Friday, July 18, 2008

Review: Tammy Rae Carland,

Shotgun Review:
An Archive of Feelings - Tammy Rae Carland
at Silverman Gallery

by Jano Cortijo

"Things belong to those who need them", my grandmother used to say, meaning you would hardly ever find clothes or appliances lying around her house indolently collecting dust. Life had taught her about precariousness and she had learned to share and give away things that somebody, anybody, else might need. Just as clothes and school books went from older to younger to youngest daughter, a worn chair or a chipped pot quickly found a new home when they were replaced by newer items, their life span extended well beyond their average life.
Still, she held on to a few things until her last day: a wooden trunk, a hand knit bedspread, a clear acrylic cube holding 5 pictures on each of its exposed sides. These three items probably witnessed a lot more than could have ever been observed by any of her daughters or grandchildren. After she passed away, my mother kept the wooden trunk and to this day it is inevitable -Spielberg-ish corny as it sounds- to be immediately transported to the endless afternoons I or any of my cousins spent sitting on top of it or to the evenings when we stared at the small color TV on top of it watching whatever soap opera was in fashion.
All this textual foreplay is -hopefully- an introduction to Tammy Rae Carland's austere and magnificent photography exhibition "An Archive of Feelings" on view until July 26th at Silverman Gallery in downtown San Francisco.
Carland has slightly steered away from photographing herself and her surroundings to focus on a series of objects that, engulfed in a sea of white as we see them in the show, form a very intimate cabinet of personal curiosities, the items both offering sufficient information and barely hinting at the anecdotes and stories behind and around them.
A literal installation of all these carefully conserved items would not be as beautifully effective as their current presentation, like immobile prehistoric remains captured in amber, their sentimental value exponentially augmented by the pristine conservation of their meaningful patina. While keeping some of these mementos' tactile qualities, the photographs create the necessary distance for the viewer to wonder and wander in what we can only speculate are Tammy Rae's archived feelings.
The larger pieces on display in the gallery may be more effective in threading what seems like clear, almost explicit narratives; but the smaller, single or double item photographs are none less persuasive in transporting us to the time(s) and place(s) when they started to become important for the artist, slowly and serenely accumulating a history that is now made tangible by the wear and tear they proudly flaunt, almost infinite memories gradually seeping into each and every corner of these vessels of affection.
I've read that the show's title has been borrowed from a book I am not familiar with so instead of futilely trying to figure out the intellectual aspect of Tammy Rae Carland's project, I will just relate it to my own experiences, even at the risk of cornering it in the niche of subtly female artwork rooted in the domestic universe. I just can't think of any male artist caring as much to keep vestiges like these (my limited art history knowledge only brings up Felix Gonzalez-Torres' name) and enshrining them to such delicate and potent effect.
Carland's achievement lies in both referencing and transcending a sort of housekeeping aesthetic by elevating the immaterial qualities of apparently banal items to convey the resonance of relationships past.

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