Sequencing through Time and Place: The Carissa Mine is a pair of complementary exhibits of new work by Susan Moldenhauer, Margaret Wilson and Wendy Lemen Bredehoft, all of Laramie. Both have a light, medium and dark side. From there, the similarities end. There is no overlap of work between the two concurrent exhibits at the Lander Art Center and University of Wyoming Visual Arts Building, and the two exhibits are conceptually different. The University exhibit is about the place itself, the structure and the machines. The Lander exhibit is about the humans, what happened, their hand tools and the things they wore.
This is the latest effort of the trio, who have worked together for several years in various sites around the world. Bredehoft and Moldenhauer commented that this experience was somewhat different than others in that the artists worked more separately than usual — both on site and afterwards. Thus they were intrigued by the consistent themes in their three bodies of work and sought to exploit them in curating these exhibitions.
In keeping with the artists’ collaboration, Studio Wyoming Review considered the Laramie and Lander exhibits separately with two different reviewers and presentented their impressions together.
History or Art? The Lander exhibit by Danine Donaho
An 1868 mining claim became what we now know as the Carissa Mine — a booming gold interest that employed much of South Pass City.
Before viewing Sequencing through Time and Place, I wondered if this upcoming exhibition at the Lander Art Center would be laden with blurry old photographs and wordy interpretive signs telling us the history of the mine. Despite the lack of these elements I did learn some history, but through a much more effective medium: artwork.
As a student, history never really appealed to me. But no history class I ever took offered interpretive dance, mixed media assemblage, and black and white photography as mechanisms for understanding the past. This exhibition offers the viewer all three.
During the opening reception at the Lander Art Center on July 20th, Margaret Wilson, accompanied by flutist Rod Garnett, performed an interpretive dance composed of movements that reflected the work done by the miners, such as hauling heavy loads and moving through or under things. Videos included in the exhibition offered clues to help the viewer identify these movements. My favorite video “Loft Spirit 2016/18” showed Wilson fading in and out of an elevated space in the mill house, ghostlike. Another video, titled “Finding Things,” showed Wilson bending gracefully to pick something up from the ground.
As a Wyoming resident of more than 20 years, I am very familiar with the notion of finding things. I have found old tin cans and shoes near Foxpark. I have found tobacco cans, dog tags and childrens’ toys in the walls of old structures we have remodeled. Our home retains a collection of metal parts and antique tools from our old family ranch in Evanston.
I think part of the intrigue in finding these old things lies in the connection to the person who might have lost or left them behind. The notion is that other people were here once, as suggested by the ghostlike video and the repetition of the movements of miners in Wilson’s dance.
Wendy Bredehoft also focuses on this idea with the title of her works, “Remnants 5.”
Bredehoft’s assemblages are created from mining remnants — pieces of metal, rope, leather, clothing, bottles and wood that were left behind at the close of the Carissa Mine. Natural brown and grey hues make up the color palette. The pieces start at an intimate ten-inch square. Although Bredehoft’s artwork hangs on the walls, protruding elements add a three-dimensional quality. These rough surfaces refer to the miners as do the tools necessary to handle the artwork: work gloves.
Susan Moldenhauer, the third artist in the group, uses her black and white photographs to call our attention to the play of light on found objects. Her repeated title “Illuminance” reinforces the shift of where the artist’s, and viewer’s, attention is directed. Value and contrast play an important role allowing for the capture of minute details. Moldenhauer’s photographs encourage us to look closely, showing us geometric lines of the buildings, textures of dripping paint, exposed insulation, wrinkles in an old glove. Another part of this intrigue in finding things is in the physical signs of the passage of time. The decomposition. The brokenness. The idea that an item had a life before it was found. So many things happen with the passage of time, but we never really see them happen. Suddenly the rust is there. Suddenly the paint has peeled. Click. Moldenhauer freezes this moment in time, illuminating. We see it. And we understand that time has passed.
Inextricably, the notion of finding things is at the epicenter of a mine. A mine is built to find things; the verb mine means to dig something up. During a conversation I had with Wilson at the reception, she expressed a strong resolve for her art to make a connection to the past. The symbolism of using the platform of a historical mine to make this connection is not lost on me.
Noted also are two fundamental aspects of the exhibition. First, the simple principle of three voices coming together. There is something special about three voices. Three voices have incredible potential for harmony and I admire these artists for their awareness of this. Second, it is notable that these voices are all female, working with the subject of a traditionally male industry — mining. Could it be that the feminine vision is the reason this history lesson was so interesting to me?
