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Friday, April 24, 2009

An Anatomy of Melancholy

Jocelyn Meggait's BFA show, "Melancholy Objects," had its reception last night. She marvelously transformed the space -- a bright jeweled beaded curtain snakes through the gallery, making a scrim that captures and seems to project light.

There is a chair entirely covered in jewelry and watches. It's as if a Thrift Store had a case of indigestion and ended up belching out a throne. There's something regal about it, and something marine about it too -- it's no longer fit for human comfort, and has the ragged outlines of a piece of coral, covered with an armor of varicolored barnacles.

The main recurring image is that of an old doll's dress, or baby's dress. Sometimes they show up in ghostly rayograms, sometimes they've been inked and printed on paper, sometimes they've been pressed into clay tablets, and a few of them are encased in wax, and made to stand like tiny, hollowed-out tipis. Jocelyn mentioned, in her talk, that she'd inherited the small dresses from her mother. She took them all for doll's dresses, but then, going over family slides given to her by her sister, realized that she herself had worn some of the dresses as a child. There are two imposing life-size rayograms of adult dresses, as well. One is a wedding dress, in a state of dilapidation, that she bought off ebay for $10. Which she described as a fairly depressing transaction.

Above: a picture of the artist, seen through her own meticulous curtain.

It's tricky to rummage through family detritus and show it off as art. It can be trying enough to be marched through your own family's slides -- being marched through some other family's slides can amount to cruel and unusual punishment. In my eyes, Jocelyn actually pulls it off. There's a feeling of repose and distance that carries the objects out of their cocoon of hermetic nostalgia. The objects are able to to stand in their own object-ness, with their own dignity and their own mysteries. They seem to play out (or in the case of the twisted dresses, to dance out) their own stories, related to (yet independent of) the stories of the people who wore them.

Two "pedestals" in the show are flat files, each drawer filled with more artwork, jewelry, and ephemera (I think Jocelyn, in this show, is trying to close the gap between artwork and ephemera). It gave the feeling of rifling through the drawers of a house you've broken into. That's part of the pleasure of wandering through an antique store -- a circumscribed permission of trespass. It's particularly heightened when you find boxes of old postcards, or lines scribbled in the margins of a book.

The show's title comes from a Susan Sontag essay, which describes photographs themselves as "melancholy objects," since they necessarily mark people and places that are constantly rushing into the past, to obscurity and ultimately to non-existence. So take these photos as melancholy objects of "Melancholy Objects."


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