In the Studio: For Season of Changes, Ponnapa Prakkamakul Turns a New Leaf

This November, the captivating gradients of Ponnapa Prakkamakul grace the walls of the Kingston Gallery for Season of Changes—an apt welcome to colder temperatures. Just as winter begins to rear its ugly head, Prakkamakul presents a series of fresh, vibrant paintings that she crafted in a recent residency at Mount Auburn Cemetery. 

As a painter, a landscape architect, and a Buddhist, Prakkamakul is most inspired by the concept of  interconnection: what binds us humans to our surrounding environment, and to each other.

In her practice, she immerses herself in the landscape, collecting brush, leaves, sand—whatever delights her. Her mediums vary depending on the climate. In hot settings, Prakkamakul makes rust prints, in which she places a piece of metal on paper with some water and leaves it there. Rust forms according to the level of moisture (and how fast it dries) and pH level, creating different types of marks and colors. Because her methods are so dependent on the setting, she specifically looks for artist residencies in unique and extreme landscapes––recent highlights include Provincetown and the Atacama Desert. Prakkamakul was attracted to Mount Auburn since it is the first cemetery in America that was also designed for recreational use. 

But at Mount Auburn, her process of found object art-making was more ethically ambiguous. In Thailand, Prakkamakul says, cemeteries and Buddhist temples are often next to each other, and “people believe that you can’t take things from the temple [or cemetery] home because…it’s like stealing.” So Prakkamakul was hesitant to collect objects there. 

But seeing Americans walk over the graves made her feel less hesitant. Still, she says, “sometimes I would ask [the landscape for permission]…can I take some of the soil here?”

Most of Prakkamakul’s residencies have been three weeks long, which is a very fast-paced life. “You get used to the space,” she says, “then you work for a week, and then you leave.” With her recent residencies, though, Prakkamakul has more time to immerse herself in the landscape, and the art is better for it. 

Prakkamakul has always been interested in exploring change in her work. Throughout the year at Mount Auburn, she was able to experience the space in all four seasons. She collected soil, plants, pond water, and snow in the winter, painting in situ and observing the changes in the sky, the leaves on the trees. Because of the site’s topography, the tall hills and low areas created a bowl effect. Though New England sunsets are well known for their splendor, Prakkamakul was particularly moved by winter there: “the landscape had a totally different feeling where the skies opened up, with the foliage not there, and there was one time I was in the low area….it felt like there was a glowing orange light in that bowl.” With the living and the dead in the same space, the cemetery was a profound site for Prakkamakul to explore her interest in life cycles and impermanence. In Season of Change, one beautiful gradient fades into the next, somber and joyful at once.

Behind Prakkamakul’s process is a deep appreciation for Theravada Buddhist philosophy. Of particular interest to her is reincarnation: “Sometimes people think reincarnation means you literally die and are born again,” she says. “But there’s another belief in a micro-reincarnation… philosopher says that a man cannot step into the same river twice, because the river is moving all the time. So it’s similar with our body….you are this person in this second,” she says, but another person in the next. 

And so the seasons of Prakkamakul’s career continue on as well. Even as she prepares for her Kingston exhibition, she is already diving into new work. She just started a new residency at Umbrella Arts Center in Concord, Massachusetts, and she is excited to connect with and explore the new community there. 

For the residency’s public engagement component, Prakkamakul is just starting to explore forming new relationships with the town’s organizations, including potentially Concord Academy, the Concord prison, Concord Museum, Robbins House, and the local DEI committee. In her bright, open studio, she maps out the community of Concord, looking for sites to explore and publics to connect to. Though she just started the residency in September, Prakkamakul feels that her direction has shifted from a focus on the landscape to the people’s relationship with the landscape. 

In Prakkamakul’s practice, she has felt a tension between her public art and the isolation of her landscape painting. In a recent workshop for her Now + There public art grant, though, Prakkamakul found connections between these two practices that she hadn’t seen before. In response to a question about why public art was important to her, Prakkamakul had a revelation that the two were both influenced by her spirituality: “I believe that everyone is connected, similar to these cycles of life [from Buddhism]…So everyone basically has a story that ties us together. One word in Thai, Mudita มุทิตา.…means ‘I feel happy when I see you happy.’ So it’s the happiness that can ripple off. So that’s the reason why I do public art, to give joy to people. And when I see people happy, I feel happy too.” 

Season of Changes is on view until November 27th.

Endpoint Collective Blends Science, Research, and Art this October

Left shows Deerman’s work. Right shows Roth, Mark. Aurora. 

In a profound and refreshing turn, the members of the Endpoint Collective present an array of multilayered art experiences in What Remains Unexplained 2.0. After over five group exhibitions, this latest one showcases the Collective’s interest in process and scientific research. The exhibition flows from one artist’s work to the next, themes of climate grief and the post-human building to a tragic yet hopeful crescendo. 

Members of the collective pride themselves on a willingness to marry the scientific and the artistic, uniting the artists in their distinct research processes. It is a sensibility reminiscent of Renaissance mores, and one which bleeds into these artists’ intuitive and meandering practices. For Mark Roth, this comes from a sense that both science and art are both “process based investigations…I like that science tests itself,” he said. For him, “the painting becomes the experiment.” 

Gabriel Deerman’s process is much more cynical of scientific progress. Inspired by modernist painters in the period during and immediately after World War I, Deerman is interested in how the steam engine collapsed time and space in industrialized society. Deerman’s research, then, relies less on scientific knowledge and more on a process of free association, of “letting connections emerge and following them.” For Lightbox, this research consisted of cleaning out the previous art teacher’s closet in his new classroom at Bella Bella Community School in the Heiltsuk Nation in Canada. The closet was packed full of old books and magazines, and there were a set of teaching resources from the 1950s which were “so backwards and antiquated and blatantly racist. It was an interesting thing to find in a closet in an indigenous school.” By exploring these artifacts through painting, Deerman lets the landscape settle into his mind in a meditative way, slowly making sense of its (at times harmful) emotional reality. 

Deerman, Gabriel. Lightbox.

