Northeast: Look At Dilatory Domiciles Always To Insure Accuracy

Suzy Spence


Book, 15,6 x 23,5 cm, 165 p, language: English, publisher: Spence Projects, ISBN: N/A.
Materials: ink, paper

Literary synopsis

Northeast is an illustrated novella that marries prose with imagery to deepen the portrait of its main character. In lieu of painted canvas, intermittent black and white drawings counterpoint narrative story-telling, building upon Gertrude Stein’s association between the novel and visual art. Northeast is an upstairs downstairs tale, narrated by a young man who leaves architecture school to become the live-in butler to a patrician American family. Rather than erect a building for the future, he defaults to serving an elderly couple in all manner of love and humiliation. Spending his youth at their service, he accompanies them to seaside cottages, country clubs, and one notorious Park Avenue apartment, in which the rituals of a cloistered, antediluvian life go on. The story casts painting (hobby, object, investment) as a supporting character. In the final chapter of the novel, a scene takes place before a large minimal canvas, described by the narrator as a confounding white abyss in an otherwise baroque room of European antiques. Looking at the painting against the ornate wallpaper of a traditional gentleman’s library, he considers its elusive meaning.

Relation of the novel to the artist’s practice

Northeast is an exercise in narrative portraiture, and is part of Luzy Spence's artistic practice. She considers herself a conceptual painter; with this project she employs fiction as a tool to render an individual and his surroundings. Northeast is a reaction to minimalist tendencies, the tabula rasa, and painting as décor. Painting (both noun and verb) is referred to throughout the story. Northeast is a Roman à clef. A major patron of The Metropolitan Museum of Art and a member of the founding family of the Museum of Modern Art are thinly disguised characters in the story. One, known as “Nini”, is the subject of a second publication I made in 2014, Estate Rejects. This related work is an auction catalog presenting the unwanted items of a deceased museum patron that are up for grabs: furniture, rugs, books, baubles, jewelry, and art works are displayed in full color photography in 114 magazine pages. The preface to Estate Rejects is a personal memory penned by the same narrator as Northeast. His memory of Nini is meant to capture the imagination of potential bidders, and is best appreciated after reading Northeast. Estate Rejects is a portrait too, its subject rendered metaphorically through its many pages of mediocre possessions.

The cover design of Northeast is based on a Social Register. Specific to the United States, the Social Register is a directory of names and addresses of prominent American families who form the social elite – inclusion has historically been limited to members of polite society.

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