Mequitta Ahuja’s Dream Sequence series is comprised of sparkling, lacquered self-portraits of the artist as a mythical figure carrying serpents, birds’ nests and meteorites. Ahuja terms these portraits as auto-mythography, employing shimmering, modern-day materials discordant with the figural forms reminiscent of those found in ancient art. In depicting herself within this fantastical dream atmosphere, Ahuja carves out a niche somewhere between the past and the present in a composite of fictionalized cave art and contemporary self-portrait.
Lauren Kelley builds elaborate sets in which dolls haltingly enact fictitious episodes in 1970s era African-American culture. The stop-motion, animated “flashbacks” depict inner monologues of nonchalant near-death experiences (Upside), and overheard dialogues of muted, latent discrimination (Prototypical Oppression/Obsession). Drawing from the more distant past, Wild Seed portrays dinosaurs moving in staccato across a garden while a calm, soothing male voice melodically recites phrases in French. The English subtitles provided by the artist do not correspond to the articulated French words. The text, “my lush horizon was rotting,” in conjunction with the simultaneously spoken, “et il fait rouge dans mon coeur” indicates a discrepancy that inconspicuously presents the potential for inaccuracies in a verbal history.
Valerie Piraino uses photographs from her family’s archive to compose minimal arrangements with a historical sensibility. In With Pen in Hand, un-filled wooden picture frames are arranged on a wall, while sideways projections of photographed street scenes, landscapes, and homecomings flash over and between the empty brown rectangles. The rotated images, instead of neatly filling the bordered space of the mounted frames, canvas across the array of cadres, and hauntingly span the wall without regard to any perimeters, highlighting the distortion and inaccuracy of memory and its inability to be orderly and compartmentalized.
Tinged with snippets of years gone by, the works in Usable Pasts appropriate fleeting, fictional memories that convincingly serve to simultaneously accentuate both a shared and singular past, invoking collective remembrances of separately experienced, but visually similar, events.