Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts

Marissa Albrecht’s “En Route” Reflects on Movement and Change

Gallery view of Marissa Albrecht's 'Lost in Transit' and 'Return to Sender' installations, featuring road signs, packaging materials, and floor-placed photographs.

Gallery view of Marissa Albrecht’s ‘Lost in Transit’ and ‘Return to Sender’ installations, featuring road signs, packaging materials, and floor-placed photographs.

Humanity is the species that travels, and paves our environment to expedite our journeys. When we aren’t able, or don’t want to go in person, we can transport just about anything to anywhere, and all this deliberate motion has resulted in whole industries that respond to the belief that nothing is where it belongs, and that it would probably be better someplace else.

Travel and transportation have been central themes of art at least since the Greeks carved a goddess alighting on the prow of a ship. Marissa Albrecht takes them for her subjects and builds her artistic triad on three recombinant forms: collage, assemblage and installation, all three of which are present in her exhibition at Finch Lane. She’s not the first to take advantage of the linear character of the gallery’s rear space, with its blank wall along one long side and row of windows down the other. That said, “Lost in Transit,” her mosaic of ten photos of packaging detritus, laid on the floor to match how they were found on the road, looks like a highway that connects her ongoing installation, “Return to Sender,” to the 160 5” x 7” collages, each found on a package, that comprise “Express Delivery,” at the other end.

Wall installation of multiple framed cardboard packages with various shipping labels, barcodes, and handling instructions, part of Marissa Albrecht's 'Express Delivery' series.

For Albrecht, an important characteristic of her art is that the audience has seen it all before. Those stylized flames, that cracked stemware, even the colorful, striped alert patterns, have been seen so often they cease to register … until she calls attention to them. Packaging elaborately engineered to do multiple tasks clutters the landfill, but the artist wants us to pause and, perhaps for the first time, contemplate just the one quality most likely to be overlooked: its beauty.

Nor is that too strong a term. Seen up close, the shattered corner of a yellow-and-black, painted plywood hieroglyph that signals “Merge” exposes a history and patina equal to that of a classical ruin. A stack of five-gallon paint lids resembles a rotor from some sophisticated machine. The figure on the Pedestrian Crossing sign, a diamond resting on one of its sides, engages in a Sisyphean climb towards unseen heights. We’ve only begun the epic tale of “Lost in Transit.”

Like any traveler, Albrecht takes her work right up to the borders—in her case, of genre. Where collage meets assemblage, she presents the resulting bas-reliefs of the “Handle With Care” series, which deliver on the illusionistic, digital promise in the trompe-l’oeil of “Out For Delivery.”

It’s generally considered a virtue when a work of art captures the historical moment of its making. So, in an age that could be defined by the change from “going shopping” to “expecting delivery,” where evil dwells in porch piracy and our heroes drive vans, and where the big questions concern return policies, it’s tempting to see these art works in those terms. Marissa Albrecht, however, intends something more lasting. “This body of work reflects my exploration of space, time, and human connection, emphasizing the transitional nature of our lives,” she says, taking the exact measure of transportation. We need to see how “Lost in Transit” reminds us that nothing in existence, beginning with the universe itself, is ever certain. What feels like the utmost urgency changes unexpectedly, and as she says, the old priority labels “are soon replaced by new ones.” It’s not an idle boast when she says, “My compositions reflect how we structure our lives.”

There are many found and chosen accidents here that reward close reading. The mechanisms and terminology may be of the moment, but hasn’t it always been true that nothing possesses more potential than a package just before it’s unwrapped? And what, then, of the one that’s still on the truck, about to be delivered?

Three photographs of discarded cardboard packaging pieces arranged on the floor, part of Marissa Albrecht's 'Lost in Transit' installation.

Three photographs of discarded cardboard packaging pieces arranged on the floor, part of Marissa Albrecht’s ‘Lost in Transit’ installation.

Marissa Albrecht:  En Route, Finch Lane Gallery, Salt Lake City, through Aug. 2

All images courtesy of the author

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