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symbiosis EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: Gina DeCagna MANAGING EDITOR: Alina Grabowski POETRY EDITORS: Nick DeFina Lumin Shen

PROSE EDITORS: Elvis Hatcher Gabriel Ojeda-Sague

MULTIMEDIA EDITORS: Erich Kessel Alexander Rafi

ART EDITOR: Ayla Fudala CREATIVE DIRECTOR: Carolyn Koh DESIGNERS: Emily Belshaw Alison Sonnenschein Lindsay Wong

PHOTOGRAPHY EDITORS: Levi Gikandi Christian Hopkins

COPY EDITORS: Mohammad N. Kabir Mereb Russom


Deepa Lakshmin Yolanda Chen Alyssa Marcus Kristian Garcia

Letter from the Editor Art has always been a component of my identity and a natural means of expression. Later, my passion for visual art was met with a love for writing. Throughout my childhood, I was fascinated with combining the two in the form of illustrated books, getting lost in stories that incorporated the written word and the hand-drawn image. Symbiosis was an idea that grew out of my love for intertwining visual and literary media—only this time, I was interested in how differing creative minds could come together through collaboration. Beginning in September 2012, and continuing into the present, over sixty Penn undergraduate students, graduate students, and alumni have participated in our project in which artists and writers were randomly paired. Pairs were given one assignment: create a piece of art and a piece of writing that directly correlate. Symbiosis is about exploring the intersections of independent artists and writers, fostering those intellectual connections between individuals, and traveling new creative paths with the company of a partner. It is about meeting new people who can change how you perceive life. The project’s hope of producing mutually beneficial symbiotic relationships has been realized via this publication, our inaugural issue documenting some of the most successful connections. I hope it continues to inspire creative ventures and encourages meaningful expression of artists and writers alike. Symbiosis would not have been possible without the encouragement and assistance of the Kelly Writers House. I would especially like to thank Jessica Lowenthal and my nineteen fellow staff members. Together, we have nurtured a pool of talent in writing, art, design, and project management. We hope you enjoy these collaborations as much as we did. Sincerely,

Gina DeCagna Editor-In-Chief


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JANINA LAGEMANN-DONÉ & JAMES MUELLER Postcards from Writing Spaces


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Machine Head Writer: Adriana Garcia, C’15 Artist: Nick Moncy, C’16

What the hell am I doing here? What you are supposed to do, of course. Why? Because you’re supposed to. Oh. Don’t think about it. Just do it. But— No buts. Think about your future. I am. How are you going to get a job? I’m talented. So is everyone else. What can I do? Work harder. How? Don’t think about it. Just do it. Don’t think. Just do. Straight up memorization, guaranteed to pass. If I can just cram in those vocabs before class, I’ll ace the test. I just need to do better than everyone else. Fuck learning, because that’s not what I’m here for. I’m here for the A’s, the transcript, the recommendations and the 200 grand diploma. And so it turns into the day after day of sameness, tiredness, nothing-has-changed-ness. Monotone, droning, no longer groaning, bemoaning my life. The wheels don’t stop turning. They can’t. Stuck on the dirty tracks. Cogs turn, churn, burn. Burn from the routine. The same schedule, people, goals. Run ‘til I burn out. Drown my sorrows away. Deal with the hangover. And back to work. Too tired to keep going, too tired to stop. So I chug, tug, pull myself through another day. Because if I stop, I’m lazy. Change my mind, I’m fickle. Cry for help, I’m weak. So I keep it all in. Internalize the pain, the fear, anxiety. Who am I? I’ve lost what makes me human. My love, laughter, tears, my truth. Suppression, repression, depression. Because I don’t want anything more. I’m dead inside, prosthetic heart pumping coffee through my no longer tired body. I don’t plan on leaping, so no need to look. My head’s screwed on tight, and the cogs are turning. Drugged up on caffeine, no need to sleep tonight. I am my anxiety, my Adderall, my apathy. What am I?



Acrylic on Canvas, 18” x 22”

Responding to the overwhelming stress of the “mechanized life” many students experience while at Penn, these two collaborators agreed that at times, the classroom becomes less about learning. Many students go to extreme lengths to finish a problem set or to write a paper, focusing more on achieving an unnatural sense of perfection than anything else. Yet, the pressures of OCR, internships, grades, and the general competitiveness of Penn eventually begin to take their collective toll, leading one to feel empty and unfulfilled. This collaboration captures the emotionalism of losing oneself in the battle against such conflicting internal and external forces.



