Three mid-career artists address urgent social and politica issues
Look This Way, the latest installment of the Cahoon Museum of American Art’s on-going series, Cahoon Contemporaries, presents the provocative new work of three mid-career, Massachusetts-based, women artists. In January 2019, Jodi Colella, Jackie Reeves and Kimberly Sheerin were invited by the Museum to preview an historical daguerreotype exhibition, Through the Looking Glass, also currently on view. All three artists were inspired to create new work that serves as an intriguing counterpoint to the daguerreotype show, and which distinctly addresses urgent social and political issues.
Fiber artist Jodi Colella is fascinated by early photography and collects antique tintype portraits which she manipulates to create evocative artworks with dark humor and surrealist imagery. “By investigating for hidden meanings that lay just below the surface, I focus on the strangeness of what is assumed to be known - but isn’t. The new images convey both whimsy and threat as they capture that place where anxiety and beauty can co-mingle. In this way, an obsolete 19th century photo process is transformed into an object of contemporary relevance that recontextualizes history and begs the question: What is really going on here? Is what we see really what it is?” Colella writes. Her new series, Ghost Stories, is inspired by the uneasy postures and expressions evident in daguerreotype portraits, whose subjects were required to sit without moving for many minutes before their image could be captured. For Colella, these minutes also expose a sliver of the soul that she contemplates and then seeks to reveal and investigate. In her Ghost Stories series, she developed a new technique to expand her small intimate tintype portraits both in size and expression. They are scanned, enlarged, cropped, transferred onto large sheets of aluminum, and then embroidered to create powerful confrontive images.
Painter Jackie Reeves recaptures fleeting moments of personal history in her Memory Paintings based on old family photo albums dating back to the 1920s and super-8 home movies. “As we struggle to remember the specifics of a certain memory, some of the edges come into focus, sharp and well defined. Other details are hazy and remain tantalizing, just beyond our grasp. Remembrances fade and stories evolve, yet these impressions constantly shape our perceptions throughout our lifetime. A photograph—presenting a two-dimensional representation of an exact moment in time—would seem to contain the truth of a memory, but often stands in opposition to our recollections. Add the fact that photography is so frequently altered in subtle (and dramatic) ways and the nature of reality becomes perplexing and malleable,” she writes about her work.
Inspired by the daguerreotypes, she has created new works on aluminum, leaving more metal exposed to create images that flicker, shift, and change as the viewer moves by and light filters across them – much like a daguerreotype shifts from positive to negative image depending on which side is viewed. In her Memory Paintings series, she explores profound questions of the human experience: “How are our lives defined by what we experience and remember? What is the nature of our existence when those memories fade or disappear altogether?”
Ceramicist Kimberly Sheerin has created new stoneware vases, urns and pitchers, continuing her human trafficking series, Vessels As Vehicles. These works present portraits of women surrounded by ornate frames inspired by the elaborate designs used to protect and display 19th century daguerreotypes. In contrast to the ephemeral photograph, her monumental vessels memorialize in solid clay the lives of significant women tackling urgent social issues of global importance (including the Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, Me Too movement founder Taran Burke, Mashpee cultural historian Jessie Little Doe Baird and activist Aloka Mitra, of Calcutta) side-by-side women whose lives remain hidden and unknown. “I strive to encourage and educate through the surfaces of my pottery - I see my jars, vases, and pitchers as the vehicles through which I can represent both sides of the story. In the covered jar, Breaking Chains, Making Change, I show the portraits of the women who are working to implement change – who are “breaking chains” globally and locally. The clay chains have also been incorporated to represent the physical and mental binding which affects humans through actual slavery or human trafficking, as well as societal pressures binding our lives. On the large vase, Believe Women, the faces represent women all over the world who lack a voice, and who are enslaved and remain unknown,” she says.
Just as these artists question the gravitas of the daguerreotype photographer, they challenge the viewer to stop, look deeper, linger longer and to consider what their artwork truly reveals. Even as people and moments are recorded by the camera, things are not always what they seem; even though we possess family photographs we hold dear, memory is fleeting and transient; even when we think a photograph tells us the truth, there is so much that is never recorded.
Jodi Colella, Jackie Reeves and Kimberly Sheerin also invite you to come to the Cahoon Museum, view the Through the Looking Glass daguerreotype show with these questions in mind, and to discover what you see when you Look This Way.
About the Museum
As the region’s most innovative art museum, the Cahoon Museum of American Art presents historical and contemporary art exhibitions in the landmark Crocker House in Cotuit, MA. The Museum welcomes visitors of all ages to learn about art and art history, to enjoy fun, family friendly events, to delight in creative programming, and to embrace the enduring story of the important folk artists Ralph and Martha Cahoon. The Museum is committed to its mission to celebrate American art in ways that expand knowledge, enrich the spirit, and engage the heart. The Museum is located at 4676 Falmouth Road (Route 28), Cotuit, MA 02635. It is open from March 15 – December 22, Tuesday-Saturday from 10AM – 4PM, Sundays from 1PM – 4PM. 508-428-7581.