Carruthers’ practice moves between photography, painting, science, and sound with a fluency and fluidity that is astonishing. She does significant archival work, including a recent trip to McGill University’s Osler Library of the History of Medicine to gaze at German Renaissance painter Albrecht Durer’s geometric and anatomical forms. Photographs form the backbone of her research practice as well as the skeleton of her base images. After documenting her subjects and settling upon their most mesmerizing qualities, Carruthers draws and paints them, even adding sound via what she calls “graphics scores,” a multidisciplinary practice that is a little like “beating a topic to death…in a good way.” Rather than beat the topic to death, though, this practice brings her images to life. 


Similarly, Margaret Hart builds her pieces in Photoshop, informed by science fiction and posthuman studies, and prints the images out to physically cut and collage them, moving fluently between the digital and the physical. Her methods are as hybrid and chimeric as the subjects of her work. This dedication to multi-layering––in practice and in form––belies a scientific and poetic dedication to picking things apart, putting them back together, putting them up to the light and recombining for new and speculative assemblages. 

Hart, Margaret. Chimera 2. 2022.

In What Remains Unexplained 2.0, artists are actively pondering what it means, intellectually and emotionally, to live in a world increasingly marked by anthropocentric decay. From glaciers to plants to chimeric forms, each piece has a meditative, agentive sense of place within it. This blending of the human and the nonhuman is at its core a kind, hopeful and curious gesture.

With this kind and curious gesture, the Collective makes a gentle push to address the strange experience of living in this moment: the sense of cognitive dissonance, of pushing on and continuing a sense of ‘normal,’ even while everything is falling apart. Rather than lose hope, these artists present a persistent sense of curiosity––a continual need to understand, explore, and explain.

In Conversation: Meagan Hepp and Claire Ogden

In the following interview, outgoing Emerging Artist Meagan Hepp discusses the conclusion of their residency and what they learned in the process.

Image by Meagan Hepp.

Claire Ogden: How are you feeling now, as your Emerging Artist residency comes to an end?

Meagan Hepp: In short, I’m having mixed emotions! I am really proud of the body of work I was able to produce, but in a lot of ways, I feel like I just got started and now it’s over. Bittersweet is truly the best word to describe the feelings I have. I am excited for what is to come in the future, but I will miss everyone at Kingston! I truly came to enjoy the monthly meetings and the amazing community they have. I am so grateful for how welcoming and supportive they all have been.

CO: What were your intentions when you first went into your Kingston residency? 

MH: When I first went into the residency, I didn’t have an exact plan of what I wanted. I was very focused and excited on experiencing the community and getting involved with the “back end” of the gallery. 

I knew that I wanted to use this platform as a way to create a larger body of work around the Companions series that I had already started making, but it wasn’t until about a month in that the idea for the playground emerged. I had a couple of ideas on how to tie them together, but at the time, I wasn’t sure what that would look like. I just kept building what I felt inspired to build in the moment, and then the ideas came. 

I was also very concentrated on enjoying the process for the year. Knowing that this opportunity would eventually come to an end, I wanted to make sure I was able to experience everything I could and also get involved in the Kingston Community in many ways.  

CO: In the past year that you’ve been working on this show, what differences have you noticed in your work? 

There was something about this residency that allowed me to feel very free. When I was working, I sort of ‘got rid’ of the definition of what sculpture has to be and how it is shown. I was willing to let the work tell me what it wanted to be. And after I decided I wanted to make the playground, it became about the balance of complete abstraction, while also having the work be somewhat referential to kids on a playground. 

I normally have a couple of works developing at the same time. I bop in between each- that part didn’t change- I think the quantity of how many I had going at once was something I had to get used to. Knowing I had to create a fairly large portfolio by the end of the year, I had about 6 pieces going at the same time, which is a bit more than the 2 or 3 I have normally. That being said, even though each piece does have a personality of its own, I knew they had to relate back to the same goal. So I would allow each piece to grow at its own pace, but I had to constantly check back in to make sure they were relating to the others, which I don’t always have to do if the piece is meant to be on its own. 

CO: When you first started planning Play Date: Companions Club, what were some of your intentions for the space/exhibition? 

MH: I really wanted the space to feel different than a traditional exhibition. I wanted visitors to be excited to explore and walk around and find things along the way. So when I was working, I knew that some of the work would have to be housed in non-traditional locations, like the bird on the top of the swingset, or the chair piece in-front of the electrical box, or the rocks on the floor. They are sort of normal to the outside world, but for the gallery setting, if it isn’t the normal, 60”- on-center, it’s different. 

I was hoping the viewer would feel like they were in an iSpy book, finding new things every time they looked somewhere else. I also wanted it to feel like kids on a playground at recess or after school. Usually there is a lot happening, kids are running around and have a lot of energy, so by placing work all around the space,  that felt like a creative solution for how I could make my sculptures and the space feel energetic. 

CO: What mentoring/other relationships have you nurtured through your residency with Kingston? 

MH: Community is so important. I feel so fortunate to have been surrounded by these incredible artists for a year. I have a free-lance installation business and do install for some members at Kingston. In the past, I have sort of been the sounding board when it comes to hanging and layout, but now, with me being on the other side, I was able to get that from the members. They were all so generous to share resources and information with me. I feel so blessed and am forever grateful.

I also could not have done this without my friend and colleague Audrey Goldstein. She was my thesis advisor in undergrad and really understands my work and where I am coming from. So I know I can always count on her to help me shake up my ideas and make them more dynamic and visually exciting, while still relating to my goal. There are also a handful other folks who have been my rock throughout this process.

CO: Did you collaborate/talk with Ilona at all leading up to the exhibition? What did that look like? 

MH: We talked a lot! My relationship with Ilona is one that has many different hats. She was my professor when I was a freshman in Undergrad, a long time ago, and since then, I have become her co-worker at Suffolk and I have been her preparator for about 6 years. But, this was the first time that we’ve been able to collaborate in this way and honestly, I had so much fun. We would constantly send each other images of what we were working on and talk about how the work was developing. Eventually, I gave her some documentation of my work that would be in my show, and she was able to use that in her animations. When we were installing, we ended up hanging the mutual work, on the opposite sides of the same wall. I think having this relationship prior to this exhibit allowed the work to really talk to each other, in some intentional ways and some unintentional ways. 

CO: I’m fascinated by the miniature galleries / exhibition dioramas you showed on your Instagram story recently. Could you explain a bit more how they fit into your practice? What do these miniatures do for you, and how do you use them? 

