Sunday, March 9, 2008

Wintry Artist's Retreat

The snow and sleet over the past several days have helped me slow down the pace a bit. This morning the ice on the tree branches is sparkling in the sunlight and all is calm again. It's been a perfect two days for enjoying the work of other artists and contemplating ideas for my language imagery series. I happened onto an inspiring PBS documentary about Montana photographer Evelyn Cameron, that I wholeheartedly recommend: She kept diaries for decades in which she chronicled daily life on the prairie and I know I would love to get my hands on some copies of the actual handwritten pages.
Another interesting addition to my growing collection of reference materials is the work of Joy Christiansen. Christiansen is a photographer and installation artist who teaches photography in the School of Art at Louisiana Tech. I got the opportunity to visit her current installation at the University of Rochester's Hartnett Gallery called "Family Gathering: A Look into the World of Eating Disorders", during my recent residency. Christiansen's website is installation in the university gallery creates a living room setting with altered furnishings. Photographic transfers of family members have been fused to upholstered chairs which have various texts machine-embroidered on their surfaces. As you move around the room, these everyday pieces of furniture reveal fragments of personal stories about a painful struggle with bulimia and anorexia.

The desk drawers in "Hidden Secrets", 2002, open to reveal silver gelatin photographic images and autobiographical writing that obsessively line every surface of the interior space. Because the viewer is encouraged to inspect it, when the interiors of the furniture pieces are revealed so are the secrets that they hold about self image. Nothing is as calm or ordinary in this domestic setting as a first glance might convey.

"Eating Rituals", 2003, examines the relationship between food and rituals of anorexia and bulimia. Working with imagery and text fused to dinnerware, secrets about eating rituals typically kept private are revealed.

On every surface and interior of the pieces in the exhibition the artist addresses "issues of body image, personal experience, and memory by combining photographs and autobiographic writing on the appropriated furniture."

One of the most troubling and touching parts of the exhibition at U.of a large bulletin board where visitors are invited to post anonymous comments about their own struggles with body image. Reading the young women's comments expanded the installation's powerful scope.

While my interest in language is quite different from Joy's, I can appreciate the interplay of text and images in her work. Observing and responding to her ideas and ways of expressing them fuel ideas for my own work. It causes me to ask the question that I am always asking in various forms as I flesh out ideas -- what is my work really about? What am I trying to say and what are the tools,methods, materials that can best communicate the meaning behind each one? How much do I wish to reveal in each piece and how much do I want to remain ambiguous?

These aren't questions that can be answered lightly or quickly; they evolve and become more apparent as I enter into my creative process. I do have something to say, that reassuring thought seems to motivate me. I have lost any desire I may have had to make items that are pretty or decorative or marketable and it mades me feel odd and out of step with the world. I do think about how rapidly time keeps passing and how increasingly important it is for me to actualize the ideas inside.

1 comment:

  1. So much of surface design tends to the sweet and calming. Thank you for this review. It hits an artistic nerve: a direction to take this urge to alter, reuse, and communicate.