Family Circle

Strictly speaking, your family circle is defined as your immediate family and your closest friends.  Their history and your history are intertwined, and consciously or not, they had a hand in shaping who you are today.  Family history is never a linear narrative, and our family circles change—for families are complex webs of people, places, stories, and objects.  This exhibition explores the complications of family past and present and the lineage of family stories—what is forgotten, remembered, and reinterpreted.

Family history is marked by traditions, rituals, and stories.  What remains to be passed down becomes the documentation of a family, preserving a sense of continuity.  Traditions link generations of the past with the present.  Stories families tell recreate journeys, blur the line between fact and memory, embellish mysteries, and help us to understand how we identify our own roles within a family.

Each of the artists in this exhibition have chosen to explore the idea of family—at times directly, sometimes in the abstract.  Each were extracting memories to create their work, and each weave complex narratives.  These artists are telling us a part of their family story, giving a glimpse of their family circle, whether it be through parents, children, cousins, or friends. They are methodically sorting through family history, doing both physical and mental detective work, and the result is an exploration of relationships with others and a discovery of the self.

Dates: January 18-August 2020
Participating artists:
Photograph of a large sculpture ball made of stuffed socks.
Lisa Barthelson, life’s a ball, sock it to me , 2017-2019, Found object sculpture
Claudia Ruiz-Gustafson, Historias Fragmentadas 7, Photograph
Photograph of a background containing an old building to the far left, green window reflections of grass over a shadowed interior room on the right. To the far right is a small black and white photograph of a young girl in a short dress holding a stuffed animal outside.
Claudia Ruiz-Gustafson, Historias Fragmentadas 08, Photograph
Photograph with a bar of blues on the far left side and on the right a beach with water and a woman looking downward at her fading legs.
Claudia Ruiz-Gustafson, Historias Fragmentadas 30, Photograph
Photograph with a skinny vertical strip on the left of a hand written letter splashed with bars of light. On the right side is a white surface with a teacup holding a curling lock of hair that extends out of the teacup.
Claudia Ruiz-Gustafson, Historias Fragmentadas 28, Photograph
Claudia Ruiz-Gustafson, Rice With Milk, Photograph
Claudia Ruiz-Gustafson, Historias Fragmentadas 16, Photograph
Photograph of an old black and white photo portrait of a woman ripped in half, each side now bracketing a red strip of vertical cloth and a written letter in Portuguese.
Claudia Ruiz-Gustafson, Historias Fragmentadas 2, Photograph
Claudia Ruiz-Gustafson, Historias Fragmentadas 9, Photograph
Long panel of three wood segments with painted scenes of two women's faces on either end and several cities and figures between.
Jenny Carpenter, Fairy Tale Life , 2018, Oil on birch panels
Picture of a horizontal wood plank with paintings of a woman's face hand pinching hand on the right looking at a small two story house on the bottom left.
Jenny Carpenter, Fairy Tale Life – Detail, Oil on birch panel
Painting on a light tan birch panel of a woman in a strapless dress or towel and hair in a bun laying on her stomach with her head looking down into a hole. The whole and some details of the figure utilize the tree rings seen in the panel.
Jenny Carpenter, Rabbit Hole , 2019, Oil and graphite on birch panel
Black and white photograph of the back heads of three young girls, all with long braids on either side of their heads.
Kristen Emack, Braids , 2019, Archival Inkjet Print
Black and white photograph of three African American girls in a hotel bed with a photograph hanging above them and a pair of wall lights to their right.
Kristen Emack, Competition (Clinton Motel) , 2016, Archival Inkjet Print
Long photograph of four people seated around a dining table covered in wine bottles, glasses, and candles, actively in some amusing debate.
Lee Kirkpatrick, Kitty’s Last Supper , 2017, Archival Pigment Print
Large ball made up of various clothing items, tied together with strips of cloth.
Lisa Barthelson, life’s a ball 3, family debris , 2017-2019, found objects sculpture
Photograph of a large sculpture ball made from stuffed animals.
Lisa Barthelson, life’s a ball 2, family debris , 2017-2019, Found object sculpture
Black and white photograph of three African American girls, the tallest giving a piggyback to two smaller girls.
Kristen Emack, Piggyback , 2017, Archival Inkjet Print
Black and white photograph of two African American girls on the opposite side of a scratched plexiglass circular frame.
Kristen Emack, Plexiglass , 2017, Archival Inkjet Print
Kristen Emack, Soccer Ball , 2017, Archival Inkjet Print

This exhibition chronicles family gatherings and traditions through the accumulation of objects, people, and places.  This is most apparent in the work of Lisa Barthelson, whose family debris series takes the objects her family discarded—stuffed animals, socks, t-shirts, jeans, dance costumes—and reinvents them as giant orbs.  The accumulation of these items is both physically enticing and an exercise in nostalgia, since each item symbolizes a memory for the artist.  When they are complete, Barthelson’s works are literal family circles, almost overwhelming physical manifestations of everyday family life.

Both Jasmine Chen and Claudia Ruiz-Gustafson visually map their family history through their work.  Layering is a key aspect for both artists, telling their stories through the addition of materials.  For Jasmine Chen, layering involves paint and mixed media, working and reworking each piece, adding different elements as she recalls particular life events.  When each work is complete she has managed to link a past memory, often related to her childhood in China, to a more contemporary life experience.

Claudia Ruiz-Gustafson layers her works through an accumulation of objects which reveal passages from her family history.  Her work is primarily autobiographical, and her process of creating each piece allows her to reflect on the past.  She relies on visual codes and symbolism—old photographs, rays of light, birds, water, fabric, and thread—and the relationship between text and image.  The Historias Fragmentadas series is an exercise in memory and discovery.  In piecing together her family history in Peru and her immigration to the United States, she uses collage to uncover secrets and consider the person she is today.  Each work is another layer of her life’s narrative, and text is integral to the imagery, with her own writing further enriching the story of her family journey.  Both Chen and Ruiz-Gustafson add in order to uncover the past.

Jenny Carpenter is fascinated with where we come from, both ancestrally and geographically, and how the past affects our contemporary lives.  Her panoramas, depicting journeys to and from the Hudson Valley and Omaha, are chapters that piece together the story of her life, depicted in an ethereal, almost fairy-tale manner.  The panoramic effect in each of their works leads our eyes through their stories like a memory timeline.  Through visual cues and a subtle manipulation of the shape of things, these artists are able to enhance the narrative nature of their work.

Check out the artist’s websites:

Jasmine Chen

Jenny Carpenter

Claudia Ruiz-Gustafson

Lisa Barthelson