Body Language Writer: Zola Ray, C‘15 Artist: Ayla Fudala, C‘16 Hands Hands on hips Hips that I once thought Curved just to meet your fingertips Ends of fingers with spaces between Concluding in soft angles Like knuckle valleys Finger pits Our finger pits never quite touched Hands held looser than our lips Eyes half open when we kissed Couldn’t hold the laughter in The laughter I pretended was some sorcery of magicians Can’t believe in magic now The power is within her hands The hands of the one you missed Guess she didn’t want you With your loose hands and your tight unforgiving lips Guess that wasn’t the “you” she had The “you” that I don’t really miss I’ve fallen down without the fear Hitting walls that weren’t there Or always were but I don’t care Because the stagnant breaths Were enough to let me know That my hips curved without your fingertips And my eyes would close for someone with tight hands and loose lips Lips that speak the way I do Or did, when I thought you were it



Pen, 8.5” x 11”

Loosely inspired by spoken word poetry, Zola’s poem emphasizes the auditory aspects of diction and the rhythms of speech. She sent this piece to Ayla, who started with a single image from the poem—hands on hips—then expanded it into a surreal vision. Drawing on the piece’s emotional theme of love lost, Ayla incorporated an entire world into the space between a hand and a hip, the figure serving as a standing monument to the physical reality of a relationship. The art’s eye-sun symbolizes the poet, looking back with hindsight and clarity on the events of the relationship.



Sunset Writer: Nick Defina, C‘16 Artist: Elizabeth Mamourian, C‘14

precious, a summer gem sleeping in a window, a glance filtering through the lunar light like a sheet through the wash: riding the rainbow of a prism she wipes clean the windowpane with two pristine fingers, rubbing out the softness of a perfect vision, glossing over nothing but this: a featured curbside, rounded and rain-gutted, “leaf pulp,” porcelain shock-waves begging to keep the current bubbling: and she, the prismatic one, a theatrical spotlight over saintly waterfalls, satanic guises in glass pressured into passing.



Digital Photography, 6” x 7”

The strong atmosphere of Elizabeth’s photograph served as the source of inspiration for Nick’s poem. The poem recreates the emotions the photograph elicited in the writer through its various elements: colors, shadows, light and textures of the surrounding environment. The poem attempts to evoke a sense of texture and tactility in the photograph through the explicitness of words.


Postcards from Writing Spaces Artist-Writers: Janine Lagemann-Donn, C‘14 & James Mueller, LPS


Mixed Media, 12” x 4”

This collaboration combines the work of two self-identified “artist-writers” to portray the interaction between writing spaces and the work that comes from them. Photographs of each collaborator’s writing spaces are overlaid with fragments of their own writing.Taking on dual roles of both photographer and poet allowed for a deeper, mutual understanding between each “artist-writer.” The photographs invite the readers to explore the poetic meanings behind these incorporated words.


