Monday, February 28, 2011

The melancholy object

Vicki Ragan, Anthropologies 

Since its invention in the 19th century, the art of photography has transformed the way we locate memory and the tools we use to identify or give meaning to the visual moments of our lives. From the start, photography was a touchstone for our collective dreams and our shared sense of history, whether personal or cultural. For Vicki Ragan, an artist whose works traverse numerous idioms, the photographic lens has acted as a partner in her ongoing explorations of thought, memory and sense of place. 

An obsessive collector, Ragan's studio is a veritable Wunderkammern filled with oddities and objets d’art and the endless parade of knick knacks that line her walls and shelves. Tiny pitchers and decorative plates, wooden chairs, vintage pictures and maps, sea shells, buttons, plastic bugs, matchbooks and little animals spill out of storage boxes. These are the raw materials with which she choreographs still life elements and the visual poetries of remembrance, mysticism, presence and waking dreams. In much of her work, she shares in the Surrealist dislocations of Man Ray and Merit Oppenheim, the lyricism of Odilon Redon, Joseph Cornell’s precision and mysticism and the seductions of what Susan Sontag called “the melancholy object.” 

In The Little Dress Series, Ragan transforms a gauzy undergarment into something unearthly – even beatific – an object that evokes loss, divinity, tenderness. The little dress, her muse, has traveled with the artist across the U. S. and throughout Europe and Mexico since she acquired it in 2001.  In these places the  dress  serves  as  a  marker, locating  time  and  place  somewhere in  the  dreamy  threshold  that  exists between twilight and dawn, sleeping and waking. In Provence, France, 2007, the little petticoat hovers on the tips of long grasses that splay across the French countryside. Delicate, diaphanous, the object glows from within as if it possessed its own light source. The embodiment of childhood is implicit.

Early in her career, Ragan worked at Brandeis University as a scientific photographer where she was routinely asked to document objects that she didn’t understand and sometimes couldn’t identify -- molecular models and the like. Perhaps this experience played a part in Ragan’s attraction to the visual conundrums she often employs in her work. In juxtaposing elements and shifting the meanings within identity, memory and concept, Ragan has come to create her own mythologies.  Whatever form her work takes, it exudes a kind of articulated wonderment in which even everyday objects seem in touch with a higher power. Ragan has a special ability to convey timelessness and mutability, to invoke hallucinations and to marry fantasy and reality.                                                                            JMG

Vicki Ragan, Anthropologies, Islip Art Museum
February 9 through March 27, 2011