Exhibition Review : Salt Lake City
Fragile States: K Stevenson and Jackie Brethen at Finch Lane Gallery
by Jim Frazer
Kathleen “K” Stevenson, faculty member at Weber State University, and Jackie Brethen, |0| who teaches at Utah Valley State College, are exhibiting mixed media work at Finch Lane Gallery. The exhibits are connected in that they both seem to be about fragile states, about things about which we cannot be sure, about not being firmly in one place or another.
Like Proust’s character who is awaked by the thought that it is time to go to sleep, K Stevenson’s work seems to be about states of being in-between. Each of her four Memory Beds is a white painted structure which resembles, more or less, a bed or crib or cradle. Each is inspired by a literary reference which literally hovers nearby, silk-screened in ephemeral white flocking on translucent plastic sheets which almost melt into the surroundings.
"Memory Bed #1/Further In" has, in place of a mattress, a shallow, water filled Plexiglas tank. |1-4| Small pumps disturb the water’s surface, projecting moving shadows on a white painted panel beneath the bed. On the bottom of the mattress/tank lie a succession of flat rounded rocks on which are etched, a letter at a time, Tomas Transtormer’s poem Further In. The words of the poem, easy to read at first, become increasingly disturbed as they progress toward the end of the poem which reads (in the silk-screened version floating nearby) “One of those stones is precious / That stone can change everything. / It can make the darkness shine. It's the light switch for the whole country. / Everything depends on that stone. / Look at it... touch it...”
Stevenson made the piece as a memorial to a family member who died, to deal with death and loss; but also “to speak to what we are left with, incidences, so we are not totally bereft.” The rocks are solid and the letters literally etched in stone, but the words break apart, and the ever changing water surface implies an overlay of uncertainty which emphasizes the contrast between what we think is known, solid, and the unsettled, fluid nature of memory and perception.
In "Memory Bed #3/El Rio Madre de Dios" Stevenson has constructed what seems a cross between a staircase and a crib. Flowing down the steps is a river of hair emerging silver grey from a baby’s bonnet at the top and gradually changing to almost black at the bottom.
The piece was inspired by the Aldo Leopold essay The River of the Mother of God, whose title refers to a river marked on 17th century Spanish maps as somewhere that people go to, but do not return from. To him, it was a "perfect symbol of the Unknown Places of the earth,” and prompted a wondering about what will happen when there is no place left on earth in which men can become lost. The essay asserts that mystery is a human necessity; and that it is destructive to do away with all mystery, to make everything known, concrete and certain. To Stevenson, the juxtaposition of grey hair and baby’s bonnet represents the wisdom of old age as an intuitive knowledge which is perhaps present all the time, almost out of reach, hovering at the borders of our consciousness; at the between time of being conscious/subconscious/unconscious. The knowledge may be lost by trying to quantify it, thus turning the hair progressively darker.
The pieces present variations on a theme which is both elusive and intriguing. Exhibited in a slightly darker space (which she would have preferred) the white beds themselves would have seemed to materialize tentatively as do the printed poems. The work has not exhausted the concepts it sets out to explore. One has the feeling that there is more, just further beyond.
Jackie Brethen was initially a more conventional photographer and turned to mixing photography with other media to gain a greater intimacy with her materials. She wanted her work to have the greater sense of presence that she felt standing in front of a painting or sculpture; that desire is fulfilled in the works shown here. These photo-based works are from two series, neither of which is shown in its entirety.
In the work seen from the Process/ing series she examines the fragility and deconstruction of a woman’s relationship. The pieces, suspended from the ceiling by monofilament so that they hang a few inches from the wall, each seem to occupy a volume much larger than the prints themselves. The curling paper with its forcefully torn edges and the shadows they cast become a part of that volume giving the feeling of the sheets still being suspended in the water they were processed in. |0, 9, 10| Their presence as objects is stronger than the images of distressed women developed on the hand coated emulsion surfaces. Their look echoes the influence of Doug and Mike Starn’s work, whose studio Brethen worked in.
In the Transitions and Repetitions series the viewer sees a grid-like arrangement of images, sometimes of the moon, sometimes of a face. Brethen began the series in response to a dark time in her life in which she felt one way of being had ended but another had not yet begun. She found her attention drawn to repetitive actions she did every day, such as brushing her teeth, and found as she attended to these simple actions, that she was slowly moving through the transition needed in her life. The moon, with its cyclical motion, became a metaphor for these repetitive actions, and the faces have a formal structure similar to the image of the moon. Two of the pieces spill tapestry-like onto the floor, emphasizing the idea that they may somehow represent actions still continuing, a portion rather than a contained whole.
