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Reading Correspondences through the Virtual Feminist Museum by Dan Smith

In the folded concertina pages of their book Correspondences (2013), artist Bernice Eisenstein and writer Anne Michaels have collaborated to adapt and put to use a multifaceted temporal dimension inherent in the medium of comics. Michaels and Eisenstein explore the potential that comics have to interrupt processes of consumption through phenomenal engagements with image, text, narrative and temporality. (Smith 2013) Correspondences changes through reading, offering new connections and configurations, made possible by the choice of directions in which the book can be read, and the page arrangements chosen by the reader upon any particular visit. The book opens as an accordion, the edge of each page attached to another. Read it this way, it is a poem. Read it a different way to look at Eisenstein’s portraits. When arranged conventionally, they are accompanied by a text on the facing page. As voices in a gallery of conversations, situated in the shadow of the Holocaust, Eisenstein’s portraits show us the faces of connected figures, from Paul Celan to Nelly Sachs, while the fragmented text of the poem sets up associations and relationships across time. There are echoes of the image/text combinations of Eisenstein’s previous graphic novel I was a Child of Holocaust Survivors (2006), which prodded the boundaries of the medium, resisting a more conventional approach to graphic memoir. Miriam Harris describes how Eisenstein illuminated “a vanished world of family members, shtetl culture, and Jewish intellectual inquiry and art, to identify what had been lost.” (2008: 132) Harris points out that “the union of words and images” (2008: 141) enables a reanimating of the dead through yoking together past and present in the corporeal form of the graphic novel. Correspondences performs similarly, but with an even greater sense of corporeal engagement, and moves even further away from standard image/text relations as found in comics.

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