Organized by Atlanta Printmakers Studio at Barbara Archer Gallery, the Atlanta Print Biennial is haunted. Phantom memories, unfulfilled ideas, and regret cling to many of the works like fog. The exhibition’s final day is Saturday, December 3, 2011.
Eszter Augustine-Sziksz’s video and mixed-media work, Deja ‘Vu, viscerally mimics loss like a repetitive science experiment. Smooth chunks of ice in the video melt quickly in fast time-lapsed motion, making the surface of the surprisingly crisp, bold screenprint warp and jitter frantically as the medium wastes away. A portrait helplessly dissolves into obscurity under the viewer’s watch. But then, feebly, the puddles reform and the picture pulls itself back into recognition. As I watched this transformation, I felt satisfaction as if my own willpower brought the image back to life. Of course, my miraculous deed was fleeting. As the video looped, it became increasingly sorrowful to realize how destructive the ice was and how little I could do to stop it.
Aptly titled and almost a cousin to Deja ‘Vu, Stephanie Brunia’s lithograph, A Study in Loss and Reclamation, looks like a portrait of a lost loved one, sketched just before burial. The grief lies in the shakiness of the lines and in the desperation to remember eye color and other mannerisms, some of which are drowned in the weighty tide of loss. The reclamation comes with the sureness that memory must be preserved, that no attempt to recapture this person is futile. At least, that’s what a mourner must convince herself in this task; if she can save a scrap of the deceased’s spirit she will have succeeded. No complete recovery is possible, though, as the artist conveys through the layering of multiple sheets of paper, swathed in cloudy beeswax. The image is there, the memories are there, but the person is distant and seems to grow more distant as you try to distinguish her features.
Landscape 8, by Virginia artist Elizabeth Klimek, depicts a house that looks as if it might actually be haunted. The narrow Victorian home that fills the right side of the lithograph glows like a negative in a filmstrip, illuminated in bony white and textured like peeling paint. On the left is a simple wood design, colored in nostalgic, milky blues. Though it seems a simple design, even sweet, there is a jarring inconsistency of the near-black, red-tinged background with the faded, drained hues of the house and wood pattern. The real Where’s Waldo-type trick, though, happens at the bleed from the left side into the right ( … I hesitate to share in case someone wants to find it on their own) where you can see a secret grove of horizontal treetops. Mysteries must live here, if not a ghost.
Other works in the exhibition have the wistful delicacy of dried flowers. One piece by Megan Moore, actually called Spinal Flower, collages abstract baubles and trinkets together around an etched spinal column. They recall rings, wings, spiders, and even sperm, but none of it is concrete. All of it is layered, complex. It conjures the fragile, cobbled nature of what remains when a relationship has ended. Bits and burnt ends float around catch you off guard, solid as a spine but withered like a plant.
Carrie Lingscheit’s Momento no.5287 (pull) has the same sense of someone disappearing from immediate memory. A man, head and legs ebbing into nothing, holds a woman to his torso—she reclines sideways so their arms hook and stomachs lay flush against each other. She’s leaving, too; they can’t hold on. The emptiness of their surroundings, a gloomy beige haze, slowly consumes them.
Another work, Untitled by Julia Elsas, is a more innocent study of being left behind. An unassuming, unidentifiable ring of pleated, cloth-like material fills a sage-colored background. The fabric appears to be a ratty skirt (as if a woman let it slip from her waist to lay on the floor) pooled in a visual translation of how it looked on her body. Or maybe it’s a parachute, the kind kids grab around the edges to wave up and down in the wind? But it doesn’t matter, really, what it once was. No one’s using it now, and it almost looks like it has accepted negligence.
Others in the show are darker and more solid designs, allowing the craftsmanship inherent in printmaking to show. Daniel Ogletree’s woodcut, Wichard Lindner (Stage Fright), takes advantage of the clunky crudeness of his medium to depict a cartoonish man controlled by a puppeteer. Only the masterly hands are seen, though, holding the strings that hold the man while the hand’s shadow creeps over his face as if to gauge out his eyes.
Barbara Foster’s NYC Afterwards also allowed the craft of print to tell her story. She lets the viewer slowly swallow the idea of 9-11 rather than have her spoon-feed it to us or shove it down our gullets. Black forms make up the cityscape, which dissolves in places without ink to complete its shape. Whatever is missing seems natural, almost unnoticed, as if to say, “Acknowledge it’s gone, but don’t let it ruin New York.”
Printmaking lends itself to exploring loss and memories of things that we can no longer touch. Designs are made and then cut out of linoleum, wood, or plexiglass or rolled with ink in certain specific ways. But that only takes the artist so far, and the result is left to the press. It rarely comes out the same way twice. Even if all the circumstances come together so beautifully—that one time when the humidity was right and the pressure was calibrated within a centimeter of perfection—you can grasp it for a moment, but then it’s gone but for that single proof.
The Atlanta Print Biennial closes at Barbara Archer Gallery Saturday, December 3, 2011.