An Exhibition Essay by Erin Dziedzic
The Weight of Space
During this time of navigating a worldwide pandemic the lenses through which we view the world continue to shift. Perhaps only a little in some cases and in others so significantly that the hope of reaching the other side seems almost impossible. Perceptions are changing, and the binaries of inside/outside in photography, “the cultural bias that maintains a truth behind appearances”—as posited by Abigail Solomon-Godeau—is best engaged through an understanding and questioning of representation. This collection of photographic work by the 2020 University of Kansas BFA in photography seniors weighs the perceptions of space through the spectrum of personal, public, traumatic, and migratory shifts; their modes of viewing yield a certain truth of their own that might help translate this current epoch.
Guang Chen’s series title, On the Way, suggests a focus on interstitial spaces, coming and going, from one place to another, or an in between moment. Often depicted through a storefront window, the transitional actions of his subjects are well framed—people in a city setting contemplating purchases, looking at their cell phone screens on the subway, waiting, resting, strolling. The perception of our everyday actions resonates with new meaning in this current context, as the lens of the camera and the window panes mediating our views serve to create even more distance. A fondness and longing for those once fleeting moments of passage and interlude are now brought into greater focus.
Challenges of confrontation arise as some moments are drawn forward more vividly during this time of intense introspection. In her series, From a Distance, Delaney Hady photographs spaces that help her to cope with triggers of trauma. Connecting personal journal entries to images of home façades and the surrounding yards, Hady documents areas that feel at once accessible and inaccessible. Front doors, garage doors, windows, fences, shrubbery, and gates in various states of disarray appear in many of her images that present as notions of passage or fragmented time, yet our position as viewers is always on the outside of these closed doors/windows. They enhance a sense of confrontation aligning with Hady’s negotiation of her past through these images that evoke memories and history, at a distance.
Emma Jensen, in her photographic series, Dawn to Dusk, uses a documentary-style approach to capture scenes of a day on a farm, which she serendipitously stumbled upon and has gotten to know quite well over the past few years. The images take us through some of the ins and outs of Mark’s farm with points of attention given to details such as the contents of farmer Mark’s desk in my grandpa had a desk like this (2018), revealing glimpses into his personal life, or a cropped bunch of bailed hay in morning sunlight in September 9, 2018 (2018). These shifts in focus on landscape, buildings, and animals to domestic interiors and composed moments allow us to see the range of intimate experiences and viewpoints Jensen expresses in this day-long series of images a few years in the making.
In Kelcie Matousek’s poetic series, Her Piano, My Hands, the artist’s black-and-white photographs of quaint storefronts, idyllic country roads, and overgrown school playgrounds are entwined with color images and ephemera from her mother’s archives. Together, they create a beautifully edited repository of shared experiences, from different periods of time. Having lost her mother early in life, Matousek traces an intimate exchange between the creative pursuits of mother and daughter as they cycle through the people, places, and things where their lives intersect. The viewer steps into a sense of time and place weighted in a very personal perspective for the artist.
While Matousek’s reflections are focused in intimate familial areas of overlap, Chandler Nauta’s, 80 Days, follows the entire caravan of Crossmen Drum & Bugle Corps to twenty-six shows as they performed at various venues across the country for several months. Nauta captures the comradery, energy, sacrifices, and sweat that these hundreds of performers and crew negotiate throughout their journey, from the elaborate costumes and grand performances to gyms full of sleeping bags, backstage organizing, and grueling practices. This short series packs it all in, leaving us with a concise documentation of this complex and talented process, the hard work that goes into the program, and all of the people that make their home away from home possible.
On the road or closer to home, in a state of movement or one of stillness, the impact of images echoes lasting effects, often through memories. Hilah Katherine Thomas’s series, girlhood, shares with Chen a veiling of the image that creates a sense of distance from something and also recalls a biographical tone similar to Matousek’s in which home is revisited. In Thomas’s series, close-up images of trees, road signs, sports bleachers, and playground equipment are blurred by covering the camera’s lens, meant to mimic the appearance of visualizing these objects through the artist’s tears. This format successfully relays a metaphorical blurring effect as Thomas confronts memories from childhood into adulthood that do not seem her own. This work enacts the transitioning of perspectives over time and memory’s perpetual grappling with holding tight to something past while letting go to envision a new future.
Sometimes in order to let go or to grow, we need to trace the paths that have taken us to the present. In Starra Zweygardt’s chronological series of images titled, This Place In Between, she uses mile markers along the road between Oskaloosa and Lawrence, Kansas, as points from home to school, adolescence to adulthood, where she’s made images of sites along the way. Zweygardt has distinguished a specific path, through images of water tanks, street signs, bridges, railroad crossings, and farms, that leads to both a geographic depiction and a more personal reflection for growth. There are many truths that lie behind appearances. When we are willing to peel back the layers, we can begin to understand and recognize the broad swaths of representations as the weighted spaces that they are. As space is coupled with time—a connection we’ve become even more keenly aware of during the 2020 coronavirus—we’re given another opportunity to adjust our perspectives, see the extraordinary in the everyday, and peer behind appearances while engaging in new narratives documenting the many nuances of our world.
Director of Curatorial Affairs, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, Missouri
1 Abigail Solomon-Godeau, “Inside/Out, 1994,” in The Everyday: Documents of Contemporary Art, ed. Stephen Johnstone (London: Whitechapel, Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2008), 203.