Lakeland Chronicles at School 33 revels in the processes of discovery, creation, and documentation – Review by Aidan Crank
How often do you reminisce over making photocopies? What about filing away documents into archives? Do you ever consider how technology has changed these tasks, from step-by-step processes to the press of a button? While this might seem a bit dull, these processes are the inspiration for Lakeland Chronicles, Rachel Guardiola’s new exhibition at School 33 Art Center.
Trekking up to the second floor of the center, I was greeted by an open room with large and small photographic prints filling the walls, and a strange assemblage of objects on the floor. According to its creator, the exhibit explores ideas of discovery and creation, made deeper and more mysterious through antiquated processes and states. The artist used traditional black and white dark room and photo processing techniques to create her prints, and this served as a metaphor for the larger exhibition theme.
Alongside the prints are pieces of paper pinned to the wall with brief instructions for considering the prints before you. Albeit demanding and perhaps a bit gimmicky, I bought into it since at first glance I was rather confused by the setup. Guardiola tries to convey the idea of geological evolution and especially how islands, isolated and plagued by extreme weather and ocean, change much more rapidly than the rest of the earth. A spaced triptych of large black and white prints of a rocky island summit explores the idea, but even more impressive were the jarring angles in the photos, which gave a sense of teetering over a high up ledge.
Juxtaposed on the floor in the center of the room are two large white planks, one with an assortment of objects and trinkets, the other with casts of footprints. Upon closer inspection the objects appear to be vintage scientific equipment, glasses and various measuring tools. The island rocky summit flashes back in my mind, and one gets the feeling of witnessing an archaeological discovery workplace, the old tools used, the footprints left behind. I consider again the ephemeral qualities of islands and how this representation of a discovery is also a fleeting moment in time. A strange sense of awe and sadness is generated through a vicarious reminiscing of the work protocols people went through on various journeys and expeditions and how it all just vanishes with time.
Perhaps everything prior to the next part of the exhibition was only a build-up to the main part of the exhibition, a series of prints aligning the far wall, each with a magnifying glass hanging underneath. Once again, instructions wait on precisely pinned sheets. The prints detail people working on archaic machines, villages surrounded by mountains, people doing various daily activities—well I should say they appear to. Where each trace of a
human is in a print the viewer is greeted by white empty blankness. This use of negative space works well in its duplicity. First, it forces the viewer to focus and scrutinize what they are seeing and not seeing to determine what is actually being shown. Secondly, it depersonalizes the scenes, instead of identifying a stranger or person in the frame we vicariously identify as them or in that place, even if the processes or acts in the frame were never personal experiences. One of the ones I liked most depicted a village at the bottom of a rocky mountain, the entirety of the constructions are blanked out in white space.
Showing the transience of man on earth, one realizes that entire societies have come and gone under the shadow of the figurative mountain, and the entirety of the construction and likewise destruction has occurred at a much more accelerated rate than the change of the geography.
At the end of the prints was a quaint message waiting, which would have been more
appreciated if I had more time to process everything I had just seen. The exhibition was quite loose, and if I had just seen all of the prints serially I would have little to no clue what was going on or what the message was, but the artist’s guidance led to a cerebral experience that leaves one with many considerations. In addition, the creation of the exhibition was a meta work upon itself and the artist’s use of archaic darkroom techniques lets her serve as a muse to the experience herself.
While the viewer considers the events centered on the discovery of artifacts or documentation of knowledge, the artist herself is using analogous methods to create the experience. While some of the works are random and do not tie into the themes in obvious enough ways, overall the exhibition is intriguing and thought provoking.
Aidan Crank is a Baltimore based writer with interests in design, architecture, and aesthetics.