KHFA exhibition archives

Sarah Hutt/Kathleen Packlick

Sarah Hutt: My Mother's Legacy
Kathleen Packlick: Misplaced Memory
July 11-September 25, 2020

Essay by Susie Kalil

It's been said that we never really forget anything, and all our pasts lie deep within us somewhere waiting for a stray sight or smell to bring them to the surface again. But memory is more than looking back to a time that is no longer. It is a looking out into another kind of time where everything continues to grow and change with the life that is in it still. Vanished faces and voices. The people we loved. The people who loved us. The beauty of memory lies in its capacity for rendering detail, for paying homage to the senses and our richness of existence. But time dilutes and corrodes until there is nothing left to tell. Whatever is remembered is what becomes reality.

Sarah Hutt, My Mother's Legacy

With large parts of our lives on pause from recent events, our relationship to each other and the world outside of our homes has been profoundly altered. Sarah Hutt's "My Mother's Legacy" and Kathleen Packlick's "Misplaced Memory," joint installations present by Kirk Hopper Fine Art, serve as psychologically empowering acts that bring about a deeper understanding of human experience. The mixed media works focus on recollections, dreams and an ever-changing reality. Both artists speculate on the role that memory plays in underwriting the sense of choice and direction in our lives.

Kathleen Packlick, Misplaced Memory—Brown Weave", 2019, woven paper collage, 12" x 16"

The notion of duration—the time it has taken to gather the materials and produce the work over two decades—is essential to the installations. They're bouncy in spirit, yet have their own peculiar edge and make their own peculiar demands. Grounded in the ordinary, the works are energizing and melancholic, full of wondrous juxtapositions and ripe with magical, provocative details. Making. Finding. KHFA is filled with over 1,000 objects, each object leading us to the next, just as one thought leads to another. It's impossible not to be astounded and captivated by the sheer labor intensiveness.

Sarah Hutt's "My Mother's Legacy" confronts viewers with a formidable presence—a 1,000 line poem burned into the bottom of 1,000 wooden bowls. Each bowl is a vessel of sustenance, as well as an offering of unconditional love, of loss and renewal, the passing of generations. Hutt was just 13 years old when her mother died. In the summer of 1994, Hutt's sister came up with an idea of putting together memory books on each set of grandparents for her children. Finding only fuzzy black and white photos taken by their mother, without explanation, date or location, Hutt realized her family's historical links had vanished.

She began to write down lines, phrases, fragments of conversation and chipper banalities as a way to coalesce memories and give them form: "My mother told me to take chances," "My mother said trust your own judgment," "My mother kept a bluebird feather," "My mother loved Sinatra." At KHFA, the 1,000 bowls are stacked and piled onto tables where they can be picked up and read at random. "As each bowl is lifted, it reminds me of my mother's habit of turning things over to see where they were made," says Hutt.

These cultural castoffs do not excuse themselves from the demands of real life. They glow with strange significance and can be viewed as metaphors for cultural illusions about romance, success, even mortality. Just as important are the underlying emotional currents of sorrow, discontent and a sense of missed opportunities—things that could or should have been said.

Touching each bowl (disposable gloves are provided), reading each phrase compels us to come to grips with the fact that life doesn't always work the way we expect it to. Her installation resonates in our anxious, uncertain times: There are moments when the world we take for granted instantly changes; when reality is abruptly upended and the unimaginable overwhelms or scrambles our lives.

Hutt's bowls are almost imperceptibly transformed into works pregnant with meaning—not because she has worked some sort of mysterious alchemy on them—but because she has left well enough alone. Each bowl brings us back to life's little miracles. Like visual riddles, they beckon the eye as a way of baiting the mind.

Kathleen Packlick's "Misplaced Memory"—some 100 egg tempera and shellac panels and works on paper, as well as collages—are gathered obsessively into compact cosmogonies that provide relief from the intensity of life. A kind of meditative gift is gleaned from the activity. With an exquisite standard of craft, Packlick addresses the senses and, through the senses, communicates to the intellect and the psyche. Wandering through her installation is, by turns, like tumbling into one of Matisse's paintings—all color and form in endless, fluid flux—and winding through a Beat poem, where the author realizes that everything contains the potential for beauty.

All of Packlick's works investigate the very notion of the eye across, in and through the surfaces. They move. Some are composed of rows of concentric circles in flux, simultaneously reading as colorful marbles, doughnuts, eyes or planetary charts. Others evoke stones, leaves, raindrops, meteor showers or the random shapes of passing clouds.

At the same time, Packlick's quirky color choices, her use of yellow and chartreuse, mossy greens and hot pinks, set up an array of shifts and pops, so that the illusory space becomes a lush, vibratory zone of interpenetrating events and planes. She structures the works around an internal grid. Against it, solid and void, foreground and background, abstract pattern and representational image variously reveal and obscure each other. They defy any linear, one-track reading of their subject matter. Rather, they are about the perplexing dilemma of reconciling art and life.

Sometimes the works edge toward a narrative order, revealing rhythms of connection, separation and ending. The entirety may be read left to right, like language, or serve as a painting journal of sorts. Delicately applied and invisibly blended, colors seem at times about to vaporize and at other times like gossamer veils or wrinkled skin. Packlick's works unfold in time. A shape seems recognizable only for an instant before transforming into another related form. A square becomes a circle, the circle becomes an arc, the arc leads the eye dreamily back into the depths only to discover a mark or gesture that pulls us back to the surface.

Throughout "Misplaced Memory," Packlick culls motifs from thrift stores or diverse scraps of Pop culture—ubiquitous patterns of the 1940s and 50s—aprons, tablecloths, kitchen linoleum, wallpaper—that pervade childhood memories as both sublime and degraded cultural signifiers. The electrified arrangements wobble and crackle, giving her abstractions the giddy energy of a circus. "When I make the marks, nervous energy comes out," she says. "Afterwards, I'll assess what it recalls—a place, or something touched." In each case, Packlick bends, twists and tweaks the banal into fine-tuned compositions that allude to prior uses, while simultaneously opening the floodgates for more novel revelations.

Taken together, the installations stimulate an excessive production of multiple references and structural chains. Moving back and forth between abstract thought and sensuous physicality, Hutt and Packlick confound the translation of their works between perception and cognition, seeing and knowing. "My Mother's Legacy" and "Misplaced Memory" offer seemingly infinite points of connection in a disconnected world.

Kathleen Packlick, Misplaced Memory—Little Green, 2019, egg tempera and shellac on wood panel, 11" x 14"
Sarah Hutt, My Mother's Legacy