Beyond Measure

Gwen Laine’s art is about the way we make sense of the world, or perhaps it’s better to say the ways we make sense of the world. Her photographs and installations are composed of ordinary objects and forms recontextualized or made abstract that prompt and defy our impulse to find the simplest perceptual solution. Working with both the record and the manipulation of light, Laine accentuates physical properties as recognized or understood by the senses. Yet the indefinition as well as the instability of the light allows for the free play of effects. At one extreme, the familiar is readily at hand; at the other, the image or environment dissolves into a lavish display of visual stimuli.

Moving around a lot in her early years, Laine never established a space that she equated with home but developed an expectation and a need for change. Relating to the transitory, she relied on detached observation in which an idiosyncratic blend of logic and imagination were brought to bear upon new surroundings. Rather than seeing based on assumptions, Laine continues to make note of phenomena that can momentarily settle into the recognizable or alternatively trigger cascading associations and impressions. Her framing of her field of vision fluctuates between the measured and the accidental, the patterned and the random. The operation of applying different mental filters is accompanied by the actual transformation through light of the exterior setting. Rather than a fixed or static condition, reality consists of a range of responses and interpretations leading to more responses and reinterpretation.

Photography gave Laine the means with which to simulate this active consciousness. We think of the photographic image as a literal transcription of how things appear, which Laine uses to suggest otherwise. Her peculiar stagings of commonplace items stirs the viewer’s recognition of a past sighting or experience. Yet the combination of order and arbitrariness sets in motion the viewer’s process of cognition, the acquisition of knowledge through reasoning and/or intuition. Laine favors elements or techniques, such as a black-and-white tonal range or soft focus, which keep the viewer one step removed. This slight distancing engenders a feeling of “bringing to mind,” or recollection, while the quality of both diffused and contrasting light is emotively charged. Laine’s artwork implies a human presence and a compelling undercurrent of trying to grasp or connect.

Shunning pinpoint accuracy, Laine explores the unintentional effects produced by the technical side of photography, and she delves into the creative possibilities of multiple exposures over time. Working methodically but without control, she was drawn to the traces of light on film translating into an expressive, ephemeral illusion, which ultimately led to installations and a dynamic space in which the viewer becomes participant. In an actual space, light could both embody a temporal component and physically affect the viewer-as-participant. Rather than a single moment in time, Laine’s photographs and installations seem to unfold over time or to question duration itself. Imagery and optical effects suggest memories of a vanished or reconfigured past, even if that past was just a moment ago. In remembering, we necessarily forget or let fade away; and over the years, we add new layers and meaning to those memories. Our own lives become the object of perception and interpretation, and with re-viewing, we reconstruct our stories of who we are.

By Stephanie Grilli, Ph.D., Art Historian