Knight Arts Challenge Detroit winner What Pipeline presents new art book, ‘Light Stain’

Arts / Article

Isaac Pool combines poetry and images in Light Stain. All images courtesy of Pool and What Pipeline.

For the first 76 pages, the images in “Light Stain”–a new book of poems and photographs by artist Isaac Pool–are ambiguous, almost subject-less in their composition. These are largely snapshots, and though the images in this section are dated within the last 15 years, their grainy quality and faded color palette evoke an association with the 1970s and ’80s, when instant cameras first entered the domestic realm.

“Light Stain” is only the second publication from What Pipeline, a 2014 Knight Arts Challenge winner that received a $15,000 grant to publish books by or about Detroit-based artists. Through poems and images alike, the book deals with the domestic and the commonplace. Its subjects are a cross section of life in suburban Michigan captured at oblique angles—basements, carpeting, backyards. A book on a couch, a sunset from a visit to grandparents’ house in Mesa, Ariz. A travel photo from Disney World that captures the iconic Cinderella’s Castle with a construction crane jutting high above the fairytale turrets.

The Disney World image on the book’s back cover.

But a change takes place in an image spread on pages 77 and 78—a shift that is foreshadowed a few pages earlier, in the text of the poem “Back” (excerpted below). One of Pool’s longer offerings, it jumps the banks of his standard, one-page staccato messages onto a spread. Here, the text begins to transcend the fragmented observations and cynical revelations of the previous poems, taking on a lyrical quality:

“Sirens hanging out by bushes don’t buy them Biding all terse conditionals Won’t plant the plant cuz the property is municipal Lawn

Mojito swamp stuffing out the backpack I can’t find my wings to fly Just got my rain boots And whose bed they’ve been under The only heart I stole—what a bummer”

Just a few pages later, the images reveal Pool’s first human subject in “Ryanne’s Camper, Forester, MI, 2010.” This character—presumably Ryanne, but maybe not—is heavily made-up, perhaps female and standing amidst a messy jumble of camper trash, wearing an outfit that is equal parts superhero costume, glam-rock frontman and Kabuki actor. As with many of Pool’s images, the second snap is slightly blurred.

This is in the final third of “Light Stain,” where the myriad subjects and observations seem to be coalescing into an identity—ambiguous, certainly subversive, perhaps queer. In this way, the progression of the collection mirrors the kind of identity-seeking and solidifying to which many teenagers seeking alternative lifestyles in rural and conservative places can well relate.

Light Stain is an ambitious and complicated work—one worth seeing through to the very last page. What Pipeline celebrated the release of the limited-edition title with a kickoff reading earlier this month at independent bookseller Ditto Ditto, whose co-founder, Maia Asshaq, was just named one of two inaugural recipients of the new Gilda Awards from Kresge Arts in Detroit. Congratulations to Asshaq, Pool and What Pipeline—we’re looking forward to seeing what comes next.