Emily Dickinson's Room

Emily Dickinson's Room

Iza Maciejewska’s video installation Emily Dickinson’s Room (a three-channel video, 2009; Emily Dickinson’s voice – Małgorzata Ossowska-Czader; sounds of birds – Kate Bush) features a private interior (a bedroom-studio) of the renowned nineteenth-century American poet, where she stayed in seclusion for the last 20 years of her life and where she created her innovative poems. Called ”a recluse of Amherst”, she withdrew from the world in order to protect her “self”, to immerse in a fortress of her inner personality, emotions and imagination, and to express them in her poetry. To communicate with the world outside she used letters and she talked only to her closest friends through a bedroom door that was ajar. She also shared her life with others, enclosing her poems, which were revolutionary in form and content, to her letters.
In this way she wrote “Letter to the World”.
Four lines selected from the poet’s work: “The Soul selects her own Society ‒/
Then — shuts the Door ‒/ To her divine Majority ‒/ Present no more ‒” could become a motto of her existence.
Emily Dickinson's biographers have been trying to figure out what traumatic events marked the beginnings of her poetry and her withdrawal from the public and social life. If a psychoanalytic interpretation was carried out, there might have been some unresolved conflicts, the inability to satisfy some needs, frustration that caused anxiety and strong emotional tension that pushed her to adopt the defence mechanism of her own "self". The most rational defence mechanism against a neurotic fear of the world is substitution (compensation or sublimation), which in Emily Dickinson's case means the escape into the world of imagination, the world of art. Her gesture of renunciation, seclusion is a reaction to disappointment with the surrounding reality, which she turned into her artwork.
The poet says: ”The Missing All ‒ prevented Me / From missing minor Things.”
The awareness of a variety of worldly offers and also their transience, a continuous process of their inevitable loss was frustrating for her. Asceticism is the consequence of the impossibility of having All she would like to have. Shutting the door of her room and the door of her Soul, that contains all that is most important to her, satisfied with the carefully selected, her own Society. As it is the Soul and the Brain (as the poet says in another poem) that gather "almost All". The latter is “wider than the sky” and it is “just the weight of God”.
It might have been the strict Protestant, or even Puritan rules observed by the family, the autocratic father, the subordinate role of a women in the society of that epoch, and also ‒ as some biographers state ‒ the inability to find support in religious certainty, unrequited love, the lack of response from readers that led 30-year-old Emily to the introvert lack of interest in the outside world and in being active there. She was withdrawn, focused on her own experience and unrestrained imagination ‒ the realm of true freedom, living in the world of poetry – “Palace of Possibility” ‒ as the author names it, where there are “More numerous of Windows‒ /Superior ‒ for Doors”.
Indeed, Dickinson’s poems opened a new epoch in English poetry. Her modern, original lines are free of any principles, rules and regulations typical of her time. This great reformer of the poetic speech, endowed with the philosophical mind was also a tireless seeker of the truth and her self-consciousness.
Iza Maciejewska's work, which is a tribute to the poet's genius, is a three-channel video ‒ three screens occupying the adjacent gallery walls on which synchronized images are projected. It is, as the author explains, "an attempt to recreate the place that triggered Emily Dickinson’s creative potential. It is a space where, without any rules, and often defying logic, reality is mixed with fantasy, the world of art with life, the world outside with the world of the interior, the artist's world with the world of the viewer."
Emily's room created by Maciejewska is a utopian place, ideal to develop creative imagination. There is no continuity, no linearity of time here, no space enclosed by walls. The law of gravity does not work here. The time on the clock goes back, the space extends, objects levitate or change their position, the door opens and closes "itself". The walls, which are their own mirror reflection, become transparent; we can freely pass through them. The boundaries between perception and imagination blur. We can see a shadow of a woman pacing back and forth, whispering lines of the poem: “The Soul selects her own Society...”. We can hear birds singing, human voices speaking in turns, coming from behind the window with a view of some trees moved by the wind. They sometimes also break into the room. And the room ”breathes” and ”pulsates” to the rhythm of the heartbeat, leans diagonally like a ship hurled by rough waves; we can see it upturned too.
We are overwhelmed by the surrounding images, emerging from the three walls of the gallery interior. We are there, and also in the bedroom of the recluse of Amherst ‒ the realm of imagination. We cross the threshold of the poetic "Palace of Possibility", where nothing comes as a surprise to us, where everything is likely to happen. The last frame of Iza Maciejewska's film shows a view of soaring birds.
”Due to their flight, they were always considered to be mediators between the sky and the Earth, the embodiment of what is immaterial, particularly the soul” – we can read in the Herder Dictionary of Symbols. Birds are also associated with destiny and immortality (e.g. in Quran).
In various mythologies of the West, also in India they are perceived as “spiritual-psychic hybrids or as spirits of the dead”.
The interpretation of this frame and the whole film seems to be clear. The artist certainly wanted to call up Emily Dickinson’s spirit.
Today birds can also be understood as a symbol of freedom, a liberated spirit, unrestrained creative energy.
Iza Maciejewska encourages viewers ‒ involved in daily activities and routines ‒ to indulge in the world of art. Like surrealists, she wants to undermine our sense of reality, to open our minds, to expand the boundaries of perception, sensitivity and awareness. She wants us to go beyond what directly appeals to the senses, to awaken the dormant realm of fantasy, to see what the artists see.
The installation is accompanied by fragments of Emily Dickinson’s poetry – the viewers can estimate its value themselves – or two objects representing human life-size figures, moss-grown, which are to illustrate one of the poems. Presented in the adjacent room of the Gallery, they lead to the world of the poet’s room created by Iza Maciejewska’s power of imagination and talent. Entering that world, and at the same time the space of mind and spirit of the nineteenth- century ingenious nun of Amherst, being under the influence of her poems, the 21st century artist builds a bridge between two creative expressions. Regardless of the time, artists are united by free imagination.

Alicja Cichowicz
translated by: Elżbieta Rodzeń - Leśnikowska
The City Art Gallery in Lodz, 2016

Emily Dickinson's room 1 (wall left) https://youtu.be/IeqLjlR4i40

Emily Dickinson's room 2 (windows) https://youtu.be/w9UKgN4LBFs

Emily Dickinson's room 3 (wall right) https://youtu.be/yDzIpXlwKnk

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