MH: Yes! Honestly, I am also fascinated by them 😂. It’s like ‘playing dolls’ with my own work. The miniature version of Kingston did start as a way to plan out the show. I am a very visual person and I had been drawing many different angles of the gallery, but it wasn’t enough. I am a very tactile person and I realized in about April that my background in public art could help me.  For the public art I have made and the pieces I have worked on with Harries-Heder (Mags Harries and Lajos Heder, a local public art team), we have always made a model to scale. That’s when I realized, I would need to make a model to really think through the larger work in the space.

If everything was small and around the same scale, I probably could have just played when I got into the gallery, but for this show because I had the larger swing set, slide and see-saw, I really needed to have an idea of what that would look like and to make sure it would all fit. I rearranged the gallery so many times. I tried to think through every solution and then I would “walk through” my document camera, that I used to teach drawing during the pandemic, to see what it would look like if I was that scale. It really helped me see through the major hanging issues before I had to actually worry about them and come up with solutions for install day. 

CO: How has your home studio (and its setup, location, etc.) affected your practice?

MH: I have had to get very creative to say the least. I live and work in a space that is essentially the same size as the middle gallery. I also have furniture that I live my life with, which makes it feel even smaller. I couldn’t set up the show beforehand so that’s sort of where the tiny gallery came from so that I could see what it would look like.  I also had to think through storage issues. Every piece actually comes apart into smaller pieces so they can fit in my storage unit in a more efficient way. I am now realizing this is actually a blessing in disguise because I was able to build the work in an intelligent way for shipping and storage. I know it will save me in the future. As an art handler myself, I also sort of “nerd out” when it comes to packing, shipping and storing of artwork. 

The small space has also allowed me to see the smaller work in many different ways. I usually have a bunch of the work displayed around my home as I am building, but I have to get creative about where I put them. For example, I might need to house a sculpture on a shelf one day, and then move it to be hanging from my curtain rod the next, so this helps me to see the sculptures in different ways, allowing me to get more creative about how I display them. There are no right answers, just different solutions and this is actually a blessing because it helps me from getting to set on one solution. 

CO: What’s next for your practice? any exciting upcoming events, exhibitions, etc.? any new directions for your work you’d like to share?

I found that working on this larger idea for a year made me miss working on public art. I have been working on a couple of proposals for different public work, so we will see where that leads! I am also working on something that is loosely related to public art that is inspired by the pet rocks. I am hoping to share some images of this before the weather gets too cold, but it is still too early to share! 

Kingston Associates Converge in “Drawn Together” 

This month, Associate Artists unite their diverse work in an engaging exploration of what brings them––and the rest of the world––together.

Lincoln, Jane. Quarantine Diary.

It’s August, and just like Boston’s endless heat waves, the energy and questions in this month’s exhibition are potent. On view until August 28, “Drawn Together” unites nine artists in a meeting of minds and a variety of mediums and practices. This exhibit is the culmination of a year-long curatorial process, where artists met and discussed how they might pair their work together. Similar to this collaboration, the show itself is a rumination on what connects all beings on earth.  

Evers, Madge. Both Sides Now, 2021.

The exhibition title is open, and that’s intentional––that openness has created endless possibilities for artistic interpretation. For Madge Evers, she took the title as an invitation to embrace and share her passion for cyanotype and mushroom spores. As a naturalist and an artist, she is literally “drawn to plants and fungi and their ability to adapt and change.” For her, the show was an opportunity to create something different than her usual work. Evers is showing Both Sides Now and A Roar, two scientifically minded pieces that depict opportunistic plants using mushroom spores, the cyanotype process, and pastel.

Poza, Brett. Portrait of my aunt #3. 2022.

Brett Poza’s works set a similarly scientific tone for the Main Gallery. Through her use of both diagnostic imagery and pyrography, Poza uses the site of the body to explore the universal––what makes us alive, and what connects us as living beings. Anne Sargent Walker, meanwhile, plays with birch bark and paint to share ominous vignettes of life, love, and the ruins of both. 

Walker, Anne Sargent. The Sky is Falling.

Many other works on display veer into the abstract, their marks and gestures serving to draw together themes not immediately obvious to the viewer. For Jane Lincoln, who is currently presenting her Quarantine Diary series, she felt compelled to ruminate on current events while not forcing her opinion: “I try not to be too specific in my point of view,” she said. In the Main Gallery, Lincoln’s bright, strictly structured compositions share space with Rachel Thern’s curved charcoal marks. Intentional, visible mark-making and a dedicated attention to form are significant themes of this show, and Thern’s work is in good company with the charcoal drawings of Brian Littlefield and the curvilinear acrylic shapes of Diane Novetsky’s Pipe Dreams and (In Just) Spring. 

Novetsky, Diane. 2022.

Whether veterans of the associate membership or completely new to it, artists present a lively take on the theme. For Thern, the theme presented an opportunity to display a series of two drawn works. A combination of erased and visible mark-making gives the drawings a strong quality of movement, as though they are fading in and out of existence, and our awareness. 

Thern, Rachel. Four Chambers. 2022.

In the Center Gallery, artists boldly challenge our current social reality. In If You Don’t See Race, Then I Must Be Invisible, R. Galvan eschews the ‘drawn’ label altogether, covering their materials with white out and stripping down to the barest essentials––refusing the half-hearted, insincere attempts at universality that color blindness often gestures at. For Yildiz Grodowski, the theme presented an opportunity to sit with the reality of post-Roe America. “Somewhere along the way [The Future, The Present, The Passé] took her own direction [and] I had no Choice but to follow with great interest and determination. In light of what’s currently happening in our country and in honor of the freedoms we lost I could’ve easily named my painting Choice! But it encompasses a lot more than that. Multiple generations, the young, the adult, the older and wise… they’re not going to give up but capture back their rights one day in spite of The Passé, both in body and more importantly in mind.” Grodowski’s works combine collage with acrylic painting; the shapes she conjures hover between figurative and abstract beings, the collaged elements gradually making themselves known. 

R. Galvan. If You Don’t See Race, Then I Must Be Invisible. 2022.

It is a collection of work as wide-ranging and varied as the artists themselves. Though wide-ranging, “Drawn Together” is a testament to the breadth of work and diversity of practices that the gallery enables. 

“I am impressed with the kindness, thoughtfulness, and dedication of each member I have communicated with,” said Madge Evers of their fellow associates. Similarly, Jane Lincoln added that the small membership of the Associate Program allows for a strong sense of camaraderie: “as a group of ten,” Lincoln said, “we get to better know one another and our art.”