The exhibit continues through September 15th. This is the first time all four of K Stevenson's Bed Series have been shown together.
Exhibition Review: Salt Lake City
What Would You Do With $10,000? The UAC's Fellowship Awards
by Laura Durham
“You just won ten thousand dollars!”
Eighty-five artists hoped to receive that bit of good news this July as they anticipated the results of the Utah Arts Council’s Fellowship Competition.
2006 marks the year of the $10,000 Fellowship Award. Prior to recent board approval, the Fellowship Award was half that amount. The lucky 2006 recipients are Jacqui Biggs Larsen and George Mark England.
Although receiving the Fellowship award sounds glamorous, the process of getting there is not.
Larsen notes the drudgery of compiling documents and filling out forms correctly for any grant or award. “There’s also the challenge of getting the whole kit and caboodle into the mail” she adds. “One time I was pushing that late-night postmark deadline and got pulled over by an officer on a dark back road near Kuhni’s, a rendering plant north of Springville, only a mile from the post office. The officer motioned for me to roll down my window. While he sniffed for alcohol on my breath (what artist pushing a deadline could afford to drink?), I caught a whiff of stench from Kuhni’s. ‘You were practically flying over that hill,’ he said. ‘Any reason for your hurry?’ I told him, ‘An art deadline,’ then mumbled to myself, ‘which is probably hexed now.’ It was. Not only did I not receive the award, I also had to go to traffic school.”
When it comes to handling rejection, Larsen adopts Samuel Beckett’s mantra: Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
The first time I applied for something and got rejected, I collapsed on the floor,” Larsen remembers. “The force of my art bubble bursting was that great. But the next time, though I may have swayed a bit, I held my ground. Now I know that along with rejections come acceptances, awards and opportunities. It’s an ongoing mixed bag. The more you enter, the greater your chances. And more importantly, the more you enter, the better your work getsit rises to the occasion.”
Getting shot down time and time again is something all artists have to deal with. Some deal with it better than others. Mark England, the other 2006 Fellowship recipient has had to learn to deal with rejection as well. “I agonize over whether I wasn't good enough or whether everyone else is just plain better than me,” he admits. “Either way I am filled with self-doubt. I deal with it by just telling myself this takes time and I have no choice but to work harder at making my art better.”
Sometimes England will apply for several projects at the same time, and even though he gets turned down, he doesn’t let it get him down. Which goes to show that even the biggest winners are also losers. “I just got rejected from a public art project that I desperately wanted and felt very qualified for. It is very discouraging. But it is only one of many that have come and will come. If you can't handle this kind of discouragement then you are in the wrong profession. Make sure you have chosen this through thick and thin -- like marriage. If not, then you shouldn't be applying for grants or subjecting yourself to such torture.”
Maybe the regular rejection makes the occasional win even more triumphant. England describes his initial reaction upon learning of his Fellowship award as “pure, unadulterated pleasure and satisfaction.” Larsen, on the other hand, experienced brief denial asking, “are you sure?” when Lila Abersold, Visual Arts Manager and happy messenger, delivered the $10,000 phone call.
Fellowship recipients automatically receive an exhibition at the Rio Gallery, along with a catalog showcasing their artwork. The recognition and stamp of credibility that comes with being a recipient is invaluable, but the $10,000 is most likely at the top of the perk list. What artist wouldn’t love to go on the ultimate shopping spree at the art supply store or finally finish that studio they’ve been meaning to work on for the past several years?
Expect something big and amazing at the Rio Gallery come March 2007. With artists as talented as England and Larsen, we couldn’t expect anything less.
Final thoughts on receiving the 2006 Fellowship Award:
Larsen: “Though the art life we live daily should be reason enough to keep those brushes in hand, who can’t use an outside voice from time to time telling us to keep on? Receiving an award pushes the pause button on my self-critiques, and points out what’s right with my work not only to myself, but also to dealers, collectors, curators, and even my neighbors.”
The next fellowhip deadline is September 29th, 2006. The juror for these 2007 awards is Susan Schreiber, gallery director of PS122 Gallery in New York City. For more information on the Fellowship program, click here.