Academic journal article Afterimage

Clear Voices

Academic journal article Afterimage

Clear Voices

Article excerpt

Portrait Narratives by Jonathan Sharlin Ganser Gallery, Millersville University Millersville, Pennsylvania April 6-May 9, 1999

Jonathan Sharlin's installation "Portrait Narratives" combined image, text and space to recount the experiences of nine Holocaust survivors who live in Rhode Island where the artist works. Sharlin photographed each of the individuals and asked them to write about a personal experience from World War II. The portraits and texts were enlarged and printed on 3x5-foot kodalith film and hung from rows of cables stretched between the gallery walls.

While the piece was uncomplicated in its presentation, issues concerning the nature, of memory and the effects of personal history were raised through the arrangement of the installation's elements. Treating the two-dimensional film sheets as three-dimensional walls, Sharlin created a path by which the viewer could move through the piece. He also controlled the pace of that movement by altering the presentation of the survivors' testaments. Some films contained the entire text a survivor had written, while others were enlarged and cropped, rendering them abstract. For instance, words and phrases like "shot to death" and "tragedy" were enlarged and hung close to the entrance of the installation while the next film presented text on an intimate scale. This change in legibility paced the viewer through the installation.

The films acted not only as transparent walls that divided space, but also as veils that both concealed and then revealed relationships. Like wrinkles etched on the faces of survivors, the words overlapped the portraits, leaving one to consider the effects those experiences had on the individuals. But Sharlin's interest also seemed to lie in the realm of the general effects of memory as the texts were not attributed to specific persons. One could look at the surface of the work to learn about an individual's past, then look through the layers of information to consider the larger role that a personal history plays in one's life.

Even though Sharlin manipulated the texts in a formal way for the installation, the survivors' letters were available in their entirety at the gallery desk. …

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