Memory, Moment, Meaning

Memory, Moment, Meaning
A Solo Show of Photography & Beeswax Encaustic Paintings
Grand Manan Island Art Gallery
September 27-August 11, 2011

I was interviewed this past August for an article about my recent solo show at the Grand Manan Island Art Gallery which was published in the Saint John Telegraph Journal Salon section.  I thought I’d start off this blog by including some of the questions I was asked, and my answers to them.

This was my first solo show, and it spanned ten years of art production, which began around 2001 with black and white negative and colour slide photography, and ended with my most recent beeswax encaustic mixed media paintings, some of which also include photographs or photo transfers, which were made last winter and spring in my studio.  A series of six slightly surreal B&W digital montage photographs, and of 20 large format table-top still life and memorial photographs were also part of this show.  There were 47 16”x20” photographs in total, and 32 encaustic paintings in the show.

What inspired the title Memory, Moment, Meaning?
When I thought about how I could tie this show together, under one title, I realized that every piece dealt either directly or indirectly with memory, meaning making, or the distilled, essential moment captured by the camera.

One moment captured by the camera, the memories it invokes, and then the meaning that is derived from it – they are really inseparable.  They are also fluid and forever changing – as we change, so may the meaning of the work of art for us.

One body of work in this exhibit, the large-format tabletop still-lives, deals specifically with how meaning is created by association, and looks at the role played by memory, and how collections are ordered, in creating new meaning.

What is about photography that inspires you?
The immediacy of it inspires me.  I first fell in love with macro photography because it was pure, distilled emotion.   It transported me to a quiet, still place. The fern before my lens would be transformed into something else, newly created by me – an expression of an emotional state.

The abstract expressionists and the impressionists have been important to me.  These artists experimented with how the intersections between what one sees and what one feels could best be expressed through art.  Some of the photographers whose work I have found inspirational are Minor White, Wynn Bullock, Ernst Haas, Irving Penn, and New Brunswick’s own Freeman Patterson, all of whose books I’ve learned a great deal from.

What is memory?
Memory is how we make sense of the past, live in the present, and go forward into the future with a sense of continuity.  Without memory, I don’t think there can be any sense of self.  The camera’s ability to stop time, to record one brief moment, means that it is a powerful tool for creating and manipulating time and memory.  I explore this in my still life compositions, creating small shrines and memorials to times past and to dead relatives I never knew, but of whom I have memories through stories my mother told me. I hope through these compositions to prompt powerful associations in those who see them as they bring to them their own memories.

What is moment?
To capture a moment is to isolate it from the flow of many. I believe that such moments help us see and feel more deeply.  Moments captured with a camera also aid memory, and memories enrich our lives.

What is meaning?
Meaning does not reside just in the work of art, but in the viewer as well.  If I have captured the essence of a strong human emotion, such as a sense of loss and nostalgia for a time long past, or a sense of beauty as captured among the petals of a flower in full bloom, I am pretty well assured that there will be others who will feel as strongly about the work as I did when I created it.  This is what I aim for.

What inspires you to make art — photography in particular?
I’m interested in the big-little relationship.  My favorite subject as a child was science, looking at the invisible world through a microscope.

My early photographic work was mostly in gardens and on beaches.  I still photograph rocks a lot.  Grand Manan has a fascinating geological history and the rock formations are different at each beach.  I don’t ever tire of the abstract patterning I can find on the beaches and cliffs with my macro lens.

And I have a series of large format pieces in this exhibit, which are tabletop compositions of objects and photographs.  I create shrines, memorials, or grids in these photographs to explore how meaning can be manipulated and controlled through different groupings of objects.

What sort of equipment do you use?
I use a Nikon D90 digital SLR with an 18-105 zoom lens and an old 55mm Nikkor Micro, a 200 zoom, and wide-angle lenses on this digital camera and on older Nikon manual 35mm film cameras.  I have pinhole and regular medium format cameras, and I also use a large format 4”x5” bellows camera.  My plan for the future is to use my film cameras, develop my own film, scan the negatives, and print them digitally.  Most of the photographs in this exhibit are taken with my old Nikon camera and a 55mm Micro lens with extension tubes, and a large format 4×5 bellows camera.  A few are digitally captured, and some are photomontages digitally combined on the computer.

What drew you to photography in the first place?
I grew up in a house with a lot of cameras.  My parents, my elder brother and my maternal grandfather were always photographing birds, flowers, and people, so there was this family influence.  My grandfather was the founding president of what is now CAPA and won many awards for his nature photography of birds.

I think I was really drawn to photography, however, through the influence of the early B&W photographers whose work I loved – Ansel Adams, Minor White, Paul Strand, and Jerry Uulesman, for instance.  I still love black and white photography.  My husband was also a good photographer and he encouraged me when I first started taking it seriously, and bought me my macro lens, which was a turning point for me, in how I saw the world.  The macro lens is probably the real reason I continued to be interested in photography as an artistic medium.

Why art?
I spent most of my early life reading a great deal and thought, growing up, that I wanted to be a writer.  I always loved art, and grew up in a house with Inuit and Japanese prints and sculpture.  Art was appreciated in my home, but it wasn’t something that we did, so it took me a while to figure out that I could.

In making art I can combine ideas which are more intellectual or verbal, with playfulness, abstraction or elements of design.  I like the immediacy of the visual.  I like having a product at the end of the creating process, and I like the physicality of the encaustic work, which can be built up or gouged back, collaged into or polished as smooth as glass.  It also smells good hanging on the wall.

How do you juggle your making art with being curator/director of the Grand Manan Museum?
Certain kinds of photography can be worked into almost every day, and daily beachcombing walks in the evening with my dog build up my collections for the beeswax works.  My photography now sometimes finds its way into my mixed media encaustic work.  When the weekends come I can get into the digital darkroom or the painting studio.  I usually spend holidays creating art as well.

Since I took over as curator/director of the museum in May of this year, the only juggling has involved preparations for the various shows and presentations at the museum and for my own upcoming exhibit.  The summer months are very busy at the museum, which is open from late May to late September.  I plan on creating most of my art through the off-season months.  I am also a high school supply teacher, so I do have some flexible time through the fall, winter and spring months.

How does curating effect or influence your own art practice?
Since I have only been the curator and director of the Grand Manan Museum since May, my job hasn’t had much time yet to influence my art practice.  I am, however, very interested in artifacts and photographic archives, so I’m sure that working in a museum will have some impact on my art practice.  I have access to many artifacts now, which I can use as photographic subjects, and to historic imagery, which I can scan and incorporate into my mixed media work.

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