This curatorial statement is part of the Project MARIA online exhibition at VASA
Curatorial Comment: Roberto Muffoletto
Included in this exhibition is an essay by Alison Nordstrom’s offering a rich perspective on “Project Maria” by Lesia Maruschak. Alison creates a context for seeing and understanding the work created in the Maria book and instillation formats. On the VASA platform we can only present the images but not the surface texture or the actual presence of the constructed images.
My purpose here is to bring our attention to the representational nature of the work and to suggest the challenge to any image-maker who addresses a topic that emerges out of memory and horrific experiences. How do you re-present those memories without cutting off opportunities to expand and imagine? The exhibition here by Lesia Maruschak provides us with this opportunity.
Documentary work provides through recorded iconic images (lens and pen) realistic and closed readings. (Image, word and sound are best understood as texts experienced or read as codified constructions.) It is here that Maruschak’s text deviates from presumed objective realism and reportage to abstract emotional and figurative texts. We read the images not as what they are but as they appear; how we “feel” as we look. This requires the reader to drop expectations and be open to feelings and emotions steered by the experience of viewing/reading.
To read images we need a structure, a structure provided out of personal experience (history) and knowledge, and if provided by the author, a context or structure to frame our personal knowledge. All readings are framed. Reading is a reflective process. The patient reader strives to make sense of their interaction with the image/text. It is within this interaction that meaning is constructed.
What is the structure given to us by Maruschak to frame our understanding of Maria? Memories. We are given the manifestations of memories. (Again, I refer the reader to the essay by Alison Nordstrom included in this exhibition.) As we all know memories are subjective and are based on some form of truth. For example, photo albums and living room shelves are organized in particular ways according to the maker and their purpose (a family history) providing a constructed memory. Memories are encased in selective ways and with selected images. The Maria exhibition (as well as the book) re-constructs memories, not in detail or chronological order, but seen as a collective whole, a collective feeling.
This adds an interesting challenge for the author (photographers are authors of their visual text) and the reader (who are also authors of the perceived text). Whether metaphorical or emblematic the author and reader move beyond a representational literal reading to meaning steered by figurative or abstraction.
The challenge to creating a book or a display on a gallery wall is the sequential structure of the images experienced. Considering individual images we experience and in-between the images a meaning. A meaning that is formed through the relationship between the images, the space. We have no choice as we turn the page or walk the wall. (Note, I did not refer to “the” meaning for there is no “the” meaning in an image itself except for what we bring or decode from the experience. Reading sequences adds another challenge to reader-text interaction.)
Maria offers all of us a challenge, moving beyond the iconic. The images in this exhibition do not hold a one-to-one relationship to a person or place. They do function as a pointer of sorts to an impression or emotional marker. The stories concerning the horrors of the 1932-1933 famine in Soviet Ukraine relayed to Maruschak (as she refers to in her statement on Maria) left a life long impression; “These accounts made such an impression on my young mind and I’ve carried them with me throughout my entire life …” (text from Maruschak’s statement). The key to her work is found in the term “impression”. In a manner of speaking all photographs leave impressions. The image process and the resulting image leave a mark on both authors and readers. Some images just seem to stay with us.
To share some common ground between authors (producers and readers) we need to know the context (what I referred to as a box). I mention common ground because without it the images have countless possibilities for interpretation. The rest lies with the reader and the framework given to them. I need to mention that the author (the artist) is the first reader of their text. It has to be meaningful to them within the context of the sequence of images. If they intend to have the reader/author reproduce their intended meaning(s), then the box, the framework, needs to be smaller and tighter, offering fewer interpretive possibilities to the reader.
The framework given to us by Maruschak is found in the statements provided by her and Nordstrom. Through the use of out-of-focus, movement, over-lapping of images, graphics, image manipulation and coloring, Maruschak creates a platform, a structure, to allow for impressions over interpretations, feelings over identification. Combined with the imagined horrors of famine, the life of a young girl – Maria, and the ambiguities offered by the sequenced images and their spaces, the project creates an impression that is more powerful than iconic, ethnographic or reportage. The viewer is invited to feel over rationalize.
© Roberto Muffoletto, 2019