Thursday, August 11, 2016

Cory Dugan's “Hapax Legomena”

Posted By on Thu, Aug 11, 2016 at 1:14 PM

Cory Dugan is a Unicorn, at least to me. He was the founding editor of Number: Inc. in 1987 and was the very first art critic for the Memphis Flyer. He has also contributed articles to The Commercial Appeal, Memphis magazine, Art Papers, ArtNews, and New Art Examiner. He has exhibited his work in what is now every defunct art space in the city, including the Memphis Center for Contemporary Art. Remember that place??!! He even lived in NYC in the mid-'80s after receiving his BFA from the University of Memphis, working as a graphic designer. So, to me Cory Dugan is a mythical creature. When I was in undergrad in the late '90s, I thought no one was more important in the Memphis art world than Cory. For a little worthless artist like myself, these were/are legendary attributes. I wanted to be an artist and an art writer, Dugan was both. Just take another look at the title of his current exhibition, “Hapax Legomena.” He knows all the big words.

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So, how did he know what a hapax legomenon, pl. hapax legomena, is to begin with? One night, a little over a year ago, he was drinking in his studio, which is really his entire apartment, and the dictionary screen saver on his iMac came on, as he was sitting there thinking about the world, he noticed the words hapax legomenon scroll across the screen. He thought to himself, “what the hell was that?” So he sat there staring at the screen saver until it appeared again. After a quick google search he found it meant “a word that occurs only once within a context, either in the written record of an entire language, in the works of an author, or in a single text.”

Dugan, as an artist and a writer, has always been interested in language. A previous series of work, “The Last Words,” consisted of a filing system that included the last word in every section of Ezra Pound’s Cantos. Gathering all the hapaxes of Waiting for Godot, Holy Sonnets, and the dramatic works of William Shakespeare, which partly comprise the 17 works in this exhibition, has to be much harder to attain than simply using typewriter and index cards. “No.” Dugan states, “there is an app for that.” Well, that makes it easier. Especially since some of the pieces in the exhibition use hapaxes from the Hebrew New Testament and the Greek Bible. The words, as Dugan says, “are completely visual to me.” With the Shakespeare text, he created his first video art work, incorporating elements from Orson Welles' Othello. "The dramas seemed to suggest it; Shakespeare needed it," Dugan added.

click to enlarge hapax-gospel2_1_.jpg

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He understands that researching and using hapax legomena is “completely nonsensical.” There are several academics that have thrown themselves into the study of the term. There is even a bitter debate among scholars whether or not Shakespeare is using hapax legomena or a nonce, meaning a made up word? Cory believes these are hapax legomena because these words have now entered our lexicon, words such as honorificabilitudinitatibus, big words. But he knows no one really cares. “Why would you?” he says and continues by saying this is exactly why he does it. 

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