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Essay by Katja Rivera
Essay by Kathryn Hixson

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Creative Research Lab

INTERCHANGE - summer 2007

Problematizing Representation
by Kathryn Hixson

We seem to have a deep seated desire to transform the world around us into representations. In drawings, paintings, prints, and sculptures, the three-dimensional world, as experienced through time, is captured and frozen into a depiction, an illustration, or an abstracted interpretation of that moment. Much artwork creatively and steadfastly participates in this process. The artist mimics forms seen, translates them into a different dimension, and represents the content for a new experience in a new time. Different cultures and different eras have invented forms of representation to best address the various concerns and purposes of image making, from Australian Aboriginal dream walks to Italian Renaissance perspective to Cubist collage. From the mid-19th through the 20th century, the mechanical processes of photography have influenced the desire for virisimilitude in representation. In the early 21st century, digital technology offers even more alternative processes in which to portray our lives.

Why do we continually want to depict? What power is brokered when something is transformed into an image? Is there a specific kind of satisfaction provided by this mediation between reality and its frozen representation? On the other hand, what may be lost in this translation? Does the mediation of representation remove the possibility of direct experience? Who represents, and why? Many MFA students working at the University of Texas at Austin are now turning to the traditional media of painting, ceramics, and printmaking to wrestle with these problems of representation. They approach depiction through process, form, content, and reference, each offering a relevant discussion of image making for today. In so doing, each continues in the tradition of problematizing representation.

In painting, Karri Paul cuts up her ground of depiction into overlapping metal plates. On these odd rearranged shapes, she paints scenes of people in nature or as consumers; these representations mimic the reconstructions of memory. Bonnie Gammill paints the urban landscape, but she cuts into it with day-glo stripes that push the pictures into becoming combinations of abstract geometries: both utopian and city sprawl. Joshua Welker represents the human urge to control by building representations of order and power. In prints and paintings, he represents images of towers, some of which add up to the resonant power of Enlightenment reason and some of which crumble into the remains of the now lost hope for a post Enlightenment understanding begun by the early 20th-century avant-garde.

Working in the malleable medium of clay, Christa Mares creates images of three-dimensional fantasies. She decorates abstracted animal bodies with Rococo filigree, transforming them into whimsical yet persuasive personalities who with their formal presence challenge commercial efforts to represent our fantasies. Cecelia Phillips embraces literary modes of representation, using images to suggest narratives. With clear references to the historical traditions of portraiture and landscape, she illustrates moments of shared imagination. In contrast, Jani Benjamins in his Index series, foregoes verisimilitude to depict his own manufacture of mark-making. Through layers of paper, he pressed into graphite, making a mark that is essentially a "re"-presentation of the direct, physical, time-bound, gestural mark. In this simple mediation as well as with each of the others' strategies of depiction, both the power and the wistful sadness of representation are brought forward for consideration.


Kathryn Hixson is a Ph.D. candidate in modern and contemporary art working on a dissertation on the 1970s. She is an art critic and former editor of New Art Examiner, a Chicago art magazine.