Godrowski, Yildiz. And Then They Were Three. 2021.

Brett Poza sees the “Drawn Together” theme as politically meaningful: “In these times which are so fractious,” she said, “a cooperative of artists takes on more significance.

“We have to pull together to get things done, get along and keep working too. We are all challenged more as individuals and thus as a collective.”  

“Untitled Afternoon” Blends Art and Life

In his latest show, Nat Martin breaks away from photography and into a new, experimental phase of sculpture.

Nat Martin, Dollhouse Table, 2012.

At the Kingston Gallery this month, Nat Martin’s show “Untitled Afternoon” marks a turning point in Martin’s practice––blending life and art, studio and home, into a dynamic and magical experience. The show explores the possibilities of what can be made outside of a studio practice, or the “blurring of life and art making,” as Martin lovingly calls it. Composed of a wide variety of materials, the sculptures were all fashioned in Martin’s own home in company and collaboration with his family. According to Martin, the works are all the result of “just deciding to let daily life step in.” 

For all his talk of play, Martin’s sculptures are sophisticated and compelling. The small, intricate works alternate materials and media, tone and sensibility––each one is a delight. It’s like an exhibition of historical ephemera; as Martin says, “I want each to look like a relic from a specific time.” Each piece sits in its own little world, defined by its own unique sense of logic. A tower of melted candles sits side-by-side with paint crumpled on paper. Chocolate melts all the way down a miniature swan. A few pieces over, the scanned face of a dying Greek soldier is playfully stuffed into a small cardboard box––according to Martin, once he put the object in, he “immediately knew that [it] was going to stay there.” In “To Do Lists” (2021), Martin even gives us a peek into his process, showing stacks of old papers along with sketches for sculptures to be made. A sense of wonder and joyful, spontaneous abandon runs throughout the show. 

There is a dedication to material and physicality that is surprising for a photographer. As Martin said, “I had been making objects and constructed landscapes in order to photograph them, but I had also been putting more and more eclectic 3d objects into my shows and they were often my favorite parts.” He followed his instincts and soon, he was making a show with no photography.

“I have been working with photography for a long time,” Martin said, “but my favorite artists have always been sculptors.” He remembers seeing black and white images of Richard Tuttle and Anne Truitt sculptures in high school, in one of the few books on art he could find in the school library. For Martin, “Those two little images were mindblowing and reframed my thinking about art.” Ever since, he’s been enchanted by art that has an “overt sense of play,” from Marcel Duchamp to 60’s Post Minimalism, and Fluxus artists to the Italian Arte Povera movement.  

Richard Tuttle, Compartmentalization, 2008, acrylic paint, acrylic yarn, aluminum metallic tape, archival mat board, balsa wood, bass wood, birch plywood, canvas, cardboard, glue, graphite, metal, metal wire, mohair, nails, oil paint, oil pastel, paper, papier-mâché, pine wood, plastic, sawdust, silicon, staples, steel wool, straight pins, styrofoam, thread, twigs, velvet, wire mesh, 1′ 9-1/2″ x 8′ 4-1/2″ x 6-1/4″ (54.6 cm x 255.3 cm x 15.9 cm), overall installed from 14″ x 13″ x 1″ (35.6 cm x 33 cm x 2.5 cm) to 19″ x 19″ x 6-1/4″ (48.3 cm x 48.3 cm x 15.9 cm), 6 elements, each © Richard Tuttle.
Anne Truitt: Perception and Reflection. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution

A highlight of the show is its irreverent use of space. Martin takes the plain walls of the white cube and repurposes them to creative ends, like how a child might refashion a doll house to suit their own idiosyncratic desires. A bird house nestles itself near the ceiling of the gallery. In a small alcove near the electrical box, he has placed a small set of pieces, including the only actual photograph in the show, a spontaneous snap of Martin with his children––almost like an altar to his family life. According to Martin, “It seemed fun to include the soft birdhouse- a visual surprise.  The electrical box is too hard to resist.” Including an image of his children was important––after all, “so much of this [show] was about and inspired by their creativity.”  

Nat Martin, “Mirror.” 2021.

Even after installing the show, Martin is still itching to play with and add to this imaginative world: “In retrospect,” he said, “I wish I had hung a birdhouse from the Kingston sign outside…Maybe I’ll still do that.” The result of this playful practice is that the exhibit feels complete but still open, always inviting new objects and iterations.

“Untitled Afternoon” is on view at the Kingston Gallery until July 31.

In Conversation: Mary Lang and Vaughn Sills on Farandnear

Climate change is hard to wrap one’s head around as an individual, since it affects both our future and our present day. How might we use the arts to cope? 

In the Main Gallery this month, Mary Lang’s show Farandnear presents a potent combination of grief and love. It’s both a stunning method of coping with the growing losses of climate change and a testament to how much beauty still surrounds us. Lang sees the “far and near” threat of climate catastrophe illustrated in physical places. It’s in her natural surroundings, both domesticated and wild. 

As the Emerging Arts Writer, I sat down for an interview with Lang and one of her Kingston peers, Vaughn Sills. Sills is a photographer whose work pairs well with Lang’s. Both artists explore how we are influenced by the land and how we influence it.

In the interview that follows, Sills and Lang explore everything from their personal philosophies of photography, to the nuts and bolts of how they frame a shot. 

Claire Ogden: ​​How do you decide what’s in the frame and what’s out of the frame? And how would you define your photographic eye?

Mary Lang: I think when you’ve been taking pictures for as long as I have, you kind of know what a picture looks like. You recognize something, and then it’s just a matter of putting a frame around it. 

And then I would say, with this recent body of work, the things I’m looking at or the way I’m looking at them, are a little bit different than the way I was looking at things before. Before, there was much more space and a kind of loneliness or groundlessness or emptiness. 

These pictures are much more crowded and textured and complex, which I actually think is just the result of getting better at describing that kind of thing. Because I’ve occasionally taken pictures like that, over the years, but they never felt good enough. Even the work-in-progress that I showed Vaughn a year ago, I got better at seeing what I was looking at since then.

Amory Park, Brookline, September, 2021.

Vaughn Sills: I was thinking about how you frame a picture, Mary, and that to me, that’s one of the key things that a photographer does: the choices that they make. And this set of images feels very casual in the framing, right? it’s like, oh, you included this amount of the dahlias or this amount of the little blue clover, and the houses. 

