The James May Gallery highlights the intersect of time and memory with its October exhibit, featuring the work of ceramicist Jill Birschbach and oil painter Kendra Bulgrin.
Birschbach is an Illinois artist who explores the passage of time – and the sense of loss that often accompanies it – by combining her passion for ceramics and photography to create thought-provoking sculptural pieces.
The exhibit will feature pieces from her Small Monuments Series, a collection of work featuring photos from Birschbach’s personal collection. They capture the people and atmosphere of her childhood stomping grounds and when combined with ceramics, she explains, further immortalize lifetime memories.
“I’ve always been interested in how photographs freeze that moment in time and in a lot of ways, the photographs become your memories,” Birschbach said. “When you think of your childhood memories, it seems like a lot of memories I have are based on photos from family albums. I’m just really interested in how photographs become memory and also to help stop the passage of time in a way.”
These sepia scenes of the easily overlooked pieces of life – vintage flowered wallpaper, laundry blowing in the breeze, a basketball hoop hung above a garage – are created on a house form, a choice Birschbach made to further her work’s resonance with the viewer.
“They can see a piece in their own childhood or their own town or the house that they grew up in or things that were around them that might seem familiar and just to kind of talk about how time has passed and try to hold onto time or the memories that you have,” Birschbach said. “I definitely think there’s a sense of melancholy in them, at least for me.
“That’s what I’m trying to convey to people – the sadness of time moving on and things are not like that anymore,” she added. “Most of those spaces do not really exist anymore. My parents moved away from the house I grew up in, my grandparents are no longer living so the way they had their house is frozen in time forever and I think a lot of people probably have those types of memories as well, they stay frozen in your mind even though time has moved on.”
Along with pieces from her Small Monument Series, the exhibit includes Birschbach’s similar but larger house forms that eternalize “little piece of memories” along with a series of related wall pieces in house and cloud forms, and ceramic sculptures that explore industrial machines and boat forms.
Paralleling Birschbach’s focus on time and memories are oil paintings by Kendra Bulgrin, who opened James May Gallery in 2015 with her husband, Jimmy Eddings. Bulgrin’s works examine the longing and construct of identity and memory through imaginative oil adaptations of photographs.
Unlike Birschbach’s use of archived family photos, Bulgrin stages photographs of miniatures that serve as metaphors for different people and places in her life. She also employs life-sized decoys of wild animals – recently snow geese – to explore humans’ desire to connect with nature and wildlife despite becoming increasingly detached from it. As she states in her artist’s statement, “Actual closeness with wild animals is difficult or nearly impossible to achieve except in captivity.”
The decoys and miniatures, then, create a safe distance that allows Bulgrin to explore her feelings of detachment from family, nature, memory and her own roots, and has the potential to help viewers do the same.
“They’ve always had this undercurrent of searching for identity and meaning, a sadness, a loss,” Bulgrin said of her work. “I’ve been working with identity and my memory, with my past and trying to find out more about my family.
“By making them miniatures, they can stand in for the universal and people can put their own stories into them.”
James May Gallery is located at 213 Steele St. in Algoma. Hours are 10am – 5pm Thursday through Saturday, 1 – 5pm Sunday, and 10am – 1pm Monday. For more information, visit JamesMayGallery.com.