119 N. Peoria #2C, Chicago, IL 60607
Laura Mackin’s practice gently translates the amateur, everyday practices of archiving, and the professional acts of the artist who would frame and present these encounters through explicitly aesthetic approaches. Her “120 Years” exhibition at threewalls captures, frames, and critiques our current flood of armchair curating of found images (Tumblr is the obvious example par excellence) and the compulsive digital archiving of our private lives for public consumption. The work in Mackin’s show consists of found photographs/postcards and home movie footage reconfigured to form endless varied repetitions of images and condensed, overwhelming montage videos.
What distinguishes Mackin’s practice from that of other artists working through these aspects of contemporary visual culture is her commitment to the subjectivity of the individuals whose work she reframes and edits through careful postproduction.
One of the two sources for “120 Years” is a man named Dean whose six decades of home movies Mackin resplices, shortens, and speeds up, creating two overwhelming, headache-inducing montages of a human life, much of them viewed through a moving car. They're difficult to watch, not only because of the sheer speed with which most of Dean's life flies by, but also due to the lack of any narrative stringing the scenes of Americana together. The counterpoint to these frenetic studies is Mackin’s careful organization of over three hundred postcards originally collected by a woman named Mrs. Ernest. Mackin reproduces these on black glossy sheets of paper that are then draped on tables or hung on the gallery walls, like so many drafts of text or plans for a building (the black invokes a sense that creation requires both a void and chaos).
For all Mackin’s care with the purity of these two collections and preserving the work of the people who created them, the resulting bodies of work are stolidly generic and impersonal. Dean and Mrs. Ernest remain completely unknown, despite the intensely personal source material. In the exhibition catalog, Rod Slemmons points out the sadness and the sense of the “fleeting” underlying the show: “Families will emote about how they managed to save the photo album from their burning home. The next generation will give it to the Goodwill.”
The show couldn’t be more timely. As we all have become armchair curators and endless sharers of our personal relics, Mackin suggests careful thinking and self-awareness about the circulation and lives of our images that will surely outlive us. And at a time when the museum world is facing its own questions how available images of art should be online through collections, Mackin has evoked real substantive questions about the ethics of documentation.
-Monica Westin, ArtSlant Staff Writer
(Top image: Laura Mackin. To Hagerman (B's postcards), c. 1910-1968, 314 found postcards, 3.5 x 5.5 inches each. Image courtesy of the artist and threewalls)