Art exhibit preview: “General Relativity” is eclectic in both style and substance

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From the January 16, 2014 edition

Lilliana Marie is wise (and contemplative) beyond her years. The 28-year-old first-year MFA candidate at Ohio State has created an eclectic collection for her first solo exhibit. There are photography pieces — her focus of study — installations (often collaborations with her younger sister, an MFA candidate at Indiana University in ceramics) and found art pieces in the “General Relativity” exhibit.

It’s an impressive example of Marie’s ability to work in varied mediums, but there’s a personal touch that shows the depth of her introspection. There are components of life and death, shifting meanings and purposes, and even rebirth and afterlife throughout, mainly because these are all things Marie is contemplating and experiencing.

“Everything is personal … because I create things through my everyday life and my process is very much [thinking about] my life,” Marie said.

There are two shining examples of Marie using personal, somber experiences as inspiration. The installation “Oh Potential, You're a Loaded Line (A Place for Poetry)” has a perceptive title, while the story behind its conception bolsters its wistfulness.

Marie used to write poetry with a friend who passed away in the last year, and shortly before the exhibit opened she had a dream where he told her, “You need to include a place for people to write.” So she suspended the installation’s original video concept — to be projected on 24 ceramic brains created by her sister — in lieu of her late friend’s ethereal request.

“Oh Potential” is now those brains paired with a typewriter, table and chair where visitors are encouraged to put their thoughts into poetry. The words are pinned to the wall daily above the typewriter resulting in a month-long, multi-sourced poem.

The other instance of Marie using a death to create art is a photography anthology of her uncle’s life. The photos weren’t taken by Marie, but come from her uncle’s partner, who sent them to her following her uncle’s unexpected death in September. For catharsis, and as a way to honor her uncle, Marie began experimenting with digitally printing the photos. She began with large versions, but felt the original snapshots “lost their intimacy.”

Instead Marie placed 25 small- and medium-sized photos together for “Makua, Uncle.” (Makua means father or parent in Hawaiian, where Marie taught fourth grade before studying photography.) Among the group, a handful are the backs of photos containing notes from her uncle’s partner because, even though he’s not in many of the images, paying homage to him was just as important.

“General Relativity” has strong themes of life and death, but Marie is also examining the idea of images versus objects. Another reason the photo with handwritten notes are included is to cast them as objects.

“The idea of image versus and object, and where that line is — I’m really interested in dimensionality. We often say photographs are two-dimensional, but really they’re always printed on something … so it has a third dimension. It’s just so small we ignore it and get lost in the image itself,” Marie said.

It’s fair to say “General Relativity” is as much about personal and emotional aspects as it is about finding undiscovered or new meanings. Furthermore, aren’t emotions often tied to meanings we struggle to fully grasp?

“Molecules,” another photography collection, this time taken by Marie, is about how meaning can be based solely on proximity or relativity. Marie paired two sometimes similar, sometimes different images in one frame next to a couple of other framed pairs to make viewers reflect on how meaning can be manipulated.

“I was thinking of one image as equivalent to an atom and how that has a definite, specific structure,” Marie said. “But when atoms combine and make a molecule, it can be something very different.”

“General Relativity” is as varied in mediums and works — there’s also a found trash piece (“The Ground Looking at the Sky”), a large print (“Because You Love Birds”) and a couple other installations, including a salt-fired ceramic with salt print photos that Marie and her sister collaborated on — as it is packed with themes, big and small. As Marie said, “The content is the things that are not literally there, but that tie everything together.”