November 24, 2009

Work of the Northwest Chapter in Marking Time

Susan Collard
Portland, Oregon

One of the challenges in putting together a themed show is choosing a theme which invites a wide variety of work and responses, but also encourages the viewer to discover common threads within the group selected. The Marking Time exhibition succeeds admirably on this score. Looking at the eight works in the show made by Northwest Chapter members, one sees both the variety and connections that make this kind of exhibition so inspiring. (Each description is followed by a photo of the work.)

Donald Glaister’s book A Few Questions uses transparency and the archival materials of “encapsulation” to create a multilayered experience for the reader. Painting, drawing and text are integrated into a dance of approaching and receding words and images. His original text tackles big questions, exploring “the nature of matter, existence, and time,” taking us on a journey that promises to be at once introspective and playful.

Karen Hanmer’s Celestial Navigation is another personal exploration of a vast subject, in this case astronomy and the night sky. This book, along with its companion piece Star Poems, emerged from a long process of reading, gathering quotes and illustrations, writing and reflecting, and making numerous models. (Karen has shared some photos to give a glimpse into her process.) The mesmerizing shapes and folds created by the book’s triangular pages seem especially apt for astronomy, a science in which space and time are inextricably tangled.

Space and time are both carefully mapped in Andrew Huot’s Walks with Rosie, with its succinctly analytical diagrams of two weeks of daily dog walks. Like Donald, Andrew uses transparency to great effect. The superimposed maps reveal both the repetition and variety of daily experience, allowing the viewer to glimpse “the echoes of yesterday and an allusion to tomorrow.”

Cathy Adelman’s French-style binding of the poet Wendell Berry’s Sabbaths 2002 also suggests a sort of tally or record of repeated rituals in our lives. One of the most abstract works in the show, it is to my mind also one of the most elegant, with subtle differences in the onlays breathing life into the design.

My own entry, A Short Course in Recollection, was an attempt to interpret the theme of Marking Time in the most blockheadly literal manner. In devising a book that could function as a machine, with stainless steel balls that roll down ramps and trip toggle switches, I was aiming at something like a child’s toy or crude mechanical clock. I added illustrations, text and objects that evoke a nostalgic view of childhood, tempered with a little antiquated heavy industry. (Since I always like process shots, I’ll share some of mine also.)

Jessica Spring’s Parts Unknown takes us back as far as the 1890’s, and invites us to participate in a history inherited from strangers. Its images are printed from glass negatives which Jessica found in the attic of her Victorian-era house in Tacoma. The radial accordion format creates an intimate and expansive display space for the photographs, so the book is like an entire museum gallery unto itself.

Shu-Ju Wang’s work also delves into the lives, memories and artifacts of others, though with a radically different process informing the book. Shu-Ju received a 2008 Regional Arts and Culture Council grant to work with four seniors suffering from memory loss. She met with each one over a period of months, working together on a series of paintings or Gocco prints, from which Shu-Ju then created an editioned book. Esther is her collaboration with Esther Cohen. Inspired by Esther’s love of mah jongg, the palm leaf bound book ties Gocco prints of family photos and documents into a bright, poignant chain of mementos.

Loss is the heart and soul of Bonnie Thompson Norman’s broadside I Was in a Hurry. Combining a poem by Iraqi poet Dunya Mikhail with a drawing by Jill Alden Littlewood, the broadside was printed for a series called Mutanabbi Street Starts Here. The poem begins, “Yesterday I lost a country,” and everything on the page is drawn and composed to give stark expression to its flat, understated expression of grief. The poem is printed with a ragged left margin—in part a vestige of the right-justified Arabic original, but here given such dynamic, meandering shape that the text itself seems to be left behind.

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