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Strange Collages on Display at Nina Freudenheim Gallery

"Park" by Jane Hammond


Jane Hammond’s artworks are extremely difficult. Photo collages that are as much about the complicated multi-layer process she uses to create them as the visual information in the photo. Some of the photos seem to have a visual inner logic, but more prominently an inner enigmatic. A score or so of the works are currently on display at the Nina Freudenheim Gallery.

A series of artist’s statements sheds some clarifying light on her purpose and process. “I am interested in creating a body of work that is decentered, variable, changing,” she says. “I am interested in the elasticity of meaning...I am interested in complexity, combining, and context.”

On the process, she says she doesn’t take photographs, but makes photographs, from other photographs. Thousands of original photos she gleans from everywhere from family archives to flea markets to E-Bay. From these she selects candidate constituent photos for a contemplated work. As many as twenty or more original photos for the making of one composite photo.

Starting with an idea, a photo she sees in her “mind’s eye,” initially she scans all the constituent photos on a high-quality scanner, then works with a professional re-toucher, to whom she reveals “a sketch I have made of the new photo, and some notes I have assembled about the idea. We work in Photoshop primarily...In addition to silhouetting out constituent elements and inserting them into a new space, we do many more ‘painterly’ things. We add darkness or light...We add tiny details from other photographs. We build shadows, we transparentize...”

Eventually, she says, “I feel that the idea is realized and I commit to a final digital file.” The digital file is then converted to a photo negative, or actually several, and the selected photographic negative printed as a silver gelatin print. “I work with a renowned printer and we go through several stages of printing as well, using many of the classical tools, dodging and burning, etc.”

The result is a kind of mindscape, a meta-photo, a scene or action that never happened, essentially surrealist, a fiction composed of elements of fact, representing for the artist “a new and often inexplicable meta-truth.”

And visually passing strange, in the odd juxtaposition of disparate and foreign elements—foreign in the sense of set in foreign lands, often vaguely Southeast Asian, but just as often unidentifiable non-existent settings, mountains, plains, conglomerate urban areas, as well as in the sense of lands of unlikeness—but getting beyond the strangeness, beautiful, in the fairy tale evocative quality of the juxtapositions, the mix of foreign and familiar. A troupe of circus clown types arrayed around a central group of five Pierrot figures—white pajama costumes, little cone hats—against and inside-looking out from windows—a kind of maybe rural Russian church building. A dream vision scene of a naked woman and elephant sharing the pool below a jungle river waterfall. A façade view of several stories of balcony walkways on what looks like some third-world tenement apartment building, balcony railings hung with copious laundry, and occupants out and posing for the picture, each with an animal pet—dogs and snakes and monkeys.

Inner logic intrudes sometimes by way of visual formal echoes, as in a piece presenting, middle foreground, an Indian teepee on snow-covered terrain, a background perfect volcano, smoking placidly, and—inverting the teepee and volcano form—near foreground, a peacock in display mode, strutting in the snow. Sometimes thematically, as in a political theme piece showing ranks of recruit sailors set to a task of knotting and unknotting strands of rope, while in an open area in front of the recruits—but only a few of the recruits look up from their rope task to notice—another military dress figure attends to an apparent torture victim, naked and rope hog-tied. Evoking Abu Ghraib.

Most of the time though there’s not that much to grab onto. Instead you just hang on, and bask in the strangeness, the exoticism, the exhilarating centrifugality.

The Jane Hammond display continues through October 8.

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