COOP Gallery | January 6–27
WORDS Megan Kelley
Landscape is “dis-membered” and “re-membered” through the labor of memory in new works by Alexandra Jo Sutton in a series of installations, groupings, and fabricated artifacts whose creative bulk comes from “fieldwork” that Sutton has done over the past year. “I needed to get my hands into a landscape that had always called to me but that I had never been to,” Sutton explains. Gathering objects, sensory impressions, and rituals of collection from a trip through the American Southwest—Marfa, the Guadalupe Mountains, Taos, Colorado, and Spiral Jetty, to name a few—the artist enters into extended conversations with the palette, effects, shapes, and dialogues of land and memory both far and close to home.
Magnolia leaves are gathered with thread, and the cool fluidity of cyanotypes balances beside bone and stone and manmade geodes. In each, cycles of building and erosion—sun, air, time, wear, and decay—all come into form. Ceramics hold geodes of grown crystals, constructions of patience. The cyanotypes require the artist to hold poses, materials, and stencils, caught in a performative labor of waiting in the sun for each image to form. The practice records the passage of time even as it documents the nature of materials in this unique chemical process: salt and sand from Spiral Jetty spilled across the paper to create gentle blues, their original debris disguised as swaths of abstracted landscape, while herbs—more recognizable in form— hide secret origins of a grandmother’s garden and the family history grown there. Plaster sculptures resemble fossils, their strange and yet familiar twists preserving the crook of an elbow, the impressions of hands, or the curve of a neck into baked dried shapes. “I’m fascinated by fossilization, the difficulty of reconstructing something whole from fragments,” says Sutton.
The works play with a sense of universal scale compressed into time. “[The concept] is very comforting to me. The age of the rocks in the desert, the idea that my life is only a small part of a cycle of something larger.” Resolution is a fragile concept, as work is often revisited. The practice and labor echo the unending nature of these universal cycles and our place in retracing what was. Each inclusion is a ritual of labor filled with tiny notations and efforts to understand, change, observe, preserve. “I take leaves and draw on them with gouache, pour resin, dip them into plaster. I find ways to separate ourselves from the actual artifact, to mimic the way that we do that in how we recreate history.”
“I’m fascinated by fossilization, the difficulty of reconstructing something whole from fragments.”
These artifacts and documents are curated in fluid installations that recall historical cabinets of curiosities and other personal archives. “It’s the little things that convince me they have a history I don’t know: what it was, what it experienced getting to me, the connection of uncovering or imagining that history. The objects become myth; they begin to have significance outside of me.” Common threads and unified fascinations are clear, even if the ties aren’t immediately visible. Confronted by connection, the viewer begins to investigate, listening to the ways the different threads speak to each other and slowly overlap into a reverberating topography. Ultimately, the installation forms a physical exploration of space that attempts to recreate key landmarks from the original experience—memory as map, stylized, simplified, and presented so that the viewer can retrace the path, wander the dirt, and exist with the artist in a moment of time.
Alexandra Jo Sutton’s work is on view January 6 through 27 as part of Material Passage at COOP Gallery, 507 Hagan Street, Nashville. To see the works, visit Tuesday through Thursday 2 to 6 p.m. and Saturdays 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, please visit www.coopgallery.org.