Art with direction | Arts & Culture | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

Art with direction

Together, Alisha Piercy’s two novellas make up the latest reversible book by Conundrum Press. Try doing that with your e-book.

As the story goes, publishers roundly tossed out Yann Martel's idea for a "flip book," a volume that would contain a fictional story and accompanying essay.

The Life of Pi author went on to use the experience of that rejection and reversibility (as a thematic motif if not physical format) in his novel from earlier this year, Beatrice & Virgil.

It seems simple enough: arriving at the end of one text, readers see that the next is upside down. This marks an end and a beginning: flip the book over and continue.

"I like playing with the form of the book," says Andy Brown, publisher of Conundrum Press, which has just released its latest "reversible book," Auricle/Icebreaker, or Icebreaker/Auricle, two novellas by Alisha Piercy in one.

A year ago, Brown and his wife moved from Montreal to Wolfville, her hometown. Having brought Conundrum with him, Brown worked on the design and letterpress-printing with Andrew Steeves and Gary Dunfield at Gaspereau Press in Kentville. The subtlety of the cover design, how it changes when reversed, only comes from holding the book, says Brown, adding: "In the age of e-books, that's how books are going to survive, when you have an interaction with an object."

Though she's published chapbooks, including one that won the 2010 bpNichol Chapbook Award, this is Piercy's first "book-length book," she says on the phone from Brown's Wolfville farmhouse. (He and his wife also work for a community-supported agriculture farm.) Last week, Conundrum launched Piercy's book, as well as Elisabeth Belliveau's art book and DVD, don't get lonely don't get lost, at SappyFest in Sackville, New Brunswick. Friday is the Halifax launch, along with Invisible Publishing's Ghost Pine by Jeff Miller.

Piercy, a Montreal-based writer and visual artist, was writing Auricle and Icebreaker separately when links between them started occurring to her. "There's a feeling of journeying that runs between both of them," she says. Readers of early drafts were enthused by reading "the same kind of narrative" despite their "extremely different settings and circumstances," recalls Piercy. Their responses didn't depress her, but rather encouraged her to continue writing the stories. Both novellas are about female protagonists pursuing what Piercy calls a "point of light," a search that's brought to bear on the narrative voice and mood of both stories.

In Icebreaker, told in the third person, Alice is after clarity and resolution in the face of a powerful but murky relationship from the past with the mysteriously named G. The space Alice occupies, a decommissioned icebreaker, now operates as a B&B. Auricle is told in first person by Marie, who travels with her mother to Buenos Aires, where they await an operation to remove Marie's extra aural appendages. A doctor, Birkett, accompanies them in this large, unfamiliar city. Marie falls in love with the doctor, while her mother exchanges letters with a correspondent known only as F.

In both novellas, the main characters engage in a "signalling," as Piercy calls it, with their respective, sought-after "points of light." A meeting across the divide becomes possible, though a "confusion of communication" must be surmounted first. Interior and exterior worlds, which at first exist apart from each other, may well be connected.

"That's part of my art practice as well: sending off signals," says Piercy, who also performs live drawing and creates installations. "A lot of my work relates to the idea of being in a place that's islanded---lost at sea for example," she continues. "To what extent can you send a signal and be heard? Or when do you choose not to signal, not to be heard?"

Her writing and drawing aren't isolated from one another, but form a reversible art.

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