Sunday, 9 August 2015

Laura Ķeniņš: She Wants to Tell Me: Uncertainty and Speechlessness

In social interactions, there are constant and overt reminders of the underlying power structure. Someone who holds the power, a boss or a coach, can speak; you do not have that power, therefore you must ask permission and they may (or may not) grant you permission to speak. As if your opinion doesn't matter, your status isn't high enough or perceived to be too low, and you can't speak "above your station". When it comes to personal interaction, a similar but less rigid structure exists. It is a challenge to determine what one can or cannot say, especially when you're in love. There is an uncertainty to attraction and love as you seek to not only form a bond with a person, but a lasting bond with someone that extends beyond friendship and into intimacy. So there is a huge amount of uncertainty to wade through before you can forge an intimate relationship. Communication is key to get to this point.

In Laura Ķeniņš What She Wants to Tell Me, the protagonists are caught in a situation where that uncertainty can never be properly dispersed. The book opens with our protagonists, finding a severed human ear on the ground of the park. Daina, one of our protagonists, stands over it silently until Monta, our second protagonist, arrives and enquires about the situation. Monta wants to go to the police, but Daina advice against it. Despite this initial disagreement, they are clearly shaken by the discovery and decide to go for to go for drinks to talk and forget about this nasty business. They eventually kiss and Monta falls in love with Daina.

Hovever, despite this attraction and their eventual relationship, they can never talk freely to each other. Monta is uncertain of her own feelings and whether or not she can love another woman, but decides to commit to the relationship anyway. This uncertainty pervades their every interaction. She doesn't know how to express her feelings properly, so she keeps quiet. She expresses her doubt, but never to her partner, the one person who should be able to listen. Daina, however, seems to have a problem with expressing herself altogether. Although she seems more confident in her sexuality, she also appears to have secrets. Whatever they may be, be it related to how the ear got on the ground or not, she never says.

The ear doesn't really matter in the end. It is their inability to express themselves that dooms their relationship. Monta wants to tell Daina her feelings. Daina wants to share her secret. Whatever has been left unsaid will remain so.

Laura Ķeniņš art is phenomenal. Everything is done with colored pencils. I had recently read Everywhere Antennas by Julie Delporte, who also uses colored pencils and the contrast between the two artists` styles is quite interesting. Where Delporte used color sparingly, leaving plenty of empty spaces, Keninš fills each pages with vibrant colors. In Keninš book, there is a loose panel structure and each panel is filled with colors. The various colors used throughout are applied with varying levels of opacity to allow her to create lighting and shadow effects everywhere.

Her style also complements the story nicely. The pencils aren't used to add color to a black pencil drawing, but rather they are the basis of the drawing itself. This reduced the clarity of the forms and structures in some instances, but it contributes to the story in that it casts a haze over everything, reducing clarity and adding a small yet efficient layer of uncertainty over everything. Truly well done.

I was not familiar with Keninš' work before and it is a mistake I will correct shortly. Her meaningful examination of communication was stellar and I am looking forward to more thoughtful pieces from her.

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