When I frame a picture I think I’m actually sometimes too orderly and too tidy in my framing. So when I look at your pictures, that is one of the things I notice and like about it.

I mean the other thing we do, besides [moving the camera right and left] is we…step forward, or we step backwards or we zoom, if you use a zoom lens. But how much to include seems to me a major decision.

ML: That’s so interesting, because I so seldom step forward, and I seldom step backwards.  You know, I just have had the 35 millimeter lens since I was 23. And that’s what I see.

VS: That’s where you are so that’s what you see.

ML: Right. So I don’t usually step forward or step backwards.

VS: I tend to see a scene, and walk into the field to get a lot closer to the thing. Because there’ll be too much around it, and I love what’s around it, but I decided there’s too much of it. So to figure out what to include, what not.

ML: Yeah. I mean you’re so good at figuring out where the edges [are, and] with creating this space that is so resonant and has the right amount of detail and the right amount of space, so I just assumed that that’s what you saw. 

VS: Thanks. I had a teacher once who said something that made a huge impression on me, which is: What a photographer does, it’s so different from what a painter does. We edit the world, we select and we edit. We (mostly) don’t decide, ‘oh I’ll put in a chair and a vase of flowers and have so and so sit there to do their portrait.’

Especially the kind of photography you’re doing, it’s about seeing the world and editing and selecting and choosing what to put in that picture.

ML: I would say that particularly with this body of work, the framing––because so much of what it is, is just kind of random––you know that the framing makes you say “Okay, she wanted me to notice something here.” So then, you just notice.

CO: How did you decide to pair these photographs with each other? What sort of decision making process went into that for you?

ML: Well, all along I was pretty sure that the one of the storm approaching, with the prayer flags flapping, I knew that one was going on that wall all by itself, because it just needed a wall all by itself.

VS: I liked that each piece had enough space around it. And I found myself walking back and forth across the room to look at one, and then another and then another. 

I thought it was really beautifully installed in that way, and I love the size of the images which I think is a factor in that space. The pictures felt bigger to me. Maybe it’s because they’re more close-up, and they are sort of exploding out of the frame. 

You know, you feel those flowers moving, going on beyond the frame, you feel the trees in front of the house going on beyond the edges of the picture, so maybe it’s something like that. I don’t know, but it’s very interesting.

CO: Can you say a little bit more about your new way of seeing things for this show? And where it might take you for your next body of work?

ML: You know when you have a show it’s like having a child, and you need to wait before you have another one. [laughs]

But I have been thinking a lot about this body of work, which is more complex. And this idea of looking through a veil or something close and something far is not the way I have organized space in my photographs in the past. 

Being interested in that way of seeing things and then taking more pictures like that actually sharpens your vision. I mean you know, for every picture that’s on the wall there’s probably 25 that aren’t. 

And then I think that I was really interested in this idea of things being veiled. It wasn’t until I showed work to another friend who is a gallery person who came up with the idea of farandnear. She said. “that’s the title”. 

CO: What were some of those ways that the “farandnear” title informed what went in and what stayed out from this body of work?

ML: Well, there was something about wanting things to not just be beautiful. 

As an example, farandnear was one of the first Trustees properties we went to right around this time last year. And then we went back in December or January right before there was snow on the ground.

And I took a bunch of really beautiful fall-color pictures of that beaver swamp, and then I took the one that’s in the Center Gallery of the tangle of tree branches. 

And the beautiful fall monochrome swamp just did not make the cut. 

My daughter is a journalist and there’s a saying in journalism that you have to kill your darlings. Like there’s things that you love, but they just don’t make it into the body of work. 

VS: Can you tell me more about grief and love and how you see that in the images? 

ML: I love the world, you know? As you do. It’s so beautiful. And at the same time, particularly things that are subject to climate change, I mean, the whole earth, we’re losing it. And I’ll be dead before the worst of it, but my children and my grandson will not be. And there’s so much grief in that. 

I think that being able to feel that and not turn away from it.

Even if you don’t wallow in it, it’s not there every time you sit down at the dinner table and make a little toast to grief, but you know it’s there. It’s there in the background, and I think it makes us more awake and aware and sensitive, so that when we’re wandering the earth we just feel more. 

And, it makes us take better pictures.

VS: So that may help answer my other question about how Buddhism influences you. And it seems to me that part of Buddhism is about being in the moment, right now, being really able to be in the present… but I’m wondering about your   grief about the earth. What’s happening to the earth, and what will happen is more about the future in a sense, right?

ML: Not all in the future. That’s what I say [in my artist statement]…I’ve lived in the same house for 38 1/2 years. I’ve never lived anywhere that long. 

Thirty years ago, the Charles River near my house reliably froze-–we have a little cove––it froze on December 20 and stayed frozen until February vacation, and you could go with the kids and skate there. Now, it is frozen for maybe four days of winter. So that’s right now. 

You can’t grow lupins in Massachusetts anymore, the winters aren’t cold enough, and they don’t come back. And so I see it in plants in the garden, too. 

It’s happening right now. It’s not happening in the future.

VS: And in your photographs, you feel it, you see it. 

ML: And photographs, they are about now. I mean photography is always about this moment, this 1/60th of a second of a moment. But it feels like the background is the grief, that it will not be this way.

VS: Yes, and I think a photograph as well as it’s a moment of now, it’s also about the past right? Because the moment after you take it, it’s gone.

CO: And in that way, I guess, they could potentially serve as an archive. Have you thought about your work as an archive? 

ML: Well, not really, no. I mean, I always think of archive stuff to be more dispassionate and scientific. But I don’t think of them as documents as much as descriptions.

VS: I don’t think they’re just descriptions. I think they’re more like a poem about a place. 

And I also want to say that, even though I know this far and near comes from a place and I know from your statement that it’s because it was far from where the person lived but also near enough, that they could get there. But I kept seeing far and near in the pictures. 

You had both far and near in the pictures and you brought these together into one perception.

And one of the things about photography is we have something frozen in time, and so we see this one thing. But also within that frame, we can create juxtapositions so that people can see more than one thing at a time. And so you’re juxtaposing the far and the near and I just love that you made it into one word. 

You made that thing a place that is both far and near in our experience.

