Linnea Glatt and Frances Merritt Thompson

Museum of Art

Architectural sculptor Linnea Glatt and photocollagist Frances Merritt Thompson’s collaboration, Expose, Acknowledge, Reconcile, 1989, consists of two drywall structures that run the length of the gallery, inset with a series of slatted, wooden screens that can be opened by the viewer to reveal backlit transparencies. Two rows of elegant, if not quite comfortable, double-sided plywood chairs run down the center of the installation.

Filling the entire windows, Thompson’s Duratrans photocollages achieve a cinematic presence. They combine such images as a human fetus with a medieval map of the solar system, or a news photo of a riot with diagrams of the constellations. In one, a hand lifts the side of a mountain, exposing a mound of human skeletons, while another presents two grotesquely mummified rodents. One image combines several human fetuses with shots of infant graves the stones of which are marked only with numbers and dates. Background information provided by the museum explains that this image is from a cemetery behind a turn-of-the-century home for unwed mothers in Arlington, Texas, near where Glatt and Thompson first showed this work. According to the brochure, this graveyard served as a “touchstone” for the project. In the Arlington installation, the metaphorical connections linking these anonymous graves with cosmic speculation and violence in Central American churches were more apparent. These images strained to find their commonality while sacrificing their more pronounced differences. Perhaps, as the images imply, we live atop literal mountains of the forgotten dead, but the strength of Glatt and Thompson’s work lies not in their exposition of this theme, but rather in the way they stage their viewers’ encounters with the processes announced in the installation’s title.

Viewers must actively expose the images in the walls by opening the shades. Once an image is exposed, the artists provide a chair from which it may be observed, and from this position the viewer may contemplate it in isolation. If one turns and sits on the other side of the chair, both the corresponding image across the room and possibly a fellow observer in the opposite chair come into view. The opportunity for dialogue—and conceivably for “reconciliation”—has been created.

If one focuses on the images that the artists have chosen, this installation becomes simplistic and didactic. The processes that Glatt and Thompson demonstrate, however, are fundamental to human dialogue, and by providing a context and an opportunity for viewers to engage these processes, the artists avoid preaching. It is interesting to note that, as simple as the activities required of the viewers seem to be, visitors at the museum are often either so disinterested, or so uncomfortable with the idea of “touching the art,” that they never get as far as opening the wooden screens.

Charles Dee Mitchell