Thursday, May 01, 2008

Being & Time (& Time)

Gather It by Stephanie Dowda (courtesy the artist)

Somewhere on the top floor of Hagedorn Foundation Gallery, there hangs a certain photo. Or, rather, there are four photos – individually framed in attractively simple, blond wood – which, collectively, form the shape of a Tetris block. (You know the one: it looked like a plus sign with the bottom chopped off, and it rained down endlessly when what you really needed was “The Daddy Stick.”)

The title of this piece is Gather It (above). At once familiar and alienating, the leftmost image throws us into the turf, where, as we move to the right, we brace ourselves at the edge of an earthen crevice, grasping hold with a single right hand – a hand which, shown in the image directly above, actually belongs to our denim-clad companion. The unnamed figure seems to share our confusion: Gather It? What precisely are we supposed to “Gather?” What is this mysterious “It?”

Yet the title sheds little illumination on the photos’ meaning. Perhaps Prof. Eco can provide a bit of wisdom:
A narrator should not supply interpretations of his work; otherwise he would not have written a novel, which is a machine for generating interpretations …. A title must muddle the reader’s ideas, not regiment them.
- Umberto Eco, Postscript to The Name of the Rose
Gather It, Persist, Rehearsal, etc.: there’s nothing flashy or overtly intellectual about Stephanie Dowda’s titles. But in the case of her polyptych series, Time & Time, I think Stephanie’s word choices are excellent.

Consider Gather It as a primary example. Each image shows the scene from a different perspective. The rightmost frame highlights the shadows of autumn, crawling like dark centipedes over a dried-up creek. Yet the subject of attention, and its pathos, changes completely when we look back at the girl crouching at the creek’s edge. The goal, it seems, is a visual deconstruction of lived experience. And the title’s misdirection aids in this process of confusing, and thereby renewing, the meaning of the work.

“So, Stephanie,” I asked at last Thursday’s opening, “would you be willing to split up the set? What would you charge for an individual piece?” I asked only partly in jest, since, hey – we’re all a little poor, right?

Something in Stephanie’s brain clicked, and she smiled – without any sense of irony or ill will – and responded confidently: “No.” She continued, “There’s something challenging about [triptychs and arrays]. A lot of people think, ‘Is it just one picture? Why is it split up?’ That’s how I shot the photos, so – sorry – that’s how they’ll be sold.”

Touché indeed. I was impressed.

Rehearsal. (Courtesy of Local Ephemera.)

Rehearsal is another photo set that contradicts its title. Whereas the name suggests some sort of activity, the images instead convey a sense of repose, an almost intoxicated calm. An incredible red, like in red velvet cake or lipstick, complements shades of white and the vivid textures of fabric.

What is it a picture of, you ask? A man reclining on a couch. But as in the other arrays, Rehearsal is fragmented into a rigorous gestalt of angles and closeups. The effect approaches dizziness. Although Stephanie retains the grid structure for its installation, the layout is a little more aggressive, recalling the face of a mixed-up Rubik’s cube rather than an ordered, predictable chessboard.

As a whole, Time & Time gravitates toward scenery rather than shots of people. Although the bottom-right quarter of Persist (below) is a self-portrait, Stephanie uses cropping and strategically oblique poses to obfuscate the identity of her human subjects. The piece is really about color: salmon and turquoise and light shades of beige. Nothing in the show really struck me as what you’d traditionally call “portraiture.”

Persist (courtesy the artist)

Of course, we all “learned” these concepts back in Printmaking 101. The balance and unity of formal elements: color, shade, and movement. The trouble is – we tend to forget. After visiting so many shows dedicated to the fun vulgarity of D.I.Y. or to the celebration of Atlanta Lowbrow, it’s refreshing to encounter a young artist with a firm command of the basics.

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Jonathan said...

Great thoughts on the show - and thanks for sharing the Eco quote, that concept is something I have been trying to express but have been unable find the right words.

mike said...

Good stuff Jeremy. I'm sorry I missed this opening it looks like it is a nice show.

Ant said...

Show looks great, I missed the opening too, oh well.