A Reading Room exhibition, In Retrospect opens April 1 and remains on view through May 8, 2010. It is the first venue in a several state tour of this exhibition by three notable contemporary book artists and the only scheduled venue west of the Mississippi.
In Retrospect presents the work of three artists who explore contemporary culture through the lens of the past. Their shared source of inspiration is the book, a form that, while intimate and familiar, also carries with it the weight of history and the voice of authority.
As such, it provides a reference point from which to challenge personal and cultural constructions of knowledge. All three artists delve into public and private archives to gather images, documents, texts, and ephemera as source material. Rearranging and combining these found elements with new material, they create provocative new works that expose biases and question assumptions about what we know and how we know it.
For the viewer, new meanings and interpretations emerge as official versions of history and reality are subverted.
The found materials in these books are textual as well as visual, both common and rarified; the collections from which they are culled are varied and diverse, from libraries and museums to flea markets and dumpsters.
The work of Maureen Cummins is inspired by old letters, documents, and photographs that she collects and lives with in her studio. She infuses wrenching subjects (including slavery, insanity, and torture) into motifs such as quilts, photo albums and ledgers, subverting the traditional values and gentility usually embodied in these ordinary objects.
Ann Lovett draws source material from historical archives and museum collections, as well as from personal documentation. Her work explores individual and collective memory, the culture of memorials, and institutional control of sites of war, trauma, and loss.
Nava Atlas draws from personal collections of everyday ephemera, including pinup photos, advice columns, vintage food images, and old comic books. These texts and images, arranged in ironic juxtapositions, question intransigent assumptions about gender.
In the books as well as their related wall installations, intimacy and insight emerge in a variety of ways. By employing beauty and craft—in the form of sensual materials, compelling imagery, and both ancient and modern technologies—these artists draw their audience into difficult subject matter. They seek to navigate the very dualities of life itself: pleasure and pain, appearance and reality, past and present, what is represented and what is experienced.
In voices ranging from contemplative to impassioned, from ironic to vehement, the works in this exhibit generate an experience of wonder and revelation that is both personal and political.