Squeaky and Unclean

Rhode Island-based artist Jessica Rosner uses kitchen gloves to offer a look at James Joyce’s Ulysses unlike any other.

Reading James Joyce’s Ulysses is a task that requires patience, so one can imagine the concentration of artist and librarian Jessica Rosner, who copied the modernist novel in its entirety onto yellow kitchen gloves, now hanging in a marvelous installation at Providence’s POP Emporium through August 6.

Previously shown at Philadelphia’s Rosenbach Museum and last seen at New York art fair Cutlog in 2014, this is the first time Rosner has exhibited the gloves in Rhode Island. While she’s not native to the state, she moved here in 1986, and found the environment pleasantly lacking the many distractions of New York.

A studio practice and day job were possible in the smallest state, but that permissiveness didn’t factor much in The Ulysses Glove Project, which Rosner finished in 2012. “[Their] creation was more affected by having a permanent part-time job, and being a parent to my then 13-year-old son,” Rosner writes in an email interview. “It was a project I could do anywhere and with snippets of time.”

Jessica Rosner, The Ulysses Glove Project

Portrait of the artist in the Ulysses Glove Project

Using a Sharpie, she carefully transcribed the approximately 265,000-word novel onto 310 rubber gloves. Rosner conceived it as a tribute to her father, who adored Joyce’s books. As Ulysses holds an especially notorious place in literature, having been censored numerous times, so, too, have these yellow curiosities assumed a unique position in Rosner’s oeuvre. “I hope to create another large scale piece at some point that succeeds creatively, professionally, and personally,” Rosner says, “but so far have not achieved anything like the excitement the Ulysses Glove Project inspires. It still creates a buzz anytime I show it. It’s wonderful. There was no spillover love of my other work. It is its own thing.”

Jessica Rosner, the Ulysses Glove Project

Rosner has since returned to the more traditional media of ink and paper, crafting art with similar meticulousness and sincerity. Text continues to appear (such as her contributions to WORD, now on view at Jamestown Arts Center), as does repetition and an imperfect uniformity (see the dizzying appeal of her op-art drawings). “I suppose I could have gone on using rubber gloves for years, but I did not want to,” Rosner says. “I went back to making small paintings and drawings, and embroidery.”

The Ulysses Glove Project remain Rosner’s most flamboyant effort. Aside from the obvious Herculean intensity of their making—such tiny lettering, with such diligence—the gloves offer insight even without hype or awe. Yellow rubber that would scrub the world clean is rendered moot by mystic script, words once banned and scandalized. It succeeds as a tribute to Rosner’s dad, something that would have surely thrilled his intellect. They unfold with beautiful structure, balanced by encroaching decay. Its irresistible dualism suggests the purity of matter coated in the filth of thought.

“Purity is the enemy of change, of ambiguity and compromise,” wrote anthropologist Mary Douglas in her book Purity and Danger. The Ulysses Glove Project embrace the unclean and all the transgressions that might entail.

Jessica Rosner–librarian and artist, Ulysses Glove Project
Cranston, Rhode Island
Top image: The Ulysses Glove Project, photos courtesy of Jessica Rosner
Janet ReynoldsSqueaky and Unclean