Tracy Templeton is an artist that I have been aware of and admired for some time, in particular as the curator for 'Light Matter,' an exhibition examining the relationship between photography and printmaking that she curated at the Grunwald Gallery, Indiana University, Bloomington in 2017. Whilst a visitor recently at the School of Art & Design, Indiana University where Tracy is Professor of Printmaking, I had the opportunity to become more familiar with both her work and ideas.
Brought up on a farm in Southern Saskatchewan, Canada, she was in her own words ‘surrounded by the detritus of the Dirty Thirties (Dust Bowl) farming and financial crisis. Abandoned farmsteads from this era littered my landscape and the region with weathered, swayback buildings, hinting at a distant time of colonisation. My nearest inhabiting neighbours were three and five miles away respectively; in between and in all directions lay abandoned homesteads. An assortment of furniture, clothes, pictures, and personal items remained behind, denoting the harsh circumstances and haste of abrupt departures.'
This vast and harsh landscape and the human trace that is testament to the struggle against economic imperatives and an unforgiving climate, provide the source for her imaginative works. In a number of these works, bedding laid out in the fresh snow, appears as in a dream. Illuminated by an eerie light and with the sense of it being like a photographic negative, the sheets still bear the imprint of their occupant. This apparition is held within a night starry sky with a light fall of snow and its promise of eventually burying the evidence. Is this an act of negation or cleansing?
The falling snow also creates an almost imperceptible screen through which the viewer gazes, compounded by the light touch of etched marks that further draw attention to the space in-between viewer and subject. In 'The Quiet of Snow' a large digital print with etching and chine-colle, she brings together the languages of printmaking and photography. Tracey has a light touch, nodding equally to both histories, the factual evidence of photography against the surface mark making of print.
'The Quiet of Snow' clearly references the billboard series 'Untitled' (1991) by Félix González-Torres where throughout twenty-four locations in New York, he presented a photograph of an unmade bed, with the impression of the occupant still visible on the pillow. Likewise, but from earlier times it seems to connect with Andrea Mantegna’s painting of 'The Lamentation over the Dead Christ,' c.1480 in the foreshortening of the image and in the pallor of the winding sheets. These connections, add rather than subtract from the experience of being in front of her image.
Tracy’s images resonate with the themes we are exploring in the AHRC-funded research network 'Picturing the Invisible.' Like Professor Morgan’s forensic studies, she presents evidence to be interpreted, evidence that as the snow falls will be lost. The viewer, like the forensic scientist, is curious to know the identity of the figure that has left its impression but we can only guess. Furthermore, we are left speculating on the intention. Was this a moment of revelry, like a child in the snow making angels, or is there something more sinister, more melancholic about the circumstances that have led to this?