in which we all kiss something secretly

Their first collaboration began twenty years ago, when visual artist Maria Mercedes Martinez, put a cigar box with ten little drawings outside poet Denver Butson’s apartment door (the two lived next to each other on the top floor of a Brooklyn Heights apartment building). Butson took the little drawings and paired them with words — some from previous poems, some randomly chosen from notebooks, some written just for the drawings themselves — and added ten new sets of words on the same-sized pieces of paper and then returned the cigar box to the front of Martinez’s door. This back-and-forth continued for a few weeks, each time with the recipient responding to the ten new pieces and then adding ten additional pieces to the box. When they finished they had dozens of paired drawings/poems, which they called the cigar box project, a project which has been exhibited a few times since then, and always returned soon after to its original cigar box.

A few years after this collaboration, Butson moved away from that building, and the two stayed in touch but did not collaborate again until 2015, when Martinez, then studying coding, had the idea to create a simple and singular website, in which a visitor would enter a phone number, which immediately lead to that phone ringing, and whoever answered that phone would hear Butson reading a short poem. This project, Mechanical Bird (a title borrowed from Butson’s second book of poems Mechanical Birds), reached hundreds of people, some sending themselves a poem and some having the website phone a friend as far away as Sweden or Japan.

in which we all kiss something secretly is the third collaboration of these friends and artists over the past twenty years. Like the previous two projects, in which we all kiss something secretly marries the two artists’ work in somewhat random and indirect ways. Martinez’s photo boxes combine snapshots she takes on her way to work or walks through the city with handmade wooden boxes and a small LED lights to create glowing, quiet, meditative moments of singularity in our increasingly sense-scattered world. Almost like a peered-into viewmaster or a photo booth of times past, the photo boxes take these isolated moments and hold them still. Butson’s words, all taken from a series of poems using the repeated opening “in which,” accompany each photo box and add a discursive, dream-like narrative or context to what seems like random, unrelated images.

Collectively, in which we all kiss something secretly as an exhibition can be viewed and read however the viewer chooses — left to right, right to left, randomly — to find whatever meaning there is in these seemingly random images with almost their accidental pairings of poetry. Martinez and Butson have also produced a book of this project, where a fully-realized poem of these fragments is paired with the photographs of the boxes.

in which we all kiss something secretly will be on display at Court Tree Gallery Feb 9 – March 2.  There will be an opening reception and reading Feb 9 5-7 pm and a closing reception and reading with music March 2. The book will be on sale at the exhibition, as well.

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