Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Fanny Jacquier's Meditations on Memory

While at VCCA, visual artist Fanny Jacquier used several different approaches to explore the theme of memory.

One large piece was composed a number of sheets of paper (45 by last count, but this amount may grow as she is still working on it) arranged in a grid-like formation. “I started working with grids because I wanted to find a new way of seeing composition,” says Fanny. “I’m very interested in the process; using sheets of paper means the process is ongoing — the piece is constantly changing; I rearrange the sheets, remove some, add more. Sometimes it’s smaller, sometimes bigger.”

The grid arrangement also keeps the work firmly contemporary by fracturing the composition with strong horizontal and vertical lines, while subtly tempering the work’s lyrical delicacy that suggests of a worn Japanese screen.

Fanny uses watercolor, oil stick and colored pencils to add hue and line, reveling in “the freedom to find forms; let the lines speak and convey a certain rhythm.”  Her overall composition is abstract, but there are passages that suggest something recognizable — a tree, or bunting hanging on a line. Fanny incorporates glimpses of actual things to attract our attention and also to evoke the flickering images that form our memories. Some of these can remain very detailed, while others wash away and disappear.

While at VCCA, Fanny made the obligatory trip to the thrift store in Amherst looking for inspiration: “I really like to work with my surroundings. So I didn’t come to VCCA with a special project in mind. I wanted to let the place speak to me before I decided what to do.” At the store, she bought a plastic bag of old snapshots. At first it looked like a jumble of unrelated photos, but looking through them, she began to recognize different people at different ages and realized the collection was a record of someone’s life. She took some of the photographs and arranged them on the wall. She wanted to see how the images worked without facial expressions and so she blotted out the faces with ovals of white paint.

Some viewers complained that she had obscured the most interesting part of the photograph, but to me, she added mystery and unease to relatively mundane images. Like the grid piece, this one also centers on memory inviting the viewer to project new stories on to the blank “canvas” of the faces. Also important is the fact that the piece seems to embody the very act of remembering. “I’ve had it here on the wall now for two weeks,” Fanny says. “In the beginning, I had those faces in my mind, but now I’ve forgotten them. It’s like a polaroid photo in reverse, getting lighter and lighter as it fades away. ”

There’s an undeniable voyeuristic element to looking at a stranger’s photographs and Fanny exploits this further in her fictive postcard project that was inspired by the rich literary atmosphere of VCCA. “Every night, there’d be readings that would draw you into a new world,” she says. So she approached VCCA Fellow Nat Schmookler to collaborate by producing the text.

Connected to the theme of loss, the postcards look timeworn, with faded images and a neat, old-fashioned script penned by Nat who also used language and subject matter to reflect the local area and time frame. “I wanted to make them and then make them look old [using coffee and wine to distress the cards]; as if they had passed through many hands.” Fanny was also interested in the obsolete nature of postcards and handwriting, which much like the postcards themselves are fading away.

To add particular poignancy, the post cards all bear the postal stamp Sweet Briar College which also is fading away before our eyes. In her studio, Fanny hung the postcards in such a way that the viewer was forced to sit on the bed to read the contents. This uncomfortable intimacy was meant to underscore the voyeurism inherent in postcards, which are exposed for anyone to read.

On a month-long exchange from the Oberpfalzer K√ľnstlerhaus in Schwandorf-Fronberg, Germany, this is Fanny’s first residency and second trip to America. She lived in California for three months when she was 13. Like many visual artists, she records her travel impressions in a sketchbook. Most of her sketches are of people she encountered. I love these pithy, droll caricatures that seem so on the money. I am sure when she returns to Regensburg, these wonderful vignettes will serve to jog her memory and provide amusement for many years to come.



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