The works in the current exhibition at Manifest Gallery, Master Pieces present some long lasting trends like portraiture and nudes, the requisite sculpture, photography, and conceptual work. Though in this wonderfully interesting mix I noticed what seems to be a newer theme or interest. Alongside of feminist inquiries and contemplations of memory, we find in this current exhibition an interest in narrative constructs. Art, particularly painting and sculpture has always been a storytelling tool. The power of these media as conduits of realism went unquestioned throughout much of history. Photography enjoyed such persuasive powers at its birth until about the middle of the 20th century. We now know that one does not take a picture, but instead makes one.
Fittingly, photography is the medium of choice for both Thea Augustina Eck and Svala Olafsdottir whose works are part of the Master Pieces show. Both artists pay special attention to the constructs of narratives, historical and mythological. Eck’s It Is Never Tomorrow series is made of 24 photographs (two are at Manifest Gallery) that explore the work of Early British Arctic Explorers. Photography allows Eck to present this series as a record of historical fact, yet as an artist, she fully recognizes her freedom to interpret history and re-present the historical narrative. There is no way her beautiful photographs that monumentalize figures in the arctic landscape could have been taken during the historical period she presents. It is this flux between fact and fiction that is a fundamental element of the historical narrative she exposes.
Svala Olafsdottir also works in photography and inspired by the past. From Iceland, much of her work is grounded in Icelandic mythology and fables. Though this is her source, Svala claims not to be a storyteller herself. Instead she is interested in what she calls non-linear narratives. Her Untitled #2, a photograph on canvas presents what looks like a person’s face underwater, perhaps drowning. While this viewer is not familiar with Icelandic folklore, seaside Norse history makes me somewhat confident about the setting. Despite what may be an eerie image of death or dying, the lush colors, light and rippling water provide a mesmerizing effect that is inviting. Lifting scenes from otherwise well-known fables allows the viewer (even those familiar with these specific stories) to re-view the stories outside of their linear constructs.
Both artists recognize the role of stories and histories in our cultures. It is refreshing to see artists making such self-referential statements presenting the role of the storyteller, the media, and the implication of the reader.