Instructor Reflection – Seasons (11.1)

By Benjamin Gunsberg, Utah State University

Grace Ashby’s “Seasons” was created in response to the first major assignment for English 5450, a special topics course that encourages students to explore our diverse and rapidly changing mediascape. Throughout the semester we investigate connections between different media and modes of representation, including film, music, electronic literature, visual art, performance, and installation art. Students also examine and compose work that exists in multiple forms, such as printed poems that speak as audio files or videos in conversation with text-based material. The first assignment is a multimedia adaptation of text-based work—a poem, story, or scene—transformed by digital technology into something new.

“Seasons” showcases Grace’s talent for blending words and visual images. The bare sketch of a female body morphs into mountains, into trees, and finally into a field of wildflowers.  I’m struck by the evocative use of line and color to animate the seasons, how a woman’s hair blooms as the poem concludes. Those familiar with the topography of northern Utah might view “Seasons” as a place-based piece, an homage to the Wellsville and Bear River Mountains that frame the campus of Utah State University. Perhaps it’s germane to mention that Grace was stationed in a different, much flatter state while attending our Zoom classes during the spring of 2021. I can’t help but wonder if “Seasons” emerged from a longing to revisit both campus life and the spectacular landscape of the Intermountain West.

British art critic John Ruskin used the term “pathetic fallacy” to attack writers who granted human qualities to nonhuman phenomena. Though I recognize the potential confusion caused by such comparisons in certain contexts (say, scientific reports), I see value in granting artists freedom to personify nature, particularly when one is moved by the memory of a specific place, as is the case with “Seasons.” Though I don’t necessarily see “naked flanks” when I look up at snowy Mt. Naomi, I’m delighted that Grace’s verbal and visual representations cast new light on the variegated terrain, the steep ridges and gentle valleys of our wilderness. The video poem ends with reference to embroidery, yet another way human imagination laces the world.  With a lyrical flourish and a healthy dose of optimism, Grace gives spring—season of beginnings—the final word: “And new bits of green creep up from slumber… sewing life back into the mountains’ craggy peaks.” For this, I am grateful.