Krista Svalbonas' 'Migrants'
I made a point to drive the 1h15 to little old Sheboygan, Wisconsin, a city of about 40,000 on the shore on Lake Michigan about an hour north of Milwaukee. I'd heard a little bit about a small art gallery downtown, Frank Juarez, that was opening a show called The Art of Collage, featuring artists from Wisconsin and further afield who worked in the medium of collage, both hand-assembled and digital. It was a packed show in every sense of the word -- the walls were packed with work, and there were people wall to wall. A success by the standard of any gallery.
There were a few pieces that stood out to me immediately, and three of them belonged to Chicago-based artist Krista Svalbonas, whose photographic assemblages on clean, square boards drew me in right away. Appealing immediately to my love of clean lines and architectural elements, I got into the way she incorporated different types of architecture in different light, at different angles. Some of the assemblages, centered on each surface, could almost be rotating with energy, about to burst out into full form.
Svalbonas took a few minutes to explain her pieces (included at the show were Migrants 10, 11, & 12) and how the architecture in each represented that which she's photographed in the three places she has lived: rural Pennsylvania, New York, and Chicago. I like how she describes her interest in home in her statement on the series:
Ideas of home and dislocation have always been compelling to me as the child of parents who arrived in the United States as refugees. Born in Latvia and Lithuania, my parents spent many years after the end of the Second World War in displaced-persons camps in Germany before they were allowed to emigrate to the United States. My family’s displacement is part of a long history of uprooted peoples for whom the idea of “home” is contingent, in flux, without permanent definition and undermined by political agendas beyond their control. Perhaps as a result, I am fascinated by the language of spatial relationships and by the impact of architectural form and structure on the psychology of the human environment.
The collages are formed from photographs that she took in the places she lived, and they serve as compilations, in a sense, of her research for paintings and other projects. They are like bits and pieces of a diary expressed in photographic, architectural terms, touching on the past and present simultaneously, and piecing together elements of her family's and her own identity.
Svalbonas is to show Migrants at Opus Projects in New York from 30 April to 30 May, 2015. You can see the three pieces on display at Frank Juarez Gallery through 7 February. More information can be found at kristasvalbonas.com.