Dénouement Writer: Alex Droznin-Izrael, C’15 Artist: Stefanos Metaxas, C‘13

Each step she took was unsure, but she was certain of her decision. The cobbled streets weaved around strange, dimly lit corners of the city that were bathed in the soft glow of street lamps. It had rained the previous night, but the humidity had persisted throughout the day and now a fine mist hung in the air. As it cooled, droplets settled onto the cobblestones and made them slick. She had never seen these parts of the city, nor did she know the whereabouts of her destination. Nevertheless, as she walked, she believed more and more that she would find it. She had come to terms with her faults a long time ago. Perhaps this is what Lilith saw that day. I’d like to tell you about how she got there, but it happened a long time ago. No one knows the details, really. I think that most people who had known her had long assumed that she was mad. I couldn’t imagine that she was even still alive. Someone would have been very cruel for her to still be alive, for she would have to live with what she had done. I hoped that she was dead, if not for her sake, then for my own. Or else, what would be right in my idea of the world? I met Lilith by absolute chance during a casual stroll down Petersstraße, where I lived in a flat that was inherited from an uncle that I had never known. I was on my way to the opera house that night, but the violinist had fallen ill, and the show was pushed back several hours so that a replacement violinist could be called up. Why none of the other thirty violinists were capable of filling the position, I do not know. I sought to make the most of my newly acquired spare time, but it was late already, and I felt uneasy calling on anyone for company. I resorted to taking a stroll, as I had never spent much time observing the Renaissance façades that lined Petersstraße. Maybe, I’d run into a fellow listless soul. There was a park near the end of the street where my uncle used to take me when I was young. I didn’t live in Leipzig back then, but my mother would take me along when she visited him. As I approached the park, I noticed that its entrance was a lot darker than before. I squinted in the darkness, and as my eyes readjusted, the lights at the gate flickered on. This was typical of the last few years; nowadays, Germans can barely keep the lights on. A woman leaned against the flickering lamppost. She fell in and out of focus as the light gleamed from her pale skin. Her black dress seemed strangely appropriate. As my gaze descended from her black locks to her crimson lips, her delicate neck and her hidden breasts, and then to her elegant legs, I saw some movement near her feet. I approached her, though she remained rooted at her post. “What sort of dog is that?” I asked coolly. “A German Shepherd,” she replied without looking my direction. Her dim eyes searched the depths of the park. I looked down at the dog. His surprisingly soft eyes offset his black fur and bared teeth. “I didn’t know that they came in all-black.” “He’s a purebred.” She was standoffish now. My ignorance must have upset her. “I once owned a dog,” I started. “A spaniel, with beige and black splotches on his white fur.” She turned to me with an outstretched hand. “Lilith,” she asserted, identifying herself. I carefully bent down and pressed my lips to meet her hand. It didn’t have a German scent. “And you are?” she continued. Before I could answer, she pulled a revolver from beneath her dress. It was almost all too quick—even the hound yelped in surprise. As I fell to the ground, the last thing I saw was her standing over me, with the light from the street lamp at her back. She was bathed in light, but emanating darkness.


Digital Photography, 7.5� x 5�

For this work, the collaborators shared a fascination with the roles that light and shadow play in defining relationships between characters. In both the written and artistic pieces, light penetrates a dark environment to illuminate each of the characters. It is the introduction of light which allows the reader or viewer to be introduced to the individual characters, as well as their relationship. Similarly, the presence of shadows in the pieces highlights the balance of power between characters. Without the complexities of interpersonal interaction, these worlds are created by a primal sense of sight.


Condiment Bible Verse Writer: Christine Otis, C‘02 Artist: Jamie Kent, W‘14

In my internet mind, I’m someone else—the other—creature who roams the clouds—the storage units of information. Trying to grasp what to do here and there the cloud sits. An unknown information unit, the pleasure all mine while I wonder what you do with me. The manipulation is always the key. So, I always use my condiment bible verse, which was of course John 57. This sauce blessed by all, making it kosher Christian, I slathered with pleasure. Perhaps an unlikely mixture, but the allure was all my own until the sauce hit my tongue. Captivated by a dream, lost in web surfing, the confusion I can claim and I knew what it looked like; it was with water I broke his heart. Now looking at my collar, the reflection giving back, I saw the fresh dirt of the day. The kerfuffle of days: My hair stuck up on end The ferrule pointed up pointed down pointed at my glabella A fight Which was the color of cattleya My cattleya, my room, in the boondocks of the sky. My attention meant nothing about my comprehension; the one was dumb of the other. If you don’t understand Daddy, I’ll forgive you. As I consumed John 57, my indigestion was immediate. My forgiveness was not. On the sevenday, I slept until my dreams, my clouds warped; my comprehension gone deaf. And there, there, there they are. Representing the few, the many bad dreams like lightning strikes, Lucky Strikes, I’m burning it away with a needle in my head. All the legs I see are running after me, the millipede, the centipede. Mom calls. And I hear. John 57 running after me, knowing what it looks like I escape to the water and swim Comprehension gone deaf, in the mass of verses, in schooling and John, 57, blesses those with holy water until it is my turn and he cannot, --Cannot For I am of Jewish descent



Mixed Media, 14” x 12”

Jamie drew inspiration from the “Postcards from Molotia” collection by South African artists Ree Treweek and Markus Wormstorm, which tells a story both visual and verbal. She wished to reference this work while creating a unique collaboration incorporating the fantastical and weird. Christine took this information and wrote a story with the recurring theme of doubles: a child and an adult, holy water and pop-art, Jewish and Christian, creatures that roam, and parents that are present. Through examining these relationships, the collaboration asks us to investigate the bonds in our own lives.


