Harriet Caldwell - Artist

 

Diverse "Archaeology of Wonder" show at Real Art Ways

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Diverse "Archaeology of Wonder" show at Real Art Ways

Real Art Ways
56 Arbor St., Hartford, (860) 232-1006
Archaeology of Wonder
Through Jan. 4, 2009.

I believe I have noted in the past that, as a reviewer, I have a conflicted relationship with themed shows. When presented with an exhibition like Archaeology of Wonder at Real Art Ways, do I consider the individual works through that frame? Or is it better to ignore the frame and contemplate each on its own? Kristina Newman-Scott, RAW's Director of Visual Arts and the curator of this show, describes her process in her curator's statement. "Archaeology" in this sense is symbolic. (The "wonder" in the show's title refers to the revelatory moments that viewers may experience when confronted with a particularly powerful work of art.) Newman-Scott writes, "Like Freud...who used archaeological excavation as a metaphor for the process of remembering or unearthing life experiences, I wanted to explore the life story of individual works of art."

It is a worthy metaphor around which to organize a show. But it can also be a distraction. Given the multiplicity of ideas and media offered here, trying to consider the works through any one given frame seems a mistake. So I'm not going to.

Harriet Caldwell's "Cerebration" looks to the other end of the life cycle. It is a meditation on the functioning of the brain. In particular, Caldwell is concerned with the brain under stress, as with Alzheimer's. This mixed media work incorporates drawing, sculpture and installation, and a very popular material for artists these days, beeswax. Dozens upon dozens of circular vellum panels are hung in layers, held together by a network of threads. Caldwell has drawn in ink and graphite on the vellum, which is also treated with the wax. The drawn imagery is a mix of scientific representations of brain functioning—scans, chemical diagrams—and representations of memories. Memories are associated with faces or, more impressionistically, silhouettes of figures alone or with others. The vellum panels with drawings are clustered around the center of the installation. Panels toward the top and the edges and especially toward the bottom tend to be blank. Caldwell's piece posits consciousness as a complex, multi-layered process: the intersection of biology, chemistry and interconnected humanity. The wrinkling of the vellum from the beeswax treatment also evokes the topography of the brain.
- Hank Hoffman

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Diverse "Archaeology of Wonder" show at Real Art Ways
Diverse "Archaeology of Wonder" show at Real Art Ways