Sara Morrison creates a visual history of a dead town at the new Framewerk gallery
'If you lived in Agloe, you’d be home by now.' So claims Sara Morrison’s artist statement and she’s not far off – as it is, I only live up the road from Framewerk in east Belfast, a new gallery lending a much needed patina of sophistication to the Newtownards Road.
Agloe is a Shangri-la, one of David Lynch’s mythical small American towns: all big red fire trucks and white picket fences. It never existed – it was faked by cartographers and placed in the Catskills. But then some smart cookies tried to actually build an Agloe exactly where it was indicated on the map. It was not a success; people moved away, businesses shut down. The final death knell was sounded when Google removed it from Googlemaps. Agloe is officially an 'un-place'.
The bare walls of the Framewerks gallery space are glowing as warm, hazy landscapes filter through a prism. Is it the prism of nostalgia, the warm glow of half-forgotten childhood summers? Here landscapes shift and blur, random heads with once modish chestnut perms push their noses into frame for an instant and are gone. Rosy-faced men in blouson jackets drift in propped up by fences pressed flat against the sky.
Magnifying glasses strung from the ceiling obfuscate as well as enlarge; refracted smears of light drift past like vapour trails, as the shadows themselves intrude on the image, part frame, part picture, the perfume bottle shapes like glass phials on an abandoned dresser, gathering dust and waiting to be rediscovered. The white walls of Framewerk are a blank canvas for these fuzzy, logic-free images. They are happening in a vacuum.
Separate prints adorn the walls. Though the images are static they still have the elusive, slippery feel of the slideshow; they smear into one another. A woman in a button down coat stands cruciform against a black monolith, a baleful white eye punctured through it. Beside her a black scumbling tree eats up the image but the colours are warm, autumnal reds and yellows.
The work is about the instability, the fluidity of memory. The resulting cityscape looks like a placemat brought back from a continental holiday (along with a flamenco dancer’s fan and matador poster, no doubt), the unnatural, too-much processed colours hazily missing the outlines of their figures, lending cars and buses a Ready brek halo. It lies superimposed on a forest, marked by the stark, black outlines of the trees, like the ghosts of the ruptured landscape coming back to claim the land.
Morrison has taken this unnatural life-cycle for the town and constructed a borrowed American mythos. Agloe, therefore, is an essay on shared memory using that most obvious of shared memories: 20th century cinema, particularly the parts where cars wore fins, freckled children shot BB guns and villains always winked their eyes. A woman with a steel grey perm and string of pearls admires a budgie resting on her finger as she glides effortlessly through Japanese islands on a junk. A Marilyn Monroe lookalike poses topless over a city street. A tiny figure pushes a bright yellow wheel-barrow beneath her breasts.
Morrison scours the land looking for old slides to submit to her process, unearthing new associations, rubbing images against each other, unravelling fresh narratives. Of course, the slides, being found objects, already have a history of their own, a glimpsed at, unknown story. There is a tackiness to them too, tacky like an un-fixed Polaroid: there is more than one 'hair in the gate', but that just adds to the visual noise. The final story rests with us; we are the final piece in the puzzle. Essentially, this is our story, the viewer's.
Visit the Framewerk gallery website for information on forthcoming exhibitions.