Once Removed Plays With Identity, Memory, Jars of Condoms

Alex La Ferla, Staff Writer

Last Friday, Fischer Gallery played host to Once Removed, a show by College seniors Emma Louise Rodriguez and Rose Hermalin that turned out to be yet another solid Senior Studio partnership. On its surface, the show appeared to display the artists’ radically divergent approaches; however, the works actually shared significant underpinnings of history and preservation, providing visitors with two distinct perspectives on the common theme of memory.

Focusing on self-exploration and collective memory, Rodriguez’s work traced her family lineage through a wide array of technically challenging methods. Using photos, letters and history provided by her grandfather as stand-alone pieces as well as source material, Rodriguez created collages, watercolors, pencil drawings, prints and even a family tree dating back to the 17th century. The results were immediately impactful and intuitively digestible, yet nuanced enough to keep the viewer engaged.

The wide range of media was one of the strongest aspects of Rodriguez’s work: Multiple forms of media allowed her to balance and reflect her interactions with the distinct personalities that shaped her own aesthetic. In some of her pieces, however, Rodriguez perhaps interpreted themes of fragmentation and identity too literally. One self-portrait, for instance, was composed of facial features from various photographs of her family members, resulting in a slightly overwhelming amalgamation of images.

Hermalin’s delicate work, on the other hand, proved more difficult to penetrate, requiring a careful study of the artist’s statement in order to gain a comprehensive understanding of her original concept. This overdependence on the text detracted from a comprehensive understanding of her installation, ultimately leaving the audience in search of a cohesive thought or fully developed concept. Nevertheless, when provided with the right context, it was easy to find consistency within Hermalin’s work.

The artist’s statement primarily focused on the connections between the preservation of food and the preservation of memories, objects and ideas. “I preserve and change objects the way I preserve and change food, letting it rest and ferment until it becomes a whole,” Hermalin wrote, putting this concept most prominently on display in a triptych of wooden cupboards. Although the cupboards bore an assortment of items, including food and drink, they mostly comprised of everyday objects used to witty or playful ends. A jar of briny water filled with condoms labeled “sweetheart,” for example, conveyed the idea that objects and memories, much like a jar of pickled or fermented foods, could be kept in altered forms.

The themes of conservation and memory were not as easily identifiable, however, in two pieces entitled “Woman’s Work” and “Clean.” The former work consisted of an embroidered piece of found fabric draped in a corner of the gallery; the latter, a mop made of similar fabric and wood. Taken out of context, these pieces could have been interpreted as rudimentary second-wave feminist critiques; well-worn territory, considering the wealth of this kind of work in the canon — as exemplified by artists Judy Chicago, Audrey Flack and Miriam Schapiro, to name a few. After glimpsing the artist’s statement, however, it seemed that Hermalin was less interested in joining the ranks of these artists and more interested in preserving the messages that have played an essential role in the shaping of her own identity. This subtle yet crucial distinction could, and perhaps should, have been made clearer by the artist through the work itself.

Like many senior shows this semester, Once Removed did not suffer from a lack of compelling themes and strong concepts. Moreover, Rodriguez and Hermalin should be commended for creating a common foundation on which to build their work. However, of the two only Rodriguez was able to fully articulate her perspective on family, identity and the permanence of memory in a convincing and comprehensible manner.