Monday, March 10, 2014

Tangled Memories by Marcy Axelband and Michele Waalkes at Translations Art Gallery

Dark water...deep water, where does it go?

I was not sure what to expect from this exhibit when I first read the subject matter/theme for their show. I went in with no preconceived idea of the imagery each artist would use to depict the very personal journey these women experienced as their fathers descended into the depths of Alzheimer's.

Both Marcy and Michele are frequent exhibitors in this area so we know what “style” they will show, but each artist transcended even their own presentations with this body of work. I was moved and you will be too. Not just by their words and their laying bare of souls, but by how these shared moments are something all of us have or will experience as well, in our own families or by association with a disease or condition that share the same losses.

Both women have provided a context statement as to the progress of the disease. Michele’s father passed away years ago and Marcy’s is still living, but no longer someone who knows her. These stories alone are enough to wrench your heart. Amazing how little we know about the people whom we see on a regular basis. I am glad to know they have each other as someone to share the journey and who understands the pain, frustration and sadness that comes from this disease. A show by only one of them would not have been as forceful because it is this “yeah, it happened to me too” mentality, and which could happen to any one of us, that equalizes us to sharing in and absorbing their message. You can’t miss the fear in their voices either, the fear that one of them could be next based on what we know about the hereditary factor of the illness. But for now, let us relish in the artwork they have created to bring their souls out into the open, to honor the men who inspired the work, and to pay tribute to the moments which are given ever so briefly to us on this earth.

I have debated upon the best way to make comments so you the viewer/reader can best feel what I did, but my usual method seemed too shallow. Instead, I have my scribbled and crumpled papers in front of me and will merely copy here what I wrote at the time.  A little James Joyce stream of consciousness if you will as that seems most appropriate.

*haunted eyes….”I still see you” (by Marcy A) they look so empty, but are they? Who is to know? 

*Tangled memories vessel “a snarl of dead ends and detours” a collection of photos on sheer paper cut into strips and stuffed into a pouch/bowl of translucent fabric…our brains are like this, soft pouches full of stuff which makes no sense to anyone, cannot be seen and yet fills our every cell with information. Where does it go? When and how does it get there? If we don’t let it out, does it not really exist? Are our inner memories visual and our outer memories text? 

*Marcy’s Tangled Memories canvas…. I see a face, several of them actually in the murky surface. Is this intentional or not? Is it happenstance that someone is “in there” but not everyone can see them? Is a person still in their own mind in a conscious and logical context that is fine for the body that houses it, but those on the “outside” do not know this person? Are they screaming “do you see me? I am here…”

*Marcy’s “My Dad” which is a portrait and “Torment’ which is also a portrait are side by side, the same colors are used, but one is together and realistic and the other is exploded, the same person, a different mind, I can see her frustration in this one….this one is personal. It was cathartic but painful at the same time. Did she cry while painting it? I would have.

*the juxtapositions are amazing. Did they work on these units together or match them up later, finding common ground? “Refuge” by Michele, the lantern and the light used to depict the memory of reading a psalm. Next to it is “There is always room for love” by M.A. The figure has upraised arms, a spiritual gesture. Is the hug for God, for Marcy or something else? Is he holding on, reaching out? Did these two pieces happen organically?

*The infinite loop of post it notes, reminders on little slips of paper, good God we all do that! What does it mean? Yes, I get it, memories are spiraling down and away, lost but for those little slips of paper. Tiny yellow canvases with modern hieroglyphics… 

*So many questions! “When a surviving parent loses the memories of (the) child (and their childhood), who gives the child context?”   Michele refers to Alzheimer’s as the funeral that never ends….how true. I never thought of it that way. The piece entitled “Almost”…a close up of a fence grid that symbolizes the mind able to see beyond but unable to reach, the distance out of focus but aware that it is there. We have all had a moment like that…could it be?

*Sorting of nails from screws to occupy/exercise the mind with a simple and repetitive task that would suit a four year old as well.  Scary. Sad.

And so went my notes and observations. Not even partway down the first wall and I knew I had to own a piece of this show…perhaps to help preserve the memories of M and M beyond their own walls?, to share the burden?, I am not sure, but one of their creations is now mine.

I spoke earlier of associations and shared symptoms/situations. As my own dad has descended into deafness, while reading some of the stories, I realized that they sounded familiar. What seemed intolerable and annoying at the time now has a new context for me for which I thank these brave women for pointing out. Sure as I found a common ground, I believe others will too as they apply these daughters’ memories to their own lives. Both women have siblings to share their burden and offer support….I envy that, but we all have our art to ease our souls and we are all blessed that they allowed us to see into their world through surface, text and imagery, making artwork for us to better understand the loss of the intangible.

Translations Gallery hours are Wed – Sat noon to 5pm. Make this show a must see.

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