Laura Bell and Ian Ganassi: The Corpses

Laura Bell, a painter in the Bronx, and Ian Ganassi, a poet in New Haven, met as artists in residence at the Millay Colony for the Arts. In 2005, they began mailing between them the ongoing collaborative collage series “The Corpses,” starting with an unfinished poem and scrawled phrases on a piece of printer paper stained with coffee rings that Ganassi mailed to Bell. With each mailing, words and images are added and new pieces are begun; at any point, either of them can call a piece finished. At first it was assumed that Ganassi would contribute text and Bell visuals, but this division soon dissolved. (The series title is a reference to the Surrealist game of Exquisite Corpse.) 

The Corpses travel to wherever Ganassi or Bell happens to be. The gathering of materials has become a consuming habit, with found objects, text, and poems joined to drawings, ads, photos, and mixed media and attached with glue, staples, tape, thread—a painterly, visceral process, the anti-Photoshop. “The Corpses turned us into scavengers,” says Ganassi. “We ended up trying to get the whole world into them.”

A Corpse might go back and forth many times or make only one circuit; some pieces are minimal, others layered. Some develop themes or function almost as diaries (a hospital glove, a postcard). Politics, religion, history, and literature make appearances. 

While the process has retained its initial sense of play, the series soon demanded a level of intention equal to the work Ganassi and Bell were publishing and exhibiting individually. Called "joyously Fluxus-like" by Robert Shuster in the Village Voice and described by writer Byron Earhart as going "beyond collaborative to a kind of conspiratorial imagination," the Corpses have evolved into more than a decade of personal and material call-and-response. At present there are more than 300 finished Corpses, with usually a dozen or more in progress or in transit.