Absorbing Place: The Laramie exhibit by Camellia El Antably
One of the things I love about Wyoming, as a transplant, is the sense of history all around. As I’ve traveled across the state, I was invited by the many excellent signs to learn more. However, rarely have I taken the time to truly explore. So it is with South Pass City. I know it is an important historic site and has to do with the pioneers and mining. I drive by and think I really need to go there sometime but sometime hasn’t shown up in 15 years. Viewing the Sequencing through Time and Place: The Carissa Mine exhibit in Laramie reminds me that a visit is overdue, although now I feel like I already know the place intimately because of these three artists’ work. Through three very different, and yet completely congruent mediums, I have gained an appreciation for this space.
Susan Moldenhauer’s black and white photography provide perhaps the most accessible entry point. Susan combines beautifully lit shots of the building that illuminate the beauty of a structure built solely for utility. The graceful lines of the wood remind one of the dedication to quality of earlier times. Paired with these are images that are at first confusing to the eye. From the stark simplicity of the buildings, these images appear dark and complicated.
Yet, as one gazes at it, the eye begins to sort out the repetition of shape and pattern. You see snapshots of tools and of interesting variations of wood. One makes me think immediately of books on a shelf. When I look closer I realize it might be pipes, or something else workmanlike. For Moldenhauer, these images capture the incredible repetition inherent in mining: the movements and sounds of the machines and men.
Margaret Wilson’s video “Effort — The Light Side” echoes the sense of repetition. The video starts with the building washed in color. Then it fades to black and white and Wilson suddenly appears to the back of the frame. The hard, repetitive movements put one in mind immediately of a man with a sledgehammer, or the machines which were so much a part of mining. This is the only video with these kinds of movements; the rest emphasize a sense of the place and the ghosts who may haunt it. All the videos point out the beauty and sinister undertones of the place. “Cyanide 2017/18” shows Wilson, dressed in white, suspended from the trestle, spinning under her own and the wind’s power against a sky full of puffy white clouds, a stark landscape and a rusting building. A gauzy white scarf moves with her, increasing the sense of unreality, as does the distance. At first, the viewer is not quite sure what they are seeing. Included in the video are words that signify the very toxic chemicals used in the mining process, which left their mark upon the place and the people. For all its beauty, the Carissa Mine surely caused humans much pain and suffering.
Rust and decay are showcased in all their rough beauty within Wendy Lemen Bredehoft’s contributions to the show. Perhaps the most abstract of the three, Bredehoft incorporates rusted metal, an old window, nails and springs and coils and chains into her pieces. Her work falls into two related categories, as does Moldenhauer’s.Two pieces are clearly assemblage using found objects (note that none of the objects came from the Carissa Mine itself, which is a protected historic site). I found “Transition” to be the most intriguing of these, as I began to wonder what some of the materials were for. On closer examination, I discovered that one piece in each rough box was painted gold in a nod to the metal which was mined at the Carissa. The others use found objects almost like paint, as a medium for creating the final work. Each is gorgeous and intriguing, but “Float” caught me immediately. I didn’t know what it was, and there was no title (the gallery is free of labels, but an object list is available). I flashed right away to my childhood in Washington with the sea lapping at the edge of the land. The metal lines and wood to the side made me think of marinas and boat building. I love that a piece of art can engender such a sharp response. The piece references a tool called a shaker table, which was used by miners to extract the last tiny bits of metal from the ore through water and vibration.
The more I think about the exhibition, I see subtexts and layers of meaning. One subtle undertone in the exhibition is the chemicals. Moldenhauer includes an image with photos of old labeled containers. Bredehoft alludes to them through the decay and change to the materials in her pieces. Wilson works them into her video pieces. Then there’s the echoes of the place as it once was, and the views of it now. Another might be mining in our world today as seen through the remnants of an earlier mine site. Collaboration is another important, and unseen, subtext. The rich experience of the exhibit would be immeasurably changed if one of the three were not part of it as the artwork plays off each other. Whatever you perceive in the work, it is an opportunity to consider anew the importance of the Carissa Mine in the past and in the future.
Sequencing Through Time and Place, The Carissa Mine will remain on display through Sept. 14 at the University of Wyoming Visual Arts Building Gallery. The closing reception, which will include a performance by Margaret Wilson and guest musician Rod Garnett, as well as an artist talk about the exhibition, will take place Sept. 7 at the Visual Arts Building Gallery from 6-8 PM. The reception is free and open to the public.