The Oblivion Atlas
Michael Allen Zell
Book Design and Art by Louviere and Vanessa
110 pages: $25.00
The Oblivion Atlas, a collaboration between Louviere and Vanessa (L + V) and Michael Allen Zell, features a full color design by Louviere + Vanessa with vignette illustrations for the seven short stories by Michael Allen Zell.
The Oblivion Atlas begins with the simple idea that “motion must be frozen before being recreated as motion.” The multi-medium artwork of L + V is set in motion as influence and inspiration for short stories by Michael Allen Zell, and L + V in turn have created new work to serve as backdrop and counterpoint to the stories.
The Oblivion Atlas first came about as a constraint determined by Zell from the initial lines of Jacques Prevert’s To Paint A Portrait Of A Bird (“First paint a cage/with an open door”), secondly by the attempt at developing a corollary style of frozen-image writing as worthy counterpart to the hypnotic spell cast by both photography and long takes by filmmakers such as Tarkovsky, and ultimately by the specific inspiration of L + V’s fertile decade of photographic art. The second ballast was formed by L + V’s response to Zell’s stories, with the challenge to embrace elements of interest and uniquely portray them without simply repeating that which had inspired the stories in the first place. The resulting atlas of text and image have thrown off trappings to recognize what Genet called the universal wound shared uniquely by all, and they have embraced a new thickened form of the texted image and the imaged text. The Oblivion Atlas explores and accumulates an aviary of themes, including dreams; time-sculpting; memory; madness; resistance; nihilism; the frequencies and trajectories of the mind; absorbing/dissolving; and infinity in a finite space; none of this with cognitive delicacy but rather by nimbly moving through the tension with a sprung step that rumbles as necessary. New Orleans and Louisiana remain steady companions throughout, not at the usual baseline of easy affiliation, but rather as an active guiding presence treated in a singular manner. This book is precise but not taut, assertive but not doctrinaire, ambitious but not exclusive, inviting the reader in by its very design and the affirmation that “…the first act of freedom is when the mind says no and the second when it says yes.”
Named in Oxford American’s 2012 “Superstars of Southern Art” (“enigmatic, emotional, and gritty”), L + V have had recent solo exhibitions at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art and the Polk Museum of Art. Their work is collected in public and private collections including George Eastman House; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Washington and Lee University; Ford Foundation; and the Pitt-Jolie collection. Zell’s first novel Errata was a Times-Picayune/nola.com top 10 book of 2012 (“Zell dissolves the familiar dross of New Orleans noir in the potent solvent of his imagination, an alchemical process that yields literary gold.”), and HTML Giant said “This is, perhaps, one of the smartest contemporary novels that I’ve encountered…”