Happy Lucky Reviews

Elise Church

Elise Church

Buick by Elise Church

Buick by Elise Church

REVIEW OF ELISE CHURCH'S “SAY, SEA” SHOW AT HAPPYLUCKY NO. 1

It is well known that our minds play tricks on us. They always try to focus on one thing and thereby miss much else, and in trying to make sense of random stimuli, they try to construct a meaningful whole through selection and distortion. Again and again, we find out other people saw things differently, remember things differently, and that the objective evidence tells a different story. One form of objective evidence is the photograph, reflecting what was there through a mechanically created image. In the case of Elise Church, there is no objective evidence; we are told in the accompanying literature that, “During her formative years, the artist lived a transient life. Shuttling back and forth between homes in coastal Massachusetts and the island of Bermuda, her childhood keepsakes were eventually lost. This led to an effort to collect memorabilia.” Church's somewhat odd way of doing this is to collect old photos from the era of her childhood and construct works of art out of them representing her memories.

What she has done is refuse to accept the mind's desire for focus and order. Through the use of scissors and other practices, she has insisted on creating what might be termed unconstructed memories. So if the mind tries to focus on a central object, Church removes that object. A picture called “Buick” with irregular edges, has a vague sky, two houses with windows, perhaps a dirt area n front of the houses, and a large hole cut out in the lower part of the picture. Presumably this would be the Buick. The same technique is used elsewhere. There is a work called “Empty White Box.” In fact the picture is just an outline of an empty space. It is not white and it is not a box. The work might be called the mind trying to remember; and all we are left with is the effort. Another such empty picture is “Yacht.” In a washed out picture of sea and sky, there is a central empty white space. The picture has been turned on its side, suggesting to this viewer that it is in storage. Well, memory is a kind of storage, but the stored object isn't quite ready for display. A different technique is used in “Yellow Dress.” A large brown section with a bright light in it (maybe the a street light, maybe the moon) seems to be superimposed of what might be a man's figure. The yellow dress is there by not being there. Another picture called “Screened in Porch” has four elements in the shape of a hut. There is a section with vegetation and lines suggesting a screen, some fabric that might be part of some furniture, a white section that seems to be a wicker seat, and then a section that could be water. It is a kind of collage. Another technique is to put pictures where one doesn't notice them. I was convinced from studying the catalog that a picture titled “Refrigerator” had been removed. Rather it was hung up by the ceiling, and I needed the intern Jackie to point it out. Well, the mind does miss a lot.

Overall, the pictures do not draw one in to look more closely, rather they are objects of contemplation, and the contemplating moves away from the pictures to thoughts about the unreliability of the human mind that creates memories. The disorienting techniques mentioned above seem to proclaim that the mission “a la recherche du temps perdu” – the search for lost time, will not succeed. That may leave one wistful and sad, but also with the feeling that there are other ways to go about it. The phrase “Say, Sea” seems a prayer to a higher power. The poem it is a part of begins, “Blue sea, wilt welcome me?” One feels the need behind the prayer, but not necessarily that it will be answered.

Jonathan Judge