‘The Redaction Project’ takes you inside the mind of artist Anne de Marcken

Anne de Marcken’s art installation “The Redaction Project” began with a short story that resisted her efforts at editing and grew into a multimedia taxonomy of the story.

The installation, opening Saturday at Salon Refu, 114 Capitol Way N., is like a science project analyzing words in and out of context. It dares to quantify something about the creative process. And it documents the workings of de Marcken’s mind.

In other words, it’s pretty far afield from what you might expect to find in a downtown Olympia art gallery.

“I’m interested in making something happen that startles and excites people, and this will do that,” said Susan Christian, Salon Refu’s owner. “People are interested in these experimental or nontraditional art forms, and Olympia doesn’t have any other place where that’s happening. I think there’s room for that.”

Christian didn’t really know what to expect when de Marcken proposed the installation a year ago, but she figured the artist didn’t either. “I knew that whatever she did would be very precise and probably very much not what she expected when we first talked about this,” Christian said.

“I figure it out as I go along,” said de Marcken, a multimedia artist who teaches writing and film at The Evergreen State College. “This installation is possibly not an endpoint of a process of trying engage with narrative and with words and with a particular story.”

The story, “After Life,” began to move into the realm of art when she decided to redact it — that is, to black out words with a marker, obscuring them but leaving evidence of where they once were.

“I started covering up words,” she said. “It was fun. It was liberating. I experienced a lot of joy and so much relief. I felt like I had a way into the story.”

She quickly realized that she didn’t want to lose the words she was redacting, so she covered them with black highlights in a word-processing program so her actions could be undone. The words were both there and not there.

“The story just exploded into this creative, imaginative adventure,” said Marilyn Freeman, de Marcken’s spouse and longtime collaborator on creative projects.

“I have a sense of the words being these wild animals that have lives of their own,” de Marcken said. “Once they are decoupled from the narrative structure, they can do anything.”

She became fascinated with the patterns created by the redaction, and yet the pages where words peek out from among vast areas of black are not part of the exhibit, although it does include wood-block prints depicting the patterns created on some redacted pages.

The story itself is in the space only in glimpses and fragments. (And in the show’s catalog.)

Every element is about documenting the story, classifying the words and analyzing them, much as a scientist might generate reports on the status of particular animals in an endangered species.

A letterpress print includes every word in the story in alphabetical order. A rack holds versions of the story, spreadsheets and more. There’s a soundtrack, an audio recording of a reading of the redacted version of “After Life.”

And 1,860 painstakingly aligned index cards are tacked onto two walls, occupying a space 27 feet long and 8 feet high.

There is one card for each unique word in the original story. The cards record how many times the word appeared in the original version of the story and how many times it remained in the current version, which has only 1,316 words compared to the original’s 8,037.

“Index cards give the appearance of order while promoting chaos,” de Marcken wrote in the exhibition catalog.

Another way to look at it is that they attempt to impose some order to the chaos of the never-ending story.

‘The Redaction Project’

What: This installation by multimedia artist Anne de Marcken explores the nature of narrative and words through a rigorous examination of the evolution of a short story she wrote.

When: Opens Saturday with a conversation with Anne de Marcken at 3 p.m. and an opening reception at 5 p.m. On view through March 31. Gallery hours are 2-6 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays.

Where: 114 Capitol Way N., Olympia; 360-280-3540; salonrefugallery.com.

Tickets: Free.