Forest City Gallery’s Intern, Alanna Sulz, spent one snowy day contemplating Mark Dudiak’s exhibition Set on Stone. Below, Alanna offers some observations about life, loss, and portraiture.
Photo courtesy of the artist / taken by Jesse Boles
Forest City Gallery’s first exhibition of 2016 was Mark Dudiak’s Set on Stone, which was on display from Friday, January 8 to Friday, February 12. Dudiak is a Montreal-based multi-disciplinary artist whose work ranges from painting, installation, photography and video. His work frequently addresses ideas and politics of public space and collective memory.
The exhibition featured recent photographs of tombstones and grave-sites from locations throughout North America and Europe. The collection consisted of small-scale photographs, some coloured, others black & white. The photographs were framed and mounted on stenciled wall-paintings rendered in light grey and white.
Dudiak provides minimal information about the individuals represented on the tombstones. The lack of context and abundance of mystery, prompted my attempts to form narrative about the individuals depicted in the photographs. Are there relationships between them? Are they from the same place? How do they want to be remembered? I tried to answer these questions by examining the organization of the images.
The majority of the photographs are organized in five sections. While most of the images are placed in groups, three photographs stand alone in the gallery. These photographs particularly intrigued me. Unlike the other portraits, they are not placed on the grey and white graffiti background. Instead, these three photographs are installed on a white-walled background. One image features the portrait of a middle-aged woman, while the second image depicts the full-body shot of an elderly man. The third image includes a portrait of a young man. I found myself probing the photographs for signs, symbols, or stories that conveyed an aspect of their lives. Although I tried to search each image for information about the individual depicted, I was left with more questions than answers.
My reaction to this exhibition parallels the questions Dudiak addresses in this exhibition, which asks if any trace of individuality can survive when images inevitably lose personal context. Dudiak addresses the ways in which memorials and graffiti both rely on personal context to describe individuals who are both anonymous and absent. Upon further research, I learned that the photographic portraits in this exhibition are not of people per-se but of the pictures that, they, or their family chose to represent them in perpetuity. The lack of information provided by the photographic portraits articulates a subjective absence that highlights tensions between image, memory and presence. The portraits only provide the viewer with traces of their stories. The viewer leaves the exhibition with questions about the individuals’ identities, lives, and the memories they leave behind.