Two Artists Create a Diorama – of Themselves

The many-faceted world of McCleary and Rothlisberger.

According to artists Lauren McCleary and Mary Rothlisberger, “The world we walk through mirrors the world we build within ourselves.” Now others can peer into that world through The Atlas of Here & There: Making This Day Out of Many, a new installation commissioned by Spaceworks Tacoma. The Atlas, at 912 Broadway, is literally a window into the artists’ internal landscape, a playful yet intricate vision of the things that make their world tick. This teeming work explores ideas of abiding friendship, memory, transience, place, shelter, and environmental sustainability. Packed with visual information, it invites viewers to imagine their own stories about the permeable world embedded within layers and layers of unlikely, yet subtly connected, objects that animate the work.

Visual clues to a passage where ideas bloom.

Rothlisberger and McCleary are frequent collaborators who hail from the Palouse country of eastern Washington. Their art and writing reflect the influence of the wide open, gold-flecked landscape of wheat country: “We believe in intersections where human experiences collide to make mountain ranges that stretch across the spaces between us. The imaginary cartography of everyday interactions makes an atlas out of everyone,” says their artist statement.

By meticulously mapping their own creative wayfinding, they illustrate a more universal story shared by humans. Giant, abstract sheaves of wheat; a herd of tiny mobile-suspended horses; cubist skyscrapers carved of cardboard; and spinning pinwheels (that evoke the wind farms of eastern Washington) are just a few of the elements in this feast-like visual narrative. Low-tech, recyclable materials such as cardboard, paper, yarn and surplus textiles; and hand-construction techniques such as sewing, lashing, weaving and knotting; underline the artists’ respect for basic materials and methods. “Sustainability and reuse are an important part of our collaborative practice. We believe that the creative process should be hinged on an everyday accessibility, [and] within this consumer culture we have an abundance of material that can be reused.

The diorama is the duo’s chosen vehicle for personal storytelling: “Historically, natural history dioramas were used to educate while allowing the audience to independently explore a concept.” Their usage is more contemporary, unleashing playful, idiosyncratic imagery that allows viewers to both interpret and compose their own stories based on the hand-crafted information artfully staged in the window. In past work, the artists’ have updated the form by taking it outside of formal settings, such as museums and galleries, and into open-air environments such as backyards and frozen lakes.

“Telling stories, making stories and sharing stories is how we build relationships,” they point out. “Collaborative fictions and shared imaginaries transform an invisible space into a landscape of thought and visual storytime.” The Atlas of Here & There: Making This Day Out of Many, 912 Broadway, Nov. 15, 2011 – Feb. 28, 2012. Click here for more information on Mary Rothlisberger and Lauren McCleary.

0 thoughts on “Two Artists Create a Diorama – of Themselves

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