October 26—December 11, 2016
Curated by Mara Baldwin, Research by Cavan Mulligan (Art History ’17)
“Melancholy is sadness that has taken on lightness.” –Italo Calvino
“Melancholy is the happiness of being sad.” –Victor Hugo
Developed in the Ancient Near East, alchemy is the ambitious scientific pursuit of the transformation of base metals into gold through contact with the mythic elemental ore, The Philosopher’s Stone. During the Middle Ages, alchemists also attempted to apply theories of transformation towards the development of cures for bodily ailments. Based off many of the humoral writings of Hippocrates (460-370 B.C.E.), this pursuit gave birth to modern chemistry and medicine, but also exemplifies the improbable longing for solutions to the unknown. Produced in the liver, black bile was historically attributed towards the cause of melancholy, an ailment that is similar to depression and anxiety. Much like a labyrinth, the experience of becoming an adult is dizzying and confusing. The anxieties that arise when attempting to maintain order in a chaotic world can manifest physically in the body. Symptoms including dry nausea, swelling, stomach pain, disruption of digestion, delirium, and depression were thought to be the result of too much black bile in the system, an imbalance that could also cause inspiration and creativity. The dual nature of melancholy creates a state in which artistic and philosophic thinking could thrive.
The theme of finding order in chaos resounds in the work of Ben Altman’s The More That Is Taken Away and Sarah Sutton’s Dissolve. Both artists bridge the gap between earthly elements and the spirit, emotional instability and surefootedness, as well as two-dimensional and three-dimensional perspective.
THE MORE THAT IS TAKEN AWAY: BEN ALTMAN
Mass graves indicate a society in major crisis. Ben Altman is fascinated by the turning points of modern history and how they form our world. Many such events have taken violent and massive scales; he mourns, memorializes, and reclaims these intractable events by recording performances at his home and by visiting sites of atrocity. Altman’s photographic practice explores the roles of perpetrator, victim, and bystander, with previous bodies of work documenting memorial sites and their tourists, signage, architecture, and landscaping. The More That Is Taken Away is a multiple-year meditation using the mass grave as a central image. Fashioning a monumental earthwork in his own backyard by long-term excavation, modification, and repairs, Altman attempts an open and personal engagement. He hopes, through protracted labor and obsessive photographic and video documentation, to avoid moral certitudes or the static gesture of a formal monument. Altman is informed by the inheritance of a familial Holocaust narrative, his own upbringing in postwar England, and his subsequent emigration. He uses his practice as a tool for both personal and public ownership of collective trauma.
DISSOLVE: SARAH SUTTON
Sarah Sutton’s work relishes in the liminal straddling of images and experiences, exploring how memory, psychological projection, and the deep flatness of the internet collude against landscape to create a hybrid space. In contemporary culture, the index of digital images seem to far outnumber the accrual of sensory experiences in real time over the course of one person’s life. Sutton turns away from the tradition of singular narrative compositions, instead creating flat images that dive into dimensional conflict and collision. Her paintings are intimate portals relating back to the body, referencing contemporary technology’s hand-held ability to dissolve the border between the personal and political, the private and the public, real and hallucinatory. Sutton’s paintings combine multiple images into a visual ruins which denies passive viewing. Based on dioramas combining flat images, architectural models, folded paper, and paint blobs, Sutton depicts moments where the language and genre of her materials dissolve into homogeneity.