Kalamazoo-based artist Adriane Little analyzes memory and lived experience in her solo-show Virginia Woolf Was Here. Currently at the Gallery of Art and Design at the Metropolitan Community College Elkhorn Valley Campus, the show runs until January 21, 2020. Presented works are divided into three distinct investigations that all focus on Virginia Woolf’s literary contributions, as well as her lived experiences.
This intertextual collaboration between Little and Woolf reminds the spectator of Woolf’s ordinariness, that like us, she indeed was a human with complex emotions and feelings.
Such connection is seen in “Mapping Mrs. Dalloway,” a selection 20 street-level photographs of London, which Mrs. Dalloway, a character from Woolf’s novel of the same name, waked. After capturing the street scenes, Little then divided the novel into twenty sections, analyzing and mapping the word count onto the photographs with green dots; the larger the dot, the more frequently the word appeared.
The artist furthers her conceptual approach by selecting a color related to Woolf’s life. While visiting Woolf’s residence in Rodmell, East Sussex, Little photographed the houses interior, choosing an aquamarine tint after color-matching it to the house’s wall paint.
Captured in black and white, London’s landscape exudes binary oppositions; a city transforming with post-modernist architecture while conserving centuries old buildings, overpopulated paths and squares with cozy and serene neighborhoods, simple floral shops in close proximity to Hermès boutiques; it is either one extreme or another.
These pairs are illustrated in “Mapping Mrs. Dalloway #9” and “Mapping Mrs. Dalloway #12.” While named in a predictable and systematic method, the works are quite distinct; #9 displays a crowded street scene of tourists gazing in one direction, while #12 is a George C. Ault-like night composition; with no humans, and the gravitas of the atmosphere creating a dense air.
Although meant to capture the lived experience of Mrs. Dalloway’s fictitious life, the images implicate Woolf’s own experiences in London. Little says in her show statement “these are the same streets that Woolf herself walked countless times.”
Furthermore, the artist frames the photographs in such a way that we as spectators are allowed to embody Mrs. Dalloway and Woolf. It is as if one is in London, walking these paths, living vicariously through Little’s camera. And while London’s horizon has physically changed, one’s embodiment of Woolf’s life is not challenged; it is totally authentic.
Little again plays with secondhand experiences in “Flush,” a series of polaroid photographs taken in St. Ives, Cornwall. Like “Mapping Mrs. Dalloway,” the title is borrowed from one of Woolf’s works. Inspired by Woolf’s own dog, Pinka, the novel follows the biography and adventures of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s adopted cocker spaniel named Flush.
Compositionally, the photographs are voyeuristic, with most dogs and pet owners unaware of the fact that they are being captured. Anthropocentric entitlement is subverted within the scenes, with humans only partially captured (often just the legs), and with man’s companion species at the center of attention. However, humans still relish in their power by keeping their pets on leashes.
There are some exceptions to this, as some photographs show dogs that are not bound by leashes and are free to roam the landscape as they wish, like in “Flush #2” and “Flush #9”, and another sleeping on top of a staircase as seen in “Flush #11.” However, the majority of dogs are leashed, and some are even muzzled, like the dog in “Flush #10.”
Instead of focusing on how humans live in their cities, Little highlights how dogs navigate urban spaces. But as humans, it is difficult to relate to our companion species in such a literal way, especially when these dogs have such little agency. Little does not even attempt to capture views of St. Ives through the eyes of a dog; instead, the viewer is expected to speculate on what dogs think and experience.
“Altered Books” is the third and final set of works presented in the exhibition. Comprised of green bubble glass vases and book pages, the sculptures conceptually approach Woolf’s books, pairing them with a water source that is relevant to the book or Virginia Woolf’s life. Some of the chosen books are To the Lighthouse, The Years, and The Waves, among others.
Similar to the other two sets of work, Little had to pilgrimage to the relevant city or cite to create her pieces. In this case, she traveled to the chosen bodies of water. Once deconstructing her books, she shaped pages into tiny spherical forms, which, once dry, were then poured into the green vases.
The vessel groupings are balanced out on plinths, with the appearance of being arranged randomly, but formally, these vessels play with shape, size, volume, and space. They are filled with the previously mentioned crushed spherical pages to varying degrees, some almost to the brim, but others less than halfway.
Without context, a viewer would have difficulty trying to decipher what the crushed pages say, or what book they come from; however, the allure of these works comes not from their physical manifestations, but its meaning.
These works are poignant, and its title is a play on words; the works are not just altered, but they are also “altared.” “The Years” exemplifies Little’s evocation of memory, ritual, sorrow, and death, as Little sources her water from the River Ouse in East Sussex, where Woolf filled her pockets with rocks and drowned. This work stands as an altar, a requiem to Virginia Woolf’s life and work, and functions as a place for meditation on suicide.
While “The Years” is somber, her other works are much more laid-back and playful, and one can imagine the bottles being thrown out to sea, waiting to be discovered to announce hidden treasures.
Fundamentally, Adriane Little’s collaborative effort with Woolf is about a literary giant’s lived experience in her home country. There are no grandiose exclamations about the genius or rarity of Woolf; instead there is commentary on her daily life. Her work captures the everyday activities of any London urbanite, and we are allowed to embody this experience.
Virginia Woolf Was Here will remain open until January 21, 2020, at Metropolitan Community College’s Gallery of Art and Design located on 829 N. 204th St., Elkhorn, NE 68022. Gallery hours are from Monday-Thursday, 9am – 8 pm, and Friday at 9 am – 5 pm. For more information, contact Carrie Morgan, gallery director, at email@example.com.