Part poetry, biography, fictional narrative, artwork and photography, Korynn Newville’s Indiscernible Elements: Calcium, is best described as an exhibition book where the book itself constitutes the exhibition.
Created in part to satisfy the requirements for a masters degree in the architecture program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the book works with themes of death, grief, decomposition and the recomposition of the deceased into a new structure or life. The medium Newville chooses to work with, because it’s so prevalent in organic and nonorganic contexts, is calcium. “Calcium,” Newville notes, “is in organisms…Calcium makes up the earth…limestone is Calcium…limestone is used for building materials…the built environment is created by Calcium!”
Newville begins her book with a story told from Calcium’s point of view. Using brief phrases etched in white on a black background, Calcium describes “an endless cycle” which includes calcium layering, combining with organisms, “moving through the earth,” dying and becoming a part of a “built environment.” The story is interspersed with short poems about calcium, and art— beginning with abstract drawings and collages, followed by photographs of structures and ceramics and calcium-covered sculptures in the woods.
The author ends with an autobiographical section about how she came to work with calcium and her desire to explore the grieving process and “what happens to the deceased when they are placed into the earth.”
The text in the autobiographical section contains problems with fragments and other grammar issues, and the poems are rather simplistic (‘we create/barriers/facades/ exoskeleton”). However, the artwork is often evocative and intriguing. But the book’s overall strength lies not in the creation of any one poem or art object, but in the author’s ability to carry a theme (calcium’s transmutations) through many forms.
As a uniquely creative and quirky production, Indiscernible Elements: Calcium should find an audience with some art and architecture fans and exhibition book collectors. It’s likely too unique and specialized, however, to attract a wider audience.