The mystery in what remains
Print competition winner pushes boundaries of medium
Last summer, my family and I moved into an older home in an equally older section of Chico. Like many houses built in the 1950s, the floors are entirely wooden. Much of the wood is in beautiful condition, protected (and hidden) for its 60-plus years by carpet. But there are sections that provide small mysteries to us: Why is the wood in the hallway a light blonde, while the bedrooms are much darker? Do these marks suggest an additional wall existed between the master bedroom and its bath? What caused that dark stain here, those small holes over there?
Printmaker Allison Hyde, recent winner of the Solo Exhibition Award in the Janet Turner Print Museum’s 2012 National Print Competition, lets this fascination with such mysterious artifacts drive her art—from rolling, inking and printing the bedroom floor of an abandoned house, to altering photographic imagery using the ash from a fire. The Oregon native describes herself as an “artist, teacher, curator and gallery director,” and in her artist statement explains, “Printmaking continues to root much of my investigation, especially in the way it contains the history of marks made over time and the repeated touch and processing of a similar surface, much like the reliving of a memory.”
In “(De) Constructing Memory,” a series of 70 or so metal and plastic hangers rest on a suspended closet rod. But instead of shirts or sweaters there are soft paper prints, each hanging down raggedly like cloth. The printed image on each is the inside of a room, and as the prints transition from left to right, bits of the room disappear, until the final paper prints are not prints at all. Hyde told me that this piece is a reflection on her grandmother’s Alzheimer’s and dementia, how her memories deteriorated over time. “I physically altered the negatives and … scratched away things that I didn’t remember about the house [as well as] things that I thought were more pivotal to her,” she said. “The images fragment more and more until some of the sheets are just blank.”
Photography continues to be the medium in “What Remains: In Midair.” A girl with long dark hair in matching spotted pajamas jumps on a bed, head looking down. At least, that’s what I think I’m seeing, as the image is hard to make out, recreated as a serigraph using charcoal and ash. “Through the process of printing imagery with the gritty ash and charcoal from a fire, or distortion of large-scale photographs with repeated layers of deep black ink washes,” explains Hyde in her statement. “I aim to deconstruct the past, and reconstruct a visceral and emotional experience that speaks to history and preservation, memory and loss.”
The largest piece in the gallery seems the least effective. Rather than highlighting some enigma of a past life to be solved, “Mourning the Ephemeral V. III” stages one. Blackened and charred frames are stacked and strewn around a burnt two-drawer dresser with intact mirror on top. I can’t help but see the artist carefully arranging the set, dispelling the mystery inherent in her other pieces.
Hyde’s revealing a story in the marks left behind by making more marks through printmaking is where she does her best work. “The evidence of a person’s life often exists in the traces that remain after their passing,” she told me. “It’s these places that are steeped in history and tell stories about a person and about a person’s identity that I’ve really been most interested in.”