Emptiness pervades each seat, corridor, staircase, dining room and driveway that follow one after another in Gillian Willans MFA exhibition. Conjuring the return of the same through shades of repetition, it is not only absence that pervades each scene, but the lingering specter of memories and presence that haunts the entire exhibit.
As I passed each series of clustered works, I wondered where this was all leading, how it was all going to tie together. Deserted private spaces, both interior and exterior, are reconstructed over and over again. Loose sheets, paired images, a painted shadow--inserted between the exterior of a house, several houses, awashed under blue, white, pink lit skies. Looking at each empty chair, at each seemingly abandoned house, the same empty chair caught in a different shade from the last, infused with another layer of thought and emotion, I wondered who inhabited these spaces--whose absence are we supposedly longing for?
Image credit: Gillian Willans, Installation detail, 2008
Doubling back from beginning to end the narrative emerged. The narrative arch does not operate within the standard sequence of time and space; each work lives, breathes, and feeds off the others. It is the compendium of absence and repetition that threads this show together beyond a painting exhibit. Willans is explicit in her title of investigating all the things “hiding in plain sight.” Only her investigation goes beyond the content of her works, but goes deeper into the form, digging gratuitously into the construct of still life painting and what lies beneath the concept of painting at all. It’s contestable whether this is still life at all, but there is the arrangement or construction of the scene, a creative non fictitiousness of life, and the exercise in capturing a segment of life has been infused with a coherent voice challenging us with looking beyond strokes and palettes.
There is one wall of the same, a double row of houses repeated over and again, flashing different hues, tones, memories. In contrast to the rest of the exhibit, which hangs in non structured tangents, this wall reinforces that every moment (in the Derridian differance) hinges its own meaning on another, in spite of their apparent sameness. Each and every single moment, captured as image, constructed as painting, remains unique in meaning--and it is this uniqueness, heightened in direct relation to its apparent sameness, that begins tracing out what truly exists in plain sight.