(In) Voluntary Memories

I attended the gallery exhibition (In) Voluntary Memories on February 23, 2017 in the Brett Llewellyn Gallery on Alfred State Campus. The gallery featured some of the recent works of the artist Alysia Kaplan. Her work was composed of film and image stills from reels donated to her by Squeaky Wheel Film and Media Center. Kaplan used the film from several different reels and combined them in new ways to create new narratives, including a film, a series of film stills, and an edited still projected onto a wall. Her work here deals with memories; she was inspired to do work with this topic after experiences a feeling of aloofness after returning to her hometown of Rochester after awhile. She discovered that several of the landmarks she recognized were no longer there. She also realized that people living in Rochester now had different memories and experiences, even though they were in the same city.

The film she used was shot by someone with a set purpose in mind (making a movie, capturing their own memories, etc.), but when she viewed the same footage, she implanted her own memories and experiences onto them, similar to how she was experiencing Rochester differently than those around her. She shared an anecdote while at the gallery opening that shows she isn’t the only person like this. Kaplan said that she had sent photos of places to her family and friends, asking them to tell her a story about those places. The places were completely unrelated to the relationships she had with these people, yet everyone sent back anecdotes about the relationship they had with Kaplan.

Kaplan also stated that she struggles with the word “nostalgia.” More specifically, she struggled with using old film because of it’s nostalgic quality. It’s too pretty or too precious to alter. She ultimately overcame this, saying that you can make new meaning out of nostalgia. Which she did by reinterpreting and editing the film she had to create new narratives and an exhibition focusing on personal memory.

I found that the series of image stills she took from film reels to express the idea of people implanting their own memories onto things very effectively. Kaplan herself said she wasn’t entirely sure what she saw in the images herself until she had finished arranging them. She even arranged them in a different way when she arrived to install the gallery, changing the narrative of the images slightly. She said she felt the piece was about her mother; this was no doubt attached to her personal iconography, as I got a less specific narrative from the piece. This really drove home Kaplan’s point to me about everyone experiencing a piece differently because of their own memories.

Kaplan’s work presented in the gallery certainly harkens to the postmodern movement. She ultimately leaves the interpretation of her pieces up to the viewer, knowing that each person will experience it in a completely different way even if she spelled out her intent. She even finds herself reinterpreting her own work, shown when she decided to rearrange the order of the film stills when arriving. Her intent overall was to show people that they will project their own experiences onto images, no matter what the images contain or the intent of the artist. The title of the exhibition is even (In) Voluntary Memories, implying that this act isn’t even a conscious one, just a knee jerk reaction to seeing an image. This gives her art no concrete meaning, only the perception of the viewer, something postmodernism heavily stresses.


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