own traditional forms of looking, but not enough to yield any plumb fit. The elongated rectangle of polyurethane foam at Slack’s center is a dead ringer for an everyday sofa cushion, and it appears soft to the touch. Instead of that ubiquitous tawny color, however, the foam is dyed dungaree blue, and its lowest quadrant rolls under itself. Onto that roll I easily project a pair of coveralls kneeling. The narrow pane of diagonal glass that bisects the foam sits tight in the center of that bend, like a workshop tool between a set of knees.
Egging me on is Hardy’s decision to shove a carpenter’s pencil into the foam—the real article, not a representation. At first I’m relieved to understand this pencil just as I would the one rattling around my junk drawer. It teeters on the figure’s flank, at the same precarious angle at which it might be held behind a body’s ear or in a loose pocket. But there is no ear, no pocket, of course, and so the pencil simply dangles. My looking can’t quite make it fit. And since nothing is in exactly the right place to go any further, the resonance I have built recedes.