Hidden From Our Eyes- May at Gallery360
Through May Gallery360 has the pleasure of exhibiting Joshua White’s In Search Of Lost Time, a sensitive and introspective body of photography and sculpture that exists as contemporary art and personal research for both the artist and viewer.
Josh’s work has the exceptional quality of giving every viewer a completely different experience because he taps into a concept that is inherently different and precious in each person- his or her memory.
My interaction with this body of work has developed from simply viewing the pieces as photographs to helping install the carefully organized exhibit, and having the vantage of watching others make their own discoveries with the work. What has remained consistent throughout is the sensitive and introspective investigation into the nature of our memory preservation.
I immediately discovered my own inability to put my personal memory aside while interacting with this work, which transforms the space with a reverent and quiet tone. I felt stirred by an uneasy sense of urgency to protect my memories while looking at She’s Been Gone These Five Long Years in particular. The layers of bell jars swell the importance of a small memory as it is cultivated through the passage of time, and serve as a representation of the very human attempt to preserve ourselves and the ones we love from the passage of time.
What Josh has accomplished is a reflection of the viewer’s attitudes towards their own memory. For me it is at once comforting and out of reach, unable to exist without painful reminders of the deep loss and intense joy of the past. My recommendation for visitors to Gallery360 during May is to appreciate the experience of mourning for the past but also to celebrate the present and confront the future with openness and courage.
Josh and I have been conducting an ongoing dialogue about the concepts, materials, and history of this exhibit, that I am happy to announce that I will be sharing and updating throughout the duration of the exhibit, so please check back for more photos and details from the artist:
Lauren: Your work relies on memory, but human memory is often distorted and changeable over time. Do you think that in making this work your own memory of the past has been altered, or made clearer?
Josh: I think it has made the snapshots of memory I am looking at clearer, but in focusing that scope so intensely on the particulars the larger overview has been somewhat diminished. I can pull out more details if I really sit and try, but for a lot of the instances in the show, making the work has solidified a single memory as the stand in for the whole memory or the whole person. It’s called synecdoche, and it’s a term one of my mentors, William Jenkins, was very fond of using.
Take the water from the Ohio River in the piece “Holding Water” for instance: now instead of thinking about what it smelled like to be there, or how the mud felt, or what a discovery the little shells I found on the banks were, I mostly think about how the water in that box really has nothing to do with that place. It was there when I took it, but it had come from Pennsylvania on its way to the Mississippi. It is a perfect metaphor for photography; We abduct memories, we tear images out of time and hold them up as facts, but they as displaced as that box of water. All we have are little snapshots, which is what makes them so precious.
Lauren: A few of the pieces in the exhibit are interactive, In Remembrance, for example, is an oak kneeler that holds a cyanotype photograph only revealed when the viewer unscrews multiple brass knobs. The piece is very quiet and intimate, but not fully appreciated until the viewer engages with it. How do you decide what is the best, and in your work often subtle, way to indicate to a viewer that an artwork is interactive? And how do you think that the ritual of kneeling in a prayer-like stance and unscrewing each knob contributes to remembrance?
Josh: I love the idea of interactivity in the work. Even if it is just going back and forth between the description and the piece, like the little bottles in the Family Portraits, I like the viewer to have to engage to get the full experience. The show is definitely not set up for a cursory look around the room, it requires time and action. I know because of that a lot of viewers don’t get the full effect of all the pieces, but those viewers are not necessarily my core audience. There are things to be taken quickly from the show, like the cut photograph of Elizabeth, but even that piece can deliver more when one spends some time with it. I am angling towards people who are curious, an audience that likes to explore and understand and discover. My goal isn’t to be exclusionary, but to force people outside of the way they normally experience art.
In some pieces, especially “In Remembrance,” the cues to interact are subtle. The ideal scenario with that piece is one in which the viewer discovers the interactivity through spending a moment trying to figure it out. Once they understand that you can kneel, that the bolts can be removed, it becomes a ritual of sorts. The knee depressions are made in the kneeler piece not just for comfort, but to suggest that this rite has taken place countless times. Kneeling and removing the bolts slows the viewer down, gives them time to think about the piece and builds anticipation; it controls the experience. Once the box is unlocked and the viewer lifts the lid off, there is a sense of reaching a goal. But the goal is not what they thought it might be; the cyanotype is hard to make out, and if the viewer picks it up, it gets even harder. The whole thing is just like trying to corner a memory. We circle around the thing, try to get at the core of it, but when we get there, what we are left with is a shadow at best, the outline of what we thought we knew so well.
Lauren: Were all of the materials that you placed into the bottles of the Family Album piece readily at hand, or did you go in search for them because they were linked to certain memories of these people? And, if you made one to represent yourself what would you place in the jars?
Josh: Whenever people ask me about the materials I use in my show, I refer them to the movie “The Prestige.” The line that sticks with me is, “Never show anyone. They’ll beg you and they’ll flatter you for the secret, but as soon as you give it up… you’ll be nothing to them.” Art is magic, pure and simple. I present an idea, but whether that ice cream in the portrait entitled “Bev” actually came from the day she and my brother almost broke up when I was a little boy is irrelevant to what it represents
The core idea behind the little vials is that every person we know is a collection of memories. The easiest way to remember them might be by their face, but that’s not what we think of when we think of a person we know. We think of the bits and pieces that make up our experience with them.
If I had to make one about myself, it would be a small scrap of paper with a link, or heck, maybe even a QR code, to my website. My family always says it’s sad that I make so many photographs but am never in any of them, but they are wrong. To know who I am, folks just need to look at my work. That’s where they’ll find me.