Kathleen “K” Stevenson, faculty member at Weber State University, and Jackie Brethen, 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 that 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. 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 that 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 seems 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. 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 Sept. 15. This is the first time all four of K Stevenson’s Bed Series have been shown together.
Jim Frazer, originally from Atlanta, is a Salt Lake City-based artist.