Human Imprint: Structures, Artifacts and Women and Exhibit
On Display December 18, 2018 - May 31, 2019
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Through this project, artist Sarah Gjertson explores historic mining sites around Colorado, many of which of are in precarious states due to long term exposure, neglect and other human impacts. Gjertson has documented and researched a variety of these sites and uncovered some of the lesser known histories of women and their contributions to this highly mythologized time in the American West.
Much of my work has explored nostalgia, American expectations of “womanhood”, and the utilization of objects/materials to elicit feelings of longing or familiarity. This approach has extended to the “Human Imprint” project through research and visits to historic town sites and mining operations in Colorado, most of which are 100-150 years old. I am not interested in the “gold rush” aspect of these sites, but am compelled by the human imprint that remains there – the evidence of ingenuity, curious artifacts, skeletons of architectural structures and evidence of the hand. This lineage of the handmade is exciting to me as an artist and maker, exploring the histories of these sites and the people who inhabited them through prints, sculptures, photographs and found objects.
Incorporating an aesthetics of decay, the work addresses the mythologizing of a highly romanticized time in the American West, and the almost invisible role of women (beyond their recognized contributions as prostitutes). While I’ve conducted extensive research in texts and archives, I find that being present physically at these sites and surrounding topography allows me to bear witness to the residue of human activity that has since been cast aside, buried, or is in a state of disintegration due to exposure or neglect. There is a strong pull of sentimentality and nostalgia witnessed at these “living museums” and I’m fascinated by the stories told by these decaying structures, and the cans, glass bottles, ceramic shards, and the artifacts that surround them.
Of particular interest are the gloves, shoe soles, and delicate pieces of painted china and mother-of-pearl buttons which evidence the presence of women, whose stories I hope to reveal in this project. My hope is this work is a prime vehicle to start conversations around the challenges of preservation, the relevance of local history, and the roles of women at a pivotal time in the American West.
Sarah Gjertson earned her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1997, and is currently an Associate Professor of Studio Art in the School of Art & Art History at the University of Denver. Since joining DU in 2002, she has developed and administered the foundational art curriculum for the School, has taught a variety of Studio Art courses from the beginning to advanced level, as well as upper level Seminar courses like “Professional Practice” and “Bad Girls, Riot Grrrls and Misbehaving Women”.
Her research and studio practice has explored American expectations of “womanhood” and the personal and social potency of nostalgia and longing. By exploiting associations we have with objects and materials, the mediums of her work are determined by a conceptual lineage to their subjects. From liquid makeup to inflatables and cast objects, aspects of comfort, familiarity and memory are triggered by an integrated practice that embraces a variety of media: sculpture, installation, video, printmaking and photography.