At some point in your life, you must have wanted to wrap yourself up in a heavy, protective coat and hide. Maybe hide to cry, maybe to take a breath, maybe simply to process what happened inside the thick walls of a space belonging only to you. Such an object only exists inside our minds.
But in Lamont Gallery’s current exhibition, Public/Private, Amy Larimer’s installation has created just that. Called “26 Grieving Coats,” Ms. Larimer created this project in response to the Sandy Hook massacre of 2012.
It consists of twenty-six room sized wearable “coats” made of heavy steel wool. The idea of her installation is to create a physical manifestation of the cocoon everyone wants in times of grief, but also to represent that everyone is wearing the same kind of coat when grieving.
This ties into the central idea of Public/Private, which is providing a showcase of the way human beings deal with emotion both collectively and individually. The exhibit features Ms. Larimer, Rachel Petrucillo, Leah Woods, Becky Barsi, and Madison May—all of whom have used their installations to express complex emotional ideas that might not be able to be explained in words through their art.
That, in fact, is the tenet of Ms. Petrucillo’s and Ms. Woods’ projects. Ms. Petrucillo takes the seemingly simple concept of a series of portraits and uses it to depict feelings that come across in our cores of empathy but that are hard to describe articulately. Looking at her work, perhaps words like anguish and solemnity come to mind but she has utterly succeeded in portraying facial expressions that when you see them, you immediately understand but no word seems to exactly fit.
Ms. Woods, on the other hand, takes a much more abstract approach to this idea in her installation “Giving Form to Feeling.” She has created a series of smooth, swooping wooden sculptures representing emotions that lack certainty or clarity but are felt very strongly all the same.
Her sculptures have a feeling of anxiety to them, an air of not knowing whether something will turn out well or badly or whether to be afraid or feel safe. Some of Ms. Woods’ sculptures resemble trellises, some resemble mummified bodies. She has quantified the unquantifiable in her installation. (Yes, I know, Woods and wood!)
Madison May and Miranda Updike both chose to use a paint and paper medium in their work, whereas Becky Barsi uses photography to get her point across. Ms. May’s project, “Inaccessible Fortresses” focuses on the isolated, tumultuous experiences of people growing up in broken homes. She has made sketches of literal fortresses—they are abstract and scrawling, making the viewer feel something sinister and very sad.
Contrasted with the privacy and personal nature of Ms. May’s project, Ms. Updike’s “Connection in the Crowd” deals with the combination of the feeling of being anonymous and yet surrounded by hundreds of people in a crowd.
She uses paintings of brightly colored dots on a grey backdrop