MERRILEE CHALLISS: PALIMPSEST
Julia Martin Gallery / 444 Humphreys St. August 5, 2023 - August 26, 2023
Exploring definitions of interconnectedness, Challiss’s new body of work considers femininity through personal experience and stories throughout history. In her open ended sculptures and drawings, Challiss creates space for dialogue and invites the viewer to fill in the blanks.
Born of grief, hope, transition, transformation and the renewal of life, this multi-media installation explores my own changing experience and the feminine archetype as palimpsest. A nod to the liminal, palimpsest can mean “altered but still bearing traces of its earlier form” (Wikipedia). In this case, the idea of that palimpsest functions as a metaphor for the feminine archetype as a continual site of renewal (as in a feedback loop). The feminine archetype of the crone or grotesque, for me, ultimately is a generative force that provides protection and guardianship, such as the Sheela-na-gig, or the Egyptian god Bes, respectively. It is the scarring over of a healing wound that does not heal, a hand that writes a prayer over and over, the mark of time across a surface, the stories and histories (and rights) written and overwritten, and the crone looking back at herself as a maiden, wiser, yet wizened.
The installation is an assemblage of various intuitive media and material explorations in which images have been overlaid and overprinted on top of each other and found objects have been transformed from their original meaning and use. The hand and the eye are central motifs, suggesting presence, protest, objection and protection. Each of the 13 hands represents aspects of a different feminine archetype, such as lover, huntress, healer, etc. Layered images, signs and symbols, some in watercolor and / or gouache, some screen-printed and / or stitched over, allow for open-ended, multi-valent meanings and invite the viewer to draw upon their own associations to complete the work. Ultimately this reliquary of imagined sacred objects, or relics of imaginary “saints” (or wise women who push(ed) society forward) is meant to conjure a spell of protection.