ML: I feel very fortunate that the name came to stand for so many things in this body of work.

CO: It sounds like that name came sort of late in the process. How did you conceptualize and shape the concept for this body of work? 

ML: I had the visual organization [all along]. And I also had the idea that I wanted these beautiful, pristine landscapes from the Trustees (and there were many others that didn’t make the cut). So these were sort of beautiful landscapes that most people think ‘Oh, the landscape photographer.’

And then there were those woods in Waltham and the sort of little nothing places around the Charles River, and an abandoned nursery with the Queen Anne’s Lace.

And then my garden, I just sort of gave myself permission to put in some beautiful pictures of my garden.

Because I love my garden, although I am in mortal combat with a woodchuck right now, which happens just about every year. [laughs]

VS: I wondered if there are other photographers, any artists whose work you see as connected to what you’re doing now, this far and near concept.

ML: I see other artists whose work is about close observation of the landscape. Barbara Bosworth posts on Instagram every morning what the sky looks like, or a sunrise and then occasionally other little somewhat random, disorganized landscapes. 

Screenshot, @barbarabosworthstudio. Instagram.

A completely different scale is someone like Laura McPhee who just looks at the land and landscape, and looks at it long enough to understand…not exactly what it’s trying to say, but what is important. 

VS: I was thinking how different this work is than, say, Ansel Adams or the classic landscape, which is more at a distance and sort of formal and elegant and not as close. 

And the people you just named are all women…and it’s not totally true, but it’s one of the things in my work. But women are often gardeners. And there’s a willingness to look at the detail and the complexity and the messiness.

ML: And the intimacy. 

VS: The intimacy, exactly. That’s intriguing. And it may be even more contemporary too, that willingness to see the messiness. That kind of going through the woods, not that distant aloof kind of feel.

ML: I also love Robert Adams, a black and white photographer who managed to take pictures of ordinary nothing that you can’t take your eyes off of.

Robert Adams, Arriba, Colorado. 1966.

CO: Just one more question for you, Mary. How do you structure your photographic practice? Because I know you have certain parameters that you’ve stuck to for a long time, like you’re using the same frames and the same camera. How do you balance newness and those parameters that you stick to? 

ML: Well there’s definitely pictures I don’t take any more. You know, if I’m at the ocean and it’s a gorgeous sunset and the waves are coming in, I’ll take the picture, but I’m not going to show it. Been there, done that.

There’s a new place I’ve been wanting to photograph for about three years, which is the inside of the clover exit ramp from 128 to route nine going east. There’s just something about these wild, random yet beautiful [places]. 

And it may turn out to be nothing. But now I’ve talked about it out loud to more than one person, so I’m going to have to do it. 

Now that I’ve got the show up, the garden is in, the woodchuck is going to come or go. [laughs] Now I can go look at that exit ramp. 

Farandnear is on view now until June 26, 2022.

In the Studio: Elif Soyer

In the first installment of our “In the Studio” series, emerging writer Claire Ogden takes a tour of Elif Soyer’s studio and work. 

Elif Soyer’s studio practice shows a fine balance between art, life, and work, and the ways each can inform the other. Soyer’s studio is in a small garage right across from her Somerville home, sitting in its own world just steps away from her house. Soyer shifts in and out of her art practice, which is fitting given the simultaneous proximity and separation of her studio and home.  

Elif Soyer in her studio. Image courtesy of Claire Ogden.

Time away from art-making has been key to Soyer’s creative practice, ever since her MFA at Tufts. As with many artists she needed and wanted a day job to support her artistic endeavors.

In the beginning of the program, Soyer felt frustrated by the lack of clarity in exhibition selection, so she confronted the exhibitions staff about it. Soyer wanted to sit in on the jury selection, but the head of exhibitions wouldn’t allow it. Finally, they came to an agreement: “you want a job?” the exhibition manager said. “If you’re working, then you’ll see the process.” 

Soyer accepted the position. For her, the job was in her words, “the best thing that happened to me at the Museum School.” It allowed her to see the many variables involved in exhibition selection. Bolstered with a deeper understanding of the jury process and its uncertainties, Soyer felt she could focus on her own sense of her work free from outside opinions.

Elif Soyer in her studio. Image courtesy of Claire Ogden.

After her MFA, Soyer founded Moe Fencing Club, and she now works there full-time as a fencing coach and manager. Even now, she still divides her time between art and work, intentionally cycling between them. Fencing is concrete, it’s social, and it’s physical, helping Soyer balance the solitary pressures of making art: “when you fence, you either get a point or you don’t get a point. With art, you have to be really self-driven and want to be doing it.” 

Work from Elif Soyer’s exhibition, “Yellow.” Image courtesy of Claire Ogden.

Routine is a strong theme in Elif Soyer’s work. In her exhibition “Yellow,” on view this month, Soyer collected the snail mail that arrives at her home, chopping up these mundane artifacts into their base colors and patterns and repurposing them into art objects. According to her artist statement for “Yellow,” this recycling of discarded materials is a reminder that “nothing ever completely disappears. We may forget it for a while, but its presence remains.” Her practice both mirrors “capitalist routine,” as she calls it, and looks toward something more thoughtful and humane. 

Soyer thinks through the materials she uses, working them over and over until they feel finished. The process she employs to build the image, though repetitive, presents endless potential resolutions from image to image. She works in what she calls an “OCD” manner, obsessing over the details and continuously working for perfection. Once she’s satisfied with the arrangement of the paper squares, she lets go of that OCD quality a bit, pouring a large amount of yellow paint into the center. She loves the way the wet paint looks, smooth and lively compared to the white squares. 

That pour is also “the scariest part” for her, though. After the care with which she has built the image underneath she has to tolerate the loss of control and simply “see what happens.” Once it dries, she can see the work in a new way and once again feels a renewed determination to resolve the piece. Soyer often stencils drawings and symbols into those ‘imperfect’ paint creases, always iterating.

The resulting images are clear critiques of consumerism, and of the undervalued place of art in American culture. Soyer dislikes spending money on new materials: “[when you’re] creating a product that we really don’t value in this country at all, there’s just something wrong with spending money on that.” Instead, she prefers to give new life to old work.

In one memorable anecdote, Soyer reminisced about the joy she felt when it came time to remove a large sculpture she had installed at the SMFA Tufts. Her piece was so big that it could only be destroyed, not removed, and for Soyer, that destruction was a key part of the artwork itself. She doesn’t have much reverence for her own art objects, but instead cares more about practices of creating and sharing the work.

