- Interior Study
72 Pages; Print, $17.00
Aidan Koch’s Impressions is told in four acts. In the first, a young woman is posing as a nude model for a lone painter; they take a break, and he offers her tea and schedules another sitting. In the second, the woman visits an elderly friend or relative; they plant something in the garden and discuss the elder woman’s health. The third act has the woman at a friend’s house; they plan to meet at the painter’s exhibition opening and trade thoughts on posing nude. The final act is set at the opening; the portrait is there, and the woman, given a rose by her friend, is complimented on the artist’s behalf. She then departs.
To understand the story’s modest plot, however, isn’t to understand its motivation. Koch’s interest is in the particular and peculiar ways narrative can make itself known. Here, as in much of her work, the narrative consists of impressionistic moments—fragments of faces, of rooms, of objects, and of actions that, even taken together, don’t add up to a fully realized scene. More than plot, the overriding sense is of time passing and the progression of events. This isn’t a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end; it reads instead like a small part of a larger story—of the woman’s life perhaps—whose scope is determined only by the finite space of the book. Events occur over the space of the book, but the woman’s story doesn’t necessarily conclude with the last page.
In the same way that the length of the story is determined by the physical constraints of the book, what we see on the page is delineated by the limits of visual perception. The open-ended acts are composed of abstract visual fragments, such as the woman’s face at various angles, the woman’s hair surrounding a blank area where her face would otherwise be, sections of patterned textiles, the leaves of plants depicted in two dimensions, disembodied hands, and blurred figures as well as empty panels. Koch’s style is subtractive, and she often appears to have left out more of a drawing than she has included. The book resounds with white space. Her aim seems partly to reproduce the way we perceive ourselves, one another, and our surroundings when our attention is elsewhere. The young woman seems distracted throughout the book, lost in thought, even when she is occupied with activity or conversation. As she says of the painter, “It’s almost like he doesn’t really see me. I’m just a shape.”
Impressions is also compelling for its focus on temporality, which Koch plays with in two ways: events in the story occur over time, but time passing is itself a subject. She blends the two seamlessly, through clever formal experiments, to create a reading experience that is largely sensory. In the first act, for instance, we know that the woman poses for a long time through Koch’s deft and subtle representation of the extended scene. In the first few panels, she discards her robe on a chair; the robe turns from white to blue as though the movement of the sun has cast it into shadow. The next panel shows her reclining on a divan, and successive panels focus on elements of this scene—different aspects of her torso, details of what appears to be drapery. Next, Koch focuses on the woman’s face in profile as her eyes begin to close, reproducing the image twice with different details accented each time: first, the hue of her face and shoulder; second, the color of her hair. It’s not clear whether we are seeing her from the artist’s point of view, as he examines each area of the scene while painting, or whether Koch is mimicking the way we, as readers of visual material, let our eyes and attention drift around an image as we study it, noticing first one detail, then another. Finally, Koch reduces the idea of the woman...