Journey into a Virtual Fantasy in Laura Hendricks’ SIX MONTH SUMMER
Long before the invention of cameras or computers, paintings and drawings were the only type of “virtual” reality people experienced. While gazing into a work of art, a viewer was transported into a new, imaginary world designed by an artist, with specific goals in mind, to manipulate the senses and produce emotional effects. Today, with the rise of digital technologies that can trick our senses entirely—and with the virtualization of many aspects of life in response to the pandemic—the importance and meaning of the virtual realm has expanded even more. The work of photographic collage artist Laura Hendricks is gaining new dimensions and meanings in response to these changes. Hendricks’ show SIX MONTH SUMMER explores the boundary between fantasy and reality in a strangely appropriate virtual exhibit up through July 31 on Finch Lane Gallery’s website.
While Andrew Alba’s Everyone Sucios (the other of the two shows featured at Finch Lane through July) takes a confrontational, in-your-face approach to processing the harsh realities of the world, Hendricks leads viewers into a world that, at first glance, looks real but is ultimately an escape fantasy. “SIX MONTH SUMMER No. 2” shows two expertly color-balanced rectangular blocks with opalescent surfaces that gleam like pools of water or pieces of metal. The two-point perspective of these abstracted architectural elements lends the illusion of three-dimensionality, playing with how our minds perceive volume and distance to create a fantasy object in space. “The balance between fantasy and reality is achieved through familiarity,” says Hendricks. “Although I collage my photography, which can make the imagery feel surreal, there are elements that are still recognizable. I like to say my work is ‘based on a true story.'”
“I want the viewer to see all the details of the piece as a collective whole, rather than focusing on just the image, shape or illusion.”
Hendricks’ photo collages, including the whole SIX MONTH SUMMER series, were created with software and optimized for screens and are thus well-suited to changes made after the onset of the pandemic, though no one could have predicted the mass gallery closures at the beginning of the year. Her works feature shiny surfaces that look like constructed architectural elements like swimming pools but can also be understood as shiny screens—omnipresent symbols of power and status in a technology-driven world. “I’ve always loved architecture and design … My favorite man-made structures are ones that play off their natural surroundings and use the landscape to enhance the design and function,” says Hendricks. Now, in the wake of social distancing and buildings shutting down, screens are some of the only means of connection many people have to art and architecture.
Because we can no longer stroll through buildings with large scales, confined as we are to home environments, experiencing architecture through Hendricks’ images is even more satisfying. These unintended elements create a new layer of meaning in SIX MONTH SUMMER as a whole. “Because I paint and use photography in the same pieces, my goal is to complement the different aspects of the work instead of detract,” says Hendricks. “I want the viewer to see all the details of the piece as a collective whole, rather than focusing on just the image, shape or illusion.”
“We miss seeing people in our gallery—some things can’t be replaced by the digital version. But we are working with what we’ve got.”
Artists are defined by their adaptability and innovation, so it’s no surprise that Hendricks, Alba and Finch Lane staff could change the show so quickly and successfully. “There are many benefits to having an online component to exhibitions, particularly in regard to accessibility, so we are hopeful that we can establish some of these new practices as norms for our upcoming exhibitions, even as we recover from the impacts of COVID-19,” says Sarah Hobin, Visual Arts and Community Outreach Manager for the Salt Lake City Arts Council, the operating organization for Finch Lane Gallery. “We miss seeing people in our gallery—some things can’t be replaced by the digital version. But we are working with what we’ve got, and we are grateful for the arts community who continue to find ways to connect creatively during this time. While we are working on a reopening plan, we also understand that some individuals might not be comfortable entering public spaces anytime soon.”
To catch the virtual show SIX MONTH SUMMER, visit the Finch Lane website through July 31. You can see more of Hendricks’s photo collages on Instagram @hav_house. You will also find more information about upcoming online events like Finch Lane’s Flash Projects—“short-term, interdisciplinary, community-oriented, and/or experimental projects” running through 2020.