March 10, 2009

Winter Wonderland of Poetry, Photography and Art

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Snowscape: A Series of Portraits, an installation by Mollie Miller ’10, currently in Tjaden Gallery, is not for the faint of heart. The works, which include photography, lithography, drawing, painting and video, will require your full attention and some serious study. The installation follows the stanzas of Miller’s poem, titled “Snowscape,” giving equal weight to written text, large black-and-white photos and small, fast drawings. The installation culminates in two projections at the far end of the gallery.
Walking into the gallery is like walking into a dream world — dim, hazy lighting in the first half of the gallery fades into a darker projection ground opposite the entrance. The entering viewer may wander at first, bouncing from photograph to drawing, from wall to wall, but will sooner or later find him or herself at a suitable place to begin reading the text of Miller’s poem. After every few lines of verse — small blocks of text on large lithography prints — she places a few images before beginning the next section. Does the poetry narrate the images, or do the images depict the action in the poems? On the topic of illustration, Miller says, “My writing usually comes first, and as I am printing, drawing, painting and planning my installation, my words start to change — I realize what I am really trying to say. In the end, I think my words inform my portraits because my writing is specific (it comes from my memories and thoughts) but my images are more accessible.” These intermittent images alternate between photographs and drawings, and the viewer has the strange urge to identify characters from the poem with those from the images. Even stranger is trying to match up figures from the photographs with those in the drawings. This is one of Miller’s greatest successes: she creates an uncanny network of relationships between her poetry and imagery that crisscrosses across the room. While reading a bit of text near the end of the poem, I literally swung my head around to face a painting on the opposite wall, so strong was my feeling of deja-vu. [img_assist|nid=35954|title=Losing yourself in the landscape | Snowscape: A Series of Portraits. Photo by Andrew Hochoy, Sun Contributor|desc=|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
After reading the poem, the viewer arrives at two projections. The first, larger projection is a video with a few animated elements, which Miller considers to be “like another one of the drawings.” In other words, it behaves as the little gouache drawings behave: it is sketchy, fairly static, and not meant to be viewed linearly or in its entirety. Perpendicular to this video is a pure animation that is, according to Miller, more like the photographic portraits in her show. Standing in front of this animation is like walking past her photographs. Ironically, it is in this animation that Miller’s drawing sensibility really shines. Her drawings are at once urgent and effortless, primitive and sophisticated. They have an earnestness about them that agrees with her handwritten poetry. In many ways, the animations outstrip her photographs — they communicate information and intention in a way that photographs cannot.
Everything about this installation agrees with what its title proposes. To walk through the gallery is to immerse oneself in the “landscape” of Miller’s poem. “Where the landscape has a gap, we insert our own memories; when there is a lapse in real time, we insert our thoughts,” she says, reiterating that while her subject matter is specific, she appeals to a universal viewer.
See for yourself at the opening reception today from 4:30-7:00 pm. “Snowscape: A Series of Portraits” will be exhibited through Mar. 13.