The art series to which this essay refers will be on display in the First Things offices beginning on September 18, 2012. For more information on this exhibition, including details about an opening night event, please click here.
Our ability to remember past events, feelings, and experiences, then preserve them or impart them to others, is an incredible one. But this very human act can also become a temptation to indulge our individuality, since each person observes and feels differently, and shares these experiences in varying ways.
Thus the most fascinating thing about memory, or rather remembrance: How fluid it is. The work of contemporary New York artist Kristen Studioso embraces and explores remembered moments of trauma often rooted within questions of mortality. For even though memories seek to obtain a type of immortality, they also suffer from aging and experience their own type of death.
Not limiting herself to one specific medium, Studioso aims to reconceive how photography, video, and drawings are utilized in order to highlight and enrich the themes in her work. Contrary to what might be a first impression, Studioso does not aspire to make a statement, pro or con, on how technology affects our memories. Rather, she uses various mediums in atypical ways simply in order to demonstrate the endless possibility of interpretation from a limited number of definite objects, reflecting a similar variability found in the shared memories of a group of people. And just as varied accounts can provide an enriched view of one event, the numerous readings of the series enrich the drawings themselves and the series as a whole.
Studioso has been influenced by contemporary artists Javier Téllez and Oliver Herring. Téllez, a Venezuelan whose work has been exhibited at the Whitney Museum in New York, frequently uses fabricated narratives as an impetus for his documented performances, collaborating especially with patients who have mental illness. While Herring, a German video artist, creates impromptu performances in which he enlists strangers to participate, leading to unexpected results. In her own stop-action videos, Studioso strings together hundreds of photographs to create short film bites, but rather than trying to eliminate or completely subdue the static qualities of photography, she allows erratic jumps, starts, and stops which continually remind the viewer that they are watching a series of photographs, not a seamless video. These jarring movements of change in pace and visuals that lead the viewer back to the erratic nature of remembrance, especially memories rooted in stress or trauma.
This type of irregular pace is particularly evident in the stop action video, Untitled (flummery). The opening frame reveals a bare rocky surface on which a lifeless bird suddenly appears in the background. Gradually, through jerky rolls and by using its wings the bird drags its body forward until it fills the frame before mysteriously elevating into the air out of view. Although the piece is only a minute long, the viewer is confronted with numerous questions. The inexplicable appearance and disappearance of the lifeless bird causes the viewer to wonder what is really the beginning and what is the end. In addition, the bird’s evident struggle causes the viewer to doubt whether the bird is actually dead or alive.
In the same way that Studioso introduces stationary, static qualities to her videos, she is also able to inject a feeling of action into her drawings. The drawings hint at familiar shapes and forms that seem to lie just beyond recognition, like a name or face that you can’t quite place but feel must carry some significance. In addition, as the viewer moves from drawing to drawing a feeling of continuity emerges; a feeling that not only are the drawings related, but are either uniting to tell undisclosed story, or have just revealed their tale and are now dissipating, leaving only remnants and hints behind.
The series, taken as a whole, begins to read as a deconstructed flipbook, in which all the pieces are purposefully jumbled together. Narratives or hints of narratives emerge and recede as the works through out the space affect individual drawings. New lines and forms discovered in one piece can give new meaning to a previous work, which may shift again after encountering another drawing across the room.
From elusive storylines, to faded images in her drawings, to the erratic movements tempered by moments of stillness in her videos, Studioso is able to subtly infuse questions of remembrance, the passage of time, and mortality into her work. Viewers unaware of Studioso’s work at first may not be able to pinpoint these themes exactly but after spending a moment with each work it becomes easier to walk away with a sense of having seen something that almost is, or just was. This feeling of both expectation and dissolution will have the familiarity of a forgotten memory—vague in details, but strong in presence.
Allison Peller is an independent art curator living in New York City. She is responsible for organizing First Things’ upcoming exhibition of Kristen Studioso’s work, which opens on September 18.
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