Soyer ultimately wants to know that her art will be kept in good company, rather than sitting idly in her studio. “I would give it all away,” Soyer said, “so people could live with it. So it could have a purpose other than my self-centered need to make something.”  

Elif Soyer, image courtesy of Claire Ogden.

Boiling Point: Color, Touch, and Texture at the Kingston

At the gallery this month, artists explore a potent combination of joy and grief.

Diane Novetsky, Push Comes to Shovel, 2021. 

At the May 6th reception at Kingston Gallery, there was a palpable sense of excitement in the air. This month, the works of On-Kyeong Seong, Diane Novetsky, and Susan Emmerson fill the space with an emotional intensity that feels well-timed with the sudden arrival of summer. The show is bursting at the seams, teeming with a potent combination of joy and grief.

In the Main Gallery, On-Kyeong Seong’s Boundless Garden playfully juxtaposes vibrant ceramic sculptures and mixed media (oil and thread) paintings. This combination is new to Seong’s process. She thinks of her sculptures as preliminary “sketches” for her paintings and uses sculpture to embody and explore her ideas in a tangible form. She feels inspired by this tactile medium, distilling the life force of her sculptures into 2-dimensional work that seems to live a life of its own, growing out of the confines of the canvas.

On-Kyeong Seong, Self-Portait I, 2021. Mixed medium on canvas. 

Seong etches her expressions directly into the canvas, with patient stitching from her sewing machine. An explosion of color, sewn shapes and lines, and painted pattern creates a feeling of harnessed chaos, where each piece seems to be fighting between figuration and abstraction. Moments of fully formed figures, flora, and fauna poke through the abstract cross-stitching. 

On-Kyeong Seong, Boundless Garden, studio view.

These overflowing gardens of the mind brim with life. Together with the painting, Seong’s intricate stitches add a sense of movement and texture to her compositions. She molds the fragility of thread into bold combinations of piled sewn elements and paint. These are experimental explorations into the multi-dimensional aspects of womanhood, and what has often been minimized as “women’s work.”

On-Kyeong Seong, A hard day’s me with Mickey, machine stitchery, mixed medium and oil on canvas, 2021.
Detail view.

In the Project Space, Susan Emmerson’s The Last Thing They Wore: Dressing for a Pandemic addresses the sheer scale of COVID-related death and grief. Inspired by the Faces of COVID social media account, Emmerson felt compelled to respond to the careless societal desire to return to ‘normal’ by creating an installation tribute to those who have perished. Disturbed by the anonymity of each person’s death reduced to numbers, Emmerson worked to convey their individuality by depicting clothing in which they looked happiest or most comfortable––taken from posts on each of their social media accounts. Hung slightly out from the wall, these pieces are haunted by the shadows that surround them. Though the figures are small, their specificity conveys an incalculable amount of heartache and loss.

Susan Emmerson, The Last Thing They Wore: Dressing for a Pandemic, installation view.

In the Center Gallery, Diane Novetsky’s Stay on It acts as a bridge between Seong’s and Emmerson’s work. It mirrors the raw emotion of Emmerson’s figures and pairs well with Seong’s boldness of color and composition. Nearly symmetrical curvilinear forms pack the frame, and the colors pop. Novetsky’s chosen title, Stay on It, refers to the mantra she adopted while working in her studio at the onset of the pandemic. Like the title itself, the works are meditative and engrossing. 

Diane Novetsky, Tete-a-tete, 2021.

As the Supreme Court prepares to revoke reproductive rights this summer and white supremacist shootings continue at an alarming pace, the specter of grief is ever prescient. Amid an increasingly chaotic world order, it is more important than ever to grapple with pain and loss.

Though wide-ranging, all three artists’ work contains a measured dedication to physicality and tactility. From Emmerson’s paper figures to Seong’s sewn worlds, to Novetsky’s sublime color, the works highlight a vulnerability inherent to life and art. As one might expect, it’s a challenge to express the sheer intensity of these works in written form. It’s best to witness this energy in the flesh.

At Boundaries/Borders, Kingston Artists Show the Beauty of Co-creation

In a stunning and wide-ranging group exhibition, Kingston artists show what being a co-op gallery is all about.

By Claire Ogden

“What does it mean to exist within a border?” At the Boundaries/Borders show at Kingston Gallery this month, artists transform what is so often a political question––and an especially timely one now, as Russia’s war on Ukraine drags on––into an aesthetic and ontological question. An impressive arrangement of pieces is on view, curated by Erica Licea-Kane and Krystle Brown and ranging in genres from sculpture to digital animation. By juxtaposing themes both political and emotional, Kingston artists unearth questions and conundrums in the borders that surround us.

Praakamakul, Ponnapa. Planet Earth, mixed media on paper with found charcoal, soil, and mineral from San Pedro de Atacama Desert in Chile. 2019.

Upon entering the gallery, I was struck by the eclectic pairings of works in the Main Gallery. The contrast in color, medium, and form between Susan Greer Emmerson’s bright red Tyvek sculptures are almost jarring when paired with Ponnapa Prakkamakul’s earthy and deep stereographic collages. Yet the crisp, winding shapes of Emmerson’s work do find a conceptual companion in Prakkamakul’s soft, mesmerizing circles, meditatively layering soil and minerals from the Atacama Desert observatory telescope atop her paintings. Emmerson’s work, though made of so-called trash, “echo waves, wind, and the contortions of the earth,”according to her artist statement. Similarly, the natural materials in Prakkamakul’s work serve as a refreshing reminder of life outside the gallery’s walls. Both pieces straddle the borders between art and trash, nature and culture. On the opposite wall, Bonnie Donohue’s archival images of the Green Belt and the Iron Curtain bring the political bent of the show in clear relief. 

Susan Greer Emmerson. Consumed, acrylic on cut and molded Tyvek. 2018.

The words “boundaries” and “borders” are awash in both fine arts and political discourse, respectively, and yet this show moves past each their at-times limiting definitions. By pairing overtly political works with more formal and abstract pieces, artists collapse boundaries physical, geo-political, environmental, and even psychological. The result is a visual argument that places uncertainty and in-betweenness at the forefront of our understanding. It’s an experimentation in form, curation, and social imagination––refusing the readymade conceptual shortcuts of these borders and boundaries. 

