Culture Rover

#141 - Teeny Dreams

Melanie Schiff's photographs and Kim Dorland's paintings capture the powerful emotional experience of time in adolescence. In very different formats, Schiff and Dorland meditate on this crucial juncture between childhood and adulthood, where all is possible because, strangely, it all seems impossible -- where one could be anything even as options are fading fast.

The dreamworlds of these images are suffused with transformative potential, but this potential only exists in its unrealized state. It never arrives, but only fades away the more one tries to seize it. The figures, objects, and landscapes in Schiff's and Dorland's images cling to the verge, where multiple futures can be preserved, but only as futures. A utopia seems almost within grasp, but we are pulled away from it as if by invisible magnets.

Larger social forces are asserting themselves, but there is a moment of suspended perfection captured even as the photographs and paintings dissolve its momentous arrival. They show how this perfection, this utopia, this dream of adolescent arrival becomes manifest only when it begins immediately to evaporate into nothing more than memory. You peer with the artists into horizons arriving before you fall away or fall in.

No wonder these images feature so many boundaries and edges: ocean shores, roof tops, docks of ponds, meadows and forests, fire pits, houses meeting the woods, humans encountering and killing deer, CD jewel cases whose surfaces are shot through with prismatic light, empty beer cans and liquor bottles, faces vanishing behind spit, mud, or an old Neil Young album cover.

In this art, we peer into scenes of feverish transformation. They are preservations of time unspooling, of change happening. In one Schiff photograph, a woman disappears into the roiling tide of an ocean, her head just visible above the waves. She holds a camera, photographing the photographer like a mirror image. In the circuit of mirrored photographers, we are forever left ashore, forever pulled out to sea. Which one is she? Which one are we?

In a Dorland painting, skinny figures huddle around a fire pit. The woods are illuminated in almost neon pinks and oranges. The shadows are deep. It's getting colder. We are pulled with the figures toward the flames for warmth, a perfect circle of community, and yet the sky beyond the woods lifts us skyward, gazing beyond the tops of the trees to a wider world of unknown vastness.

We grow out and up, these images seem to suggest, but we never quite leave behind the futures we remember only by leaving them behind.

7 March 2007

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