Duality Writer: Tess Paoletta, C‘16 Artist: Christian Hopkins, C‘16

remember that dream, when you were the forest? tips of trees reaching to kiss the air, and themselves and fill bellies with their wonderful sap a wholeness every breath, jolt, dash, and padded foot on your earth. that eye, how many sights could you see? through many visceral visions, one is felt. and when the rain washes and dissolves the notion of my nothingness, my oneness, what remains? deep evergreen fills the soul of my stretching, touching all the faces, warm and still with their love’s embrace, a slice of the collective emptying and occupying space and there’s a shudder, an awakening, feeling your limbs for the first, last, only absolute time, arms that can roll, legs that can quake, forever growing, consuming, awesome in totalness. my earth, myself i love you


Digital Photography, 6” x 7”

Both Tess’ poem and Christian’s image are different expressions of the themes of “oneness and a lack of identity in nature.” Using literary and visual means, the collaborators explore the universality of nature: as human beings, we all share one earth and its resources. Through the necessity of air, water, and sun, we cannot escape our relationship with nature. We are ourselves—yet, at the same time, we are another— connected as one being.


Fear is a Wasteland Writer: Xeno Wasburne, C‘16 Artist: Heather McMordie, LPS ‘13 This project originated in 2011 from a series of Heather’s prints that explored the shapes of words. In January 2013, Xeno decided to expand this idea by adding his own poetry to the mix. The result was a multimedia piece comprised of two poems, both titled “Fear Is a Wasteland,” presented atop Heather’s compellingly dark monotype. The collaboration considers the ways in which poetry and images—when working symbiotically—can incite an emotional response.


Mixed Media, 11” x 15” SYMBIOSIS 20

Earth’s Tones Writer: Afuah Frimpong, C‘15 Artist: Alexander Rafi, C’14

I see the world as a palette Not just brown, but siennas, raw and burnt, More than red, there are cadmiums and crimsons. Lights, deeps, ochres, and oxides. Sweeter separate shades and tints Whose hand is choosing what hues to lay, Upon the blank canvas

Eager to be covered?


Mixed Media, 8.5” x 11”

Alexander and Afuah’s collaboration celebrates an appreciation for the richness of diversity. Alexander’s piece speaks of the colors of the people of the world, coming together as more than the sum of their constituent parts. Similarly, Afuah’s painting is a collage of people united by a single heart. Their collaboration simultaneously rejoices in our differences and praises the bonds we all share.


And Maybe Writer: Eric Xu, C‘15 Artist: Kailey Zitaner, C‘16

“When we are not sure, we are alive.” —Graham Greene No doubt you’ve felt it before, wrestled it, perhaps, held it like drops of sun slipping through your cupped hands, and you, thinking you could turn night into day, flung those glowing orbs into orbit and that was how the stars came to be. No doubt you’ve smelled it before, stuck your head into the kitchen to catch a whiff of the piquance rising from Mama’s apple strudel on the counter checkered maroon and white. And you’ve heard it too, fell asleep to the trickle of a trillion trillion water molecules galloping over the eroded skin of the pebbles sleeping in the creek outside your blue house. Men fumble with frantic eyes in the whiteness of dark, either they are blind or it is invisible, calling to their yearning fingers with its nectarine voice. Perhaps you have yet to taste the rain on surrendered lips, or see a sky stained with the juices of a bleeding pomegranate, but when you do, oh how alive you will be.


Acrylic, 15” x 20”

This collaboration is, on the whole, an attempt at instigating an associative symbiotic relationship rather than an explicit one. Spurred by a quote from Graham Greene, the poem recreates the mystery of life (hence the ambiguous title and nature of the poem). The artwork captures the “sky stained with the juices of a bleeding pomegranate” and “the trickle of a trillion trillion water molecules,” while complementing the poem.



Want to get involved? Any type of artist or writer can pursue the collaborative journey that is Symbiosis! Send us an email at, and we will randomly match you up with a partner. Sometimes you kindle that creative spark with your partner immediately, and sometimes you simply do not connect. We will continually match you up with a new partner until you have at least one successful collaboration. Through the “musical chairs style� of the random matching process, we enable you to be exposed to everyone and anyone involved. You never know who will inspire you and what type of symbiotic relationship the pairing will cultivate. All visual artistic media and writing forms are accepted: poetry, prose, experimental writing, painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, and beyond! We do not limit where your creative collaboration can take you, and we encourage you to break boundaries. For more information, visit our website at


Profile for UPenn Symbiosis

Symbiosis - 2013 Issue  

Symbiosis ( is a student group and annual publication dedicated to exploring the interrelationship between the visual...

Symbiosis - 2013 Issue  

Symbiosis ( is a student group and annual publication dedicated to exploring the interrelationship between the visual...