Negative Spaces

Emily Wright (BFA PT 2021)

The following piece developed out of a Wintersession studio-seminar, Language in the Studio, in which students were encouraged to work with writing and making as both generative process and formal outcome. The course was proposed and taught by v.1 editor Mays Albaik (MFA GL 19).


In school I am learning how to make glass, how to cast objects in glass. I am asked what I find most interesting, what excites me.

I blurt out something about negative space and ghosts. You cast an object and you fill up its negative, you take something and make its shadow.
All images by the author.


I hear that in painting there should be a balance between positive and negative space. Negative space is a term created to describe the area between two subjects. When I think about negative space, I do not think about paintings. I think about space between bodies, around objects, hollowness, inside my body. I ask myself how to measure the space between people who aren’t painted. Between people who are gone.

How do you measure that space?


There is a professor at my college who is infamous, capricious. He teaches a class called Spatial Dynamics. He may be provoked by uttering those two funny words: negative space. Space cannot be negative, he roars. So I hear.

In my dreams I take his class and I tell him I see him, I hear his roar and I feel it, too, or at least I think I do. Space isn’t absent, it’s between. It cannot be absent. It is here.


I sit down to write about the death of my brother. Not because I want to, but because I feel like I should. It seems like people should write about this if it happens. People write about things that happen. Not much ever comes of it, but I will keep sitting down to write and then not write, and maybe this is therapy and maybe I am selfish and maybe I am honoring him and maybe I am wrong. I don’t really write but I think of him often. How do you measure space?

Last week I copied down a page of his sketchbook into my own: horse, tiger, sheep, pig, cow. Last week I made a cast of his words in glass and now I have a big slab with the words imprinted into it. I was thinking about memory and fragility but now that the words are physical I realize they’re not fragile, they’re strong. I think if I pounded them with a hammer they’d laugh. I used to think I’d get a tattoo of them somewhere but something about words in the skin feels sacrilegious. Something tells me they’d try to get out. Instead I got a tattoo of a cat’s cradle and stuck his words inside glass.

Today I put the words in my backpack and I carried them. If someone asked why, I’d say I’d thought I might need them. I think I do need them.

Two Faces

In my bedroom I sit at my desk and I type on my computer and I look around the room. I wonder what comes of simplifying the world into positive and negative spaces. There are two black faces and there is one white vase. There is either and there cannot be both. One becomes background.


I live with ghosts in a house on Congdon Street. I have not seen their faces and they have not seen mine. I listen to the movie they watch. The wall between us is so thin that when one of them coughs, sometimes I jump. Sometimes I get an urge to knock on the wall but then I do not because they are my ghosts only until they hear me, until we acknowledge we hear. I think about myself as one subject and my ghosts as the other and the composition of space between us: an air filled with sound I cannot see, a wall that hides what I do not know. It is in this house I have realized that a space can have feelings. Quiet and temporary and lonely and a little bit beautiful, the space between these walls.


If I could talk with the inside of my head, the part that is in charge of figure-ground perception, I would say this: You know, the tricky thing with you, is that you have to separate. You hold on to one and discard the other. Why can’t you hold on to it all? What happens if you hold on to what isn’t there?

Everything would melt. There would be no object. No present.

Tell me, please,

what it’s like without time,

tell me.


It is nighttime in my bedroom and I am sucking in air through a tube. The tube spins medicine into mist to loosen the airways to the lungs. My boyfriend smokes cigarettes on weekends and I wonder if I would do the same if I didn’t have asthma. When I was fifteen I traveled to Spain with my best friend and we met two brothers who offered us each a cigarette. We sat on the steps across from our bedroom and I sucked mine down until it was gone.

It’s Saturday on Congdon Street and my lungs aren't filling up the way they should. Lungs are magic, something hollow seems so fragile but is so powerful except when it’s not. Maybe my lungs are the glass that won’t break, maybe my lungs are like ghosts, hollow and foggy. I haven’t seen the space behind my wall and I can’t feel the space inside my lungs but I can imagine that it’s there until I do. The feeling’s quiet and temporary and lonely and a little bit beautiful, the feeling as I wait for a tobacco kiss and a full lung and a ghost to break the silence with a cough.


I am touching the words that I buried. One side smooth, flip them over and they cut me with their cat tongues, horse, tiger, sheep, pig, cow.

When casting an object, you bury it in a sandbox. Its imprint is filled with molten glass. After it cools, you can feel the little bits of sand embedded on one side, the other side soft. When I flip the words over, I see them in reverse, cloudy.


We were 13 and 31 on the day he died.

Bird Bones

I don’t really write but I think of him often. What happens when you write about the things you can’t see? I sit down at my desk to write about the death of my brother and I become him. It’s funny, death, it’s hollow and cloudy, so easy to make a romance of something you can’t see, of someone who’s gone. So easy to conjecture. Fill in the spaces.

Psychologists tell us that we rely on figure-ground perception. We rely on ground to serve figure, to serve that which is not buried, to serve those still here. I am still here, and I am supposed to write about things that happen. But it’s the air that keeps the lungs alive, it’s the negative space that gives a bird’s bone flight. In my dreams I tell you I see you, I feel you, I roar,

you aren’t absent, you’re between, you’re here.

A Promise

If I could talk with the inside of your head, I would have so much to say.

But right now we won’t talk, the inside of your head and I. We won’t talk but we’ll listen, I’ll listen, to the space between us and

I promise I won’t knock,

I promise that for now I won’t knock.

Emily Wright is thinking about trees, ghost stories, video games, toy cars, and the Antiques Roadshow.   

  1. From the Editors
  2. A Room without a View: Reflections on Studio Practice from a Privileged Poor Chantal Feitosa
  3. Between the Battlements Jeremy Wolin
  4. Accessing Color: Dissecting the Harvard Art Museum’s Forbes Pigment Collection Makoto Kumasaka
  5. British Club Tattoos Nasser Alzayani
  6. Making Space: Creativity and Resilience in War-Time Sri Lanka Elizabeth Dean Hermann
  7. How to Become Trans: A Proposal for the Modern-Day Gender-Agnostic Asher White
  8. Making It Up: A Conversation with Kent Kleinman Wen Zhuang
  9. “In Peace”: A Conversation with Matthew Shenoda Mays Albaik
  10. Suburbia_hours.mov Nora Mayer
  11. Negative Spaces Emily Wright
  12. Centerfold: Urgency Lab
  13. Rise Up: The Sunrise Movement Takes Root in Rhode Island Irina V. Wang
  14. After Strand Nafis White and García Sinclair
  15. Soldiers of Love? Karen Schiff
  16. Decoding Ghosts Molly Hastings
  17. An Annotated Bibliography Eli Backer
  18. Jesus, Marilyn, and Britney: Relationships between Religion and Celebrity Culture Nina Yuchi
  19. The Social (Antique) Network: Empathy in the Age of Digital Antiquing Zola Anderson
  20. My Little Episodes Michael Brandes
  21. Seeking Fair Game on Hidden Fields Reilly Blum
  22. The Should Be Here Is Not Here Joss Liao
  23. Index of Agency Sophie Chien
  24. Don’t Eat the Models Barbara Stehle
  25. Hypothetical Drink Personality Test: Who Said What, and When? Eliza Chen
  26. Dear Arabic Mohammed Nassem
     ~> Fall 2018
     ~> 2017–2018