‘Something from the past’ at the Aspen Art Museum
July 29, 2010
ASPEN – In this photo-saturated society, where most every person is a photographer, it is more clear than ever that a photograph needs to be considered, rather than taken for granted. Who took the photo, and when and where and why? Who was the photographer, and what was her agenda?
Marlo Pascual both considers photographic images, and reminds viewers to think about the context of images. In an Aspen Art Museum exhibition that opens Thursday, the 38-year-old Pascual’s first one-person museum show, the photographs are not merely images. They are photographic objects, lifted from their original time, place and purpose, and repositioned in a way that adds depth and distance to the source material. Enhancing the sense of distance, all the images in the exhibition are black-and-white.
In one piece, an image of a tree is physically broken up into fragments – which, the artist notes, suggests branches, but also makes the work more dimensional and manipulated. One photo includes the image of another framed photograph. A photo of flowers is propped up in a corner, taking the place of real flowers and opening up the issue of what is real and what we use to stand in for reality.
Visitors are greeted by a bulky image of a ship that actually blocks the entrance to the exhibition – a reminder of how photographs can be made to intrude into our personal space. “I wanted it to be physically imposing on you. I wanted it to be like a theater prop, or a drive-in movie screen,” Pascual, who served as the Aspen Art Museum’s distinguished artist-in-residence this past spring, said of the ship image.
“Part of the idea is, it’s an examination of imagery,” Pascual, a Nashville native who has lived in New York City for the past decade, and now lives in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn, continued, speaking of the exhibition as a whole. “I think about the construction of the image – how it’s a fragment, and not the whole story, not the truth with a capital ‘T.'”
In order to turn images into objects, one of the primary devices has been to use found images, rather than make her own photographs. Pascual got interested in the camera during her high school years, and took the standard portraits of friends and family. But as she made her way into the art world, studying at the University of Tennessee, and more recently attending graduate school at the University of New Orleans and the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia, she began to see photography as “a searching for things.”
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“A lot of times, photography represents something that’s dead,” she said, pointing to a piece in the current exhibition that uses the image of a dead lizard. “It’s about trying to hold onto something slipping away, trying to hold onto a person or a place.”
Some five years ago, Pascual began a literal search for things. Among the objects she found were a bunch of 1950s head shots of women she describes as “wannabe starlets.” “I was drawn to these because the construction is so overt. They’re trying to fit into a mold, to fit into a certain idea,” she said.
Pascual has, for the most part, abandoned the camera ever since, in favor of using images made by other people, in other times and locations. “Because it’s something I didn’t take, the distance is nice,” she said. “It allows you to see the construction of the idea – the idea of beauty, or home, or family. You’re more aware of what the original photographer was projecting onto the object, and more aware of what you yourself are projecting onto the object. It’s like having a relationship with something from the past.”
While moving away from the camera, Pascual has also put some space between herself and photography. While still interested in photography as a medium, she isn’t sure about calling herself a photographer. But light, composition and installation remain important – not in creating a photographic image, but in constructing an exhibition. “There’s a mood to each installation,” she said, likening her exhibitions to movies, with the feel of either sci-fi, or a romantic drama.
While she doesn’t get hung up on labels, Pascual has begun to see herself more as a sculptor, creating works that have physical depth.
“I don’t understand how it’s not sculpture, if it’s three-dimensional and you can walk around it,” she said. “They’re constructed things – not something we just peer into, but something that projects into the world.”