Shape Shifter

Anna Dawson at Shift through March 30, 2019

Peggy Murphy

Anna Dawson has misgivings about seeing her personal photographs displayed on gallery walls.  She confesses that her photographs are personal and their presentation as fine art seems slightly elitist.  In her show Captured and Recaptured, she challenges her photographs to change shape, come down from the walls and live among the hoi polloi.  To this end, Dawson cleverly prints her images on canvas and proceeds to slice, sew and staple them into fully functional lamps and chairs. This deconstruction/reconstruction process accomplishes a twofold mission – it provides the accessibility of functional objects while acting as a clever foil of privacy for her personal images.  Perhaps these pieces also call into question the value or lack of value we place on photographs, and the choices we make in sharing them, particularly those within a personal context.

Dawson talks about her early interest in photography being as much about the camera as the photo. The camera itself is a tool for fragmenting the view and Dawson takes this a step further by physically fragmenting her images.  This further fragmentation allows her to guide (and hide) the narrative as well as illuminate details otherwise unnoticed.

The suspended lamp forms of the Sibling pieces show fragmented images of Dawson’s family.  In Sibling 1 Light Pendant, teeth, mouth, eyes and hair create an anthropomorphized form that is humorous and just a tiny bit frightening.  Viewed as a hybrid portrait, the pieces in Siblings could be viewed as quirky and endearing without any of the sentimentality of the family photo.  In a chair, lamp or footstool ensemble, the canvas image becomes a netlike surface stretching over clear forms.  The image is splayed beyond recognition, forcing us to notice the subtle gradation of tone and odd juxtaposition of color.  The form may seem to dominate but it is the image details that are intriguing and tempt us to look closer.

In Captured and Recaptured Dawson plays a clever game of shape shifting and maneuvers easily between the boundaries of fine and applied art.  In her capable hands, it matters little whether we call it a chair made out of photographs or a photograph shaped like a chair.