a visit with Sheryl Dudley
What was the seed that initiated the working process for this new body of work?
I had a very different body of work already under way when I recognized that our unexpected decision to move presented an opportunity I might not have again.
I left the work intended for my upcoming exhibition and turned to photographing hoards of small objects acquired over the years and others that had been passed-down over a few generations. Many of the objects were long forgotten but the documenting and packing reminded of our histories, and that they were preserved for the narratives they contain. I have found some evidence of different cultural identities merging (including a few rifts that go back generations) and several items from the ‘old country’ as well as a collection of whimsical items that include an antique cloth doll, a vintage 1950’s train set, many plastic figurines: Popeye & Olive Oyl, a blue Power Ranger, G.I. Joe, a cowboy on a horse, many buttons and badges and a miniature gumball machine I treasure (“Homie”), to name only a few. In addition there is a whole box of antique mannequin hands (not a matching pair in the lot), mountains of photographs dating from the 1860’s to the present, old board games, a big bag of orthodontic plaster casts and a bag full of odd stainless steel instruments.
The list goes on…..
What lens were you looking through when you envisioned the work for this new exhibition?
Depending on what I was sorting through I felt I was looking through the lens of earlier generations and at the same time, the not-so-distant past and present where the material accumulation was greater. Interestingly my ‘lens’ had nothing to do with aesthetics. I felt that I began to see the objects from another’s eye and that sensation aroused curiosity of a different time, without the weight of nostalgia.
Did this work push you into new territories in terms of techniques or materials?
This work was completely unexpected. There was no strategy, process or technique in mind. I intended to simply make a digital record of the objects and then dump everything at the Goodwill and the city waste depot on Commissioners Street. Some of the objects are evidence of past events, others remain a mystery (maybe they represent places or incidents the elders didn’t want to talk about). Now that I have done all this work I am less inclined to part with any of them.
The images I ended up with were created by a multi-layered, ad-hoc process. They started out as black & white and color photographs. When I ran across a set of hole punches in an old box of art materials I started perforating the photos. My thoughts tend to bounce all around in search of connections so sifting through past history led me to consider the nuances of memory - the distortions and drop-outs that occur over time. That thought seemed to tie-in with the punched holes. (Now that I think of it, maybe also with my last series on the arctic – the paintings I did on perforated industrial aluminum) Next I made inkjet prints of the punched photos and started ‘drawing’ over them with an eraser and a knife. (odd choice of ‘media’). I didn’t have any particular form in mind but I used them as ‘subtractive’ techniques to modulate tones, scrape away and incise areas. I later added colored conte to create ‘auras’ and emphasis.
What is the “constant” that saw you through this process from start to finish?
So many questions about the past remain. Every family has them. This particular move made me stop and examine things in a way that I hadn’t before. There is definitely a compulsive aspect to the work. When I lay them all out I can see different personalities in some groupings of objects – maybe subtle evidence of traits that get passed down. My parents were so young when I arrived that I knew three of my great-grandparents, some of my great-great aunts and uncles, and I know the stories of the great-great-greats. Being the first child of only children I grew up hearing more about the past than most. I was really drawn into this project but am abandoning it for the time being so I can find my way back to that other series.
Thanks for the studio sneak peek Sheryl!
Sheryl's exhibition Between Here and There runs until January 26th at Loop Gallery