Emily Prince (1981-) was born and raised in Gold Run, California (population 125). She studied Art and Psychology at Stanford and completed her MFA at U. C. Berkeley in 2008. One of my favorite things about her is that she incorporates time as a medium and is as enamored with memory as I am. A lot of her work investigates how we as humans respond to the passage of time and catalogue those things that are gone. She currently lives and works in San Francisco.
This is one of her most famous works that I was blessed to see this past year at the Saatchi Gallery in London, American Servicemen and Women Who Have Died in Iraq and Afghanistan (But Not Including the Wounded, nor the Iraqis nor the Afghans)
2004 – to present:
Learn more here, but it’s not even her best stuff. Read on.
Prince says her artworks express the way she sees her environment and that all of her works share a common thread: they map her environment and focus on things, one at a time. This is seen in an exhibit called Familiar at the Eleanor Harwood Gallery in San Francisco in which she catalogued in graphite illustration all the skeins of yarn, knives, bikes, and other items in her apartment, page by page.
Another example of her collecting narrative is seen in the work Portraits based on images in Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. On her website, she states: “I felt a deep void in my knowledge of American history, not knowing anything (besides myth) about the indigenous people who lived and live here. At the same time, I did feel a peripheral connection to this history, however oblique, because of where I grew up – in the town of Gold Run, California… A hint at the very realness of this history was directly in my environment growing up and as a child it made me feel like I lived amongst ghosts…after reading Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, I made these embroideries to meditate on a few of the individuals in this history. These faces come from pictures in the book. I felt a need to spend time looking at these figures who were hauntingly absent from my formal education. I was trying to correct that”.
Prince once again focuses on the past and the narrative of memory in the installation We Are Alive in These Canyons (Berkeley Art Museum, 2008), where she dialogues about the experience of sorting through old family photo albums, curious about our nostalgic reaction to the past. Prince questions why we view the past through particular lenses, how old photographs affect the construction of our memories, and what effect this has on our knowledge of history, both individual and collective. The piece is comprised of collages based on family snapshots that are projected through the use of a zoopraxiscope (the viewer must turn the crank). With three projections, and all of them operating independently, the juxtaposition of images is constantly in flux, like memory itself, which moves not in a linear way but by forever shifting associative pathways.
The body of work shown in The Way it Used to Be (Kent Gallery, New York, 2009) once again explores the psychological phenomenon of nostalgia, with a curiosity about how humans cope with loss. Holding on to the past of course depends upon our memory, but what happens when that very armature is unstable and slippery? In this recent work Emily Prince is looking specifically at the romantic impulse to preserve the past while simultaneously “re-membering” it (a combination that is potentially paradoxical, but perhaps so outside of our ordinary awareness) as seen in the piece “Left: doily crocheted by my grandmother, Right: doily replicated in paper”.
The pieces in this series ask many wonderful questions, such as: “First, why do we even perceive memories nostalgically?”… “How is nostalgia related to the pain of loss?”… “More complex than just being sentimental, what does nostalgia have to do with survival?… “Do we experience nostalgia as a species (for really old stuff: rocks and trees, etc)?”… “How does nostalgia color and shape, confine and confabulate our ideas of history, both personal and cultural?”… “What role does photography play, particularly the family snapshot?”… “What are we longing for and why do we feel longingly for things once they are at a distance?”… “Besides for remembering, what does nostalgia do for forgetting?”
The answers to these questions are searched for in a variety of mediums. Because of the non-linear and unwieldy character of human memory, Prince finds it necessary to operate with various means in tandem, experimenting with repeated and failing attempts, toward containing the past. And through this struggle the initial clarity of mimesis breaks down: patterns turn chaotic, things disappear, edges blur, surfaces crumple, the aim of reproduction fails. In memory the visible becomes invisible, the visit-able, invisitable. Visiting memory is a gesture recapture what will inevitably always remain beyond our grasp.
For a good time, learn more on her website.