The Spaces In Between: Tamsen Wojtanowski and Elaine Livingstone’s Yard: An Essay by Clare Finin
The Spaces In Between: Tamsen Wojtanowski and Elaine Livingstone’s Yard
An Essay by Clare Finin
In the Yard, a collaborative exhibition by artist Tamsen Wojtanowski and writer Elaine Livingstone at NAPOLEON, crosses the disciplines of writing and visual art. Yards, a long-standing American obsession, operate in a very specific way in order to define and claim space. They are a part of nature but only once it has been civilized, trained, and manicured by man. They are outside, but still very much a part of a property. The installation in the gallery provides the viewers with a metaphorical yard; a defined space, that is a part of, but not quite inside the narrative at hand. We, as viewers, are left on the outside looking in, as if we stumbled in through a fence that was left ajar to peer into the windows of someone else’s intimate past as it plays out before us.
In the Yard is visibly sparse and yet present, made from three large-scale sculptural photographs by Wojtanowski and an artist book that came from the collaboration of Wojtanowski and Livingstone that shares the title of the show. Colors exist in the installation photographs and book only in a scale of greys. The overwhelming sense of memory, nostalgia, and longing is palpable. Upon entering the space, the viewer is confronted with clear analogies of separated spaces and the yard: the initial half of the space offers multiple copies of the In the Yard book for the audience to read as they view the photographic installation housed in the rear half of the room. In the center of this borderline between front and rear, explanation and work, and inside and outside, sits a pedestal with the original hard cover copy of the collaborative book.
Both image and language in the book In the Yard disregard the conventional boundaries of the pages of the book; words spill over from one side to the other unable to be contained in an orderly fashion, images squeeze into the center binding of the book as if shyly pulling into or playfully mirroring themselves so that you are unsure which is the original and which is the reflection. The book is intimate, full of moments of time passing, lovers quarrels, and bittersweet memories. Though there are hints of the outside world in Livingstone’s text (neighbors, trash men, and a pet dogs) the two main characters of the narrative are seemingly enveloped in the isolation of their own relationship. Through Livingstone’s writing and Wojtanowski’s images the stage of this world is set.
Once the viewer has crossed the threshold of the reading area of the room, they are pulled deeper into the narrative by the physical artwork that is present. The rear half of the gallery is where three large scaled photographs titled Site, Artifact, and Monument are displayed. Wojtanowski does not just present us with framed prints, but instead blurs the line between image and object through her metaphorical material choices.
Site, printed in large scale on a cotton poplin fabric, covers the entirety of the back wall of the gallery space and is the first large piece the viewer faces. There is an ambiguity of what type of building it is, commercial or residential. All we see is what would perhaps catch the attention of the two characters from Livingstone’s narrative while they were on one of their walks; the oddity of a temporary trash chute attached to an outer corner of a white vinyl sided building. Taking up the entirety of the back wall, Site is monolithic, and enveloping to the human scale. As its name suggests, Site becomes the backdrop to the stage of Wojtanowski’s and Livingstone’s collaboration.
On the wall to the left of Site is Monument. Printed on aluminum that is fixed to thick plywood, Monument is the only portrait that is included in any of Wojtanowski’s images in either the book or the rest of the installation. The person, who is left ambiguous, sits straddling a chair with their bare back to the viewer. The figure’s head is just out of the frame of the image, as is any indicators to specify who this person is, and as we gaze on the semi-nakedness of the figure we are forced into an intimate relationship with them. But the intimate relationship is not a requited one. The figure’s position, with the back to the viewer, denies us the sense of acknowledgment, and leaves us with our voyeuristic position of being on the outside. Monument is printed to human scale and sits on the floor, resting against the wall of the space. The half inch thick plywood backing that the aluminum is affixed to gives the piece a sense of weight, permanence, immovability, and remembrance.
On the wall opposite of Monument is Artifact. An intimate close up of the interior of a phone booth, Artifact is printed on lustrous paper that has been at one time folded, reopened, and tacked to the wall. Reading as a poster, Artifact operates as a souvenir to help recall a specific time and event. Of all of Wojtanowski’s images, Artifact is perhaps the most sentimental; Artifact seems to echo places of comfort, of connection to someone, somewhere, who would answer the phone on the other side.
Though Artifact does not contain imagery of the human figure, humanity is very much implied in the piece. Remnants of life can be seen in the beer can forgotten on the shelf in the booth, and the sense of humanity from the implied owner of Artifact-as-poster. Images of tourist destinations, sports teams, and teenage heartthrobs are some of the most common of poster imagery and are hung in order to remember and to fetishize places, events, and people. This piece did not simply just show up in Wojtanowski’s yard; someone chose it, took it out of packaging, unfolded it, and hung it.
As viewers, we have been guests in the world Wojtanowski and Livingstone have created with In the Yard. Quiet, reserved, and wanting, the exhibition speaks a language of materiality, detail, experience, and yearning. As we exit, we carry the feeling of longing from the just out of reach world that is present.
About the Author:
Clare Finin is an artist, educator, and writer currently living in Champaign, Illinois. Her work and research practice focuses on objects, memory, and sentimentality. Finin received her BFA in Metalsmithing+Jewelry with a minor in Art History from the Maine College of Art and is now completing her MFA in Studio Arts with a graduate minor in Art from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.