Barbara Lee Black sees the potential for beauty in the broken and lifeless. Creating sculptures which incorporate both organic and manufactured materials, Black gives a new meaning to these discarded, forgotten objects. Recorded in perpetuity through her photographs, her sculptures are captured before the organic materials are returned to nature to naturally decay.
For me, the process of collecting and photographing my assemblages is equivalent to a rescue mission: to save from extinction, to reclaim, and to revitalize what other might disregard or reject.
To fully understand and appreciate Black's exhibition on view in the Teer Gallery, one must first travel back to 1989 when Ma'Cille House allowed Black to borrow objects from her collection to use in photographs, which an experience which revealed the value in discard objects to Black.
Who is Ma'Cille House? Lucille Hollingsworth House, best known as Ma'Cille, established Ma'Cille's Museum of Miscellanea in the early 1960s as a free and educational museum for children.
According to Black, "Located in the backwoods of West Alabama, Ma’Cille’s Museum was an eclectic mix of the bizarre, unusual, and every day, organized into a cabinet of curiosity. Consisting of tens of thousands of collected items such as, archeological artifacts, antiques, anthropomorphic taxidermy, dolls, bottles, buildings from the 1800s, junk and endless 'miscellanea'. Ma’Cille’s Museum was more than a cataloging or displaying of objects. It was the quintessential environment where the familiar was made strange. Ma’Cille’s showed me the value in what others might reject or disregard." Now, Black's own collection is filled with objects with to be assembled soley for the purpose of photograph.
The items in Black's collection are sometimes saved in storage or consciously placed outside in the weather to deteriorate among the elements. Her collection consists of items she "selectively salvaged from our modern world of mass consumption." In addition to modern objects, "tokens of the age of mechanical reproduction such as valentine boxes, dolls, or globes are altered and transformed through disuse, abuse and neglect." These objects, no longer utilitarian or collectible to most, reveal what Black calls "hidden promise" in their aesthetic value. Now used in Black's still lifes, these objects become cherished in her photographs once more.
Still life may conjure images of vases bursting with flowers or fruit neatly arranged on a table, but for Black, the still life is much for than what "signifies that which is familiar, tame, domestic, and agreeable." She explores the "terrain outside the pleasant simplicity of modern society" in her art practice.
I am in search of that which lays hidden underneath the structure of the homely, aspects that embody the “uncanny.”
Black explains, "In my photographic assemblages, I am exploring an aesthetic experience around the quality of feelings produced by this cognitive discord. These are feelings Sigmund Freud associates with “the uncanny” (unheimlich), referring to the familiar that has become strange. The seventeenth century Dutch and Flemish vanitas still life paintings resonate with my own concepts of the “transience of life,” and how the still life can act as a form of symbolic visual communication and storytelling. As I embraced the modernist and postmodernist questioning of beauty and ugliness, my art practice has taken shape."
A notable aspect of Black's work is that she works using film. In a world where everyone has a camera in their hand that can upload at a moment's notice, the use of film has become mysterious to the average person. For Black, she finds there is a "quality of light and color that is beautifully captured using film"
A technical explanation of her process is as follows: "Using available sunlight, I record my assemblages onto Fujichrome transparency film with a 4˝x5˝ camera. Using a Heidelberg Tango drum scanner, the transparency is then scanned into a digital file. The original transparency is used to match the digital file which is then printed using a laser onto a chromogenic archival print material. A chromogenic photograph consists of color dyes in a gelatin coated onto a polyester base. During the development, the silver halide is bleached out, leaving only the dye image."
For those who have been unable to experience Uncanny Kinships in person, Black consciously chose to print her images in large sizes--the majority of the pieces on exhibit are 39" tall--to "allow the viewer visual access into the interiority of the small works that I [Black] photograph."
In my images, the assemblages are more than a document of trace of an authentic memory, event or object: they become a form of storytelling. The viewer who is willing to explore the various associations within my photographs is led into the labyrinth of the unconscious mind, which is the source of dreams, myths, and fairytales.
For those who are concerned, the birds featured in Uncanny Kinships were found dead, either by the roadside, under large windows, or brought home by one of the artist's many cats.
(Click image to enlarge)
Uncanny Kinships will on view in Kentuck's Teer Gallery until November 23, 2020 in the Georgine Clarke building. We encourage you to visit to see this work in person!
We are currently open limited hours--Monday-Friday, 10-12, 1-4 and Saturday-Sunday, 12-4. Facial coverings required.