Installation view of Julie S. Graham’s “3 Visual Books.” Image courtesy of Claire Ogden.

The show is also a testament to the benefits of the cooperative sentiment of the gallery. As an artist-run gallery started in 1982, the Kingston is an institution that relies on creative collaboration and cross-pollination. In the Project Space this month is late gallery members’ work, Julie S. Graham, lovingly curated by Kingston member Chantal Zakari and her collaborator Mags Harries. Graham’s playful assortment of work, part sketchbook, and part artist’s books, is spread across the gallery’s walls, the canvas works alternating on the wall. Occasionally Graham inserts an additional piece of canvas-like material, playfully extending the picture plane. It’s a whimsical and lively assortment of work. Graham’s language of lines and repetitive, rhythmic forms is mesmerizing, and beckons one in to view the complex surface of the work further. Surface is a preoccupation in Graham’s work, and controlled mark, pattern and shape cut through the rich surfaces with a quiet and patient persistence. In the way that Main Gallery artists have questioned borders, Graham refutes the constraints of the rectangle, surprising the viewer into seeing both object and illusion at the same time. 

Though Graham has passed on, her influence at the Gallery is evident. Graham’s subtle color palettes and extensions of the canvas echo in Luanne E. Wittowski’s work and more subtly in Ponnapa Prakkamakul’s mixed media with found objects. As a testament to the cooperative nature of this exhibition and of the Gallery in general, it is a wonder to behold.

Boundaries/Borders closes this Sunday, March 27.

Witowski, Luanne E. See Green, mixed materials on canvas and panel. 2018.

Visualizing the Anthropocene: Kingston Artists Look Back and Forward

By Claire Ogden

Kaczur, Amy. Messages from the Marsh – part 1, Video Still, sizes variable, 2021.

How might we approach environmental art in the age of the Anthropocene? Climate reporting has failed to adapt to the times, portraying environmental degradation with a dire tone or ignoring it entirely. Meanwhile, many flock to podcasts and other less reputable sources to avoid the doom-and-gloom. There is a disparity between the stale dissemination of environmental truths and the environment’s visceral, embodied connection to our actual lives. There is a need for more poetic and holistic understandings of climate.

At the Kingston Gallery through February 27, exhibits from Rhonda Smith, Amy Kaczur, and Bonnie Donohue each show a unique approach to installation that helps us rethink how we relate to our environment. Artists portray a hopeful and loving portrait of land––the stories told by beings living and nonliving alike––looking toward both the past and future. Though each exhibit differs in its approach, there is a clear common thread of love, attention, and care in all three.

Collapse, acrylic, clay, cement, foam, papier-mache, rock netting, silk, wire. 2021.

Rhonda Smith’s “Say I am You” in the Main Gallery transforms the poetry of Rumi into a sculptural love letter for all of life and earthly existence. Lively and lifeless all at once, Smith’s Collapse is like a marriage between limestone and a mounted skull. It has all the stark beauty of Georgia O’Keefe’s Ram’s Head, White Hollyhock-Hills. The acrylic and clay, both bone- and stone-like, desiccate to reveal a net structure underneath. With these haunting materials, we could be witnessing a period of decay or rapid growth. In line with Rumi’s all-encompassing words, we are both life and death, survival and extinction. This moment holds all possibility and history within it.

O’Keefe, Georgia. Ram’s Head, White Hollyhock-Hills. 1935.

In the Center Gallery, Amy Kaczur’s Messages from the Marsh immerses the viewer in the sights and sounds of her dedicated trips to several Massachusetts area marshes and wetlands. The installation swallows up the small Center Gallery, presenting a triptych of GoPro footage that careens in and out of often murky and filthy marsh water. It’s like a video collage––part of a lineage of experimental filmmakers and video installation artists like Joan Jonas and Nam June Paik––that straddles abstraction and representation. Beginning with the image of a clear blue sky on the left, the camera floats up until it immerses us in the marsh water. The clear blue skies intensely juxtapose the yellow and deep brown hues of the pond water. It’s dizzying; the camera’s movement ranges from patient to hectic, the water occasionally rippling with a frenetic quality. Kaczur stitches together sounds from over four marshes in Massachusetts, gurgling and muffled yet deep. Reminiscent of ethnographic filmmaker Isabel Carbonell’s multispecies portraits of environmental degradation, Kaczur’s work is unsettling yet awe-inspiring. As the viewer leaves the Center Gallery, they are met with a series of maps forecasting coastal flooding––patient, speculative portraits of locales soon to be lost. These maps, which are more analytical in their approach than Kaczur’s embodied video installations, serve as a bridge between Smith’s abstractions and Bonnie Donohue’s research-based work in the Project Space. 

Kaczur, Amy. Messages from the Marsh – part 2,Video Still, sizes variable, 2021.

In the Project Space, Bonnie Donohue shares works in progress from an upcoming artist book, Colonial Footprints: A Radical Atlas of Vieques, Puerto Rico. Unlike Kaczur’s speculative maps, Donohue’s visualizations betray a destruction that has already come to be: the Navy’s extractive relationship with Puerto Rico. Her research––compiled from many years of documenting, interviewing, and researching the island’s history––shows a dedicated attention to questions of space, place, and power. Donohue frames a narrative out of her meticulous research, sculpting an anti-imperialist argument out of the visual culture of the time. The United States government’s cold, bureaucratic documents––some of them actually visualized from documents that no longer exist in physical form––contrast powerfully with images of native Puerto Ricans displaced from their ancestral homes. 

Bonnie Donohue, 2021.

Returning to the Main Gallery, Rhonda Smith’s work is the poetic thread that unites the show. After viewing scenes of anthropogenic devastation and unsettling visualizations, Rhonda Smith’s optimism is what grounded me back into a sense of love and care. Her hybrid living-nonliving forms puzzle and delight, giving us a sense of deep existential mystery that we can only hope to unravel.  

Whether we fall into the intense cynicism of the bitter, or perhaps into an optimistic naivete, the zeitgeist has reached a boiling point. But the presence of love––as an imaginative, rejuvenating and sustained practice of care––is what we must remember. In simultaneously visualizing destruction and hope, this month’s Kingston artists show us what this practice of care can look like.

Nest, acrylic, netting, colored sand, papier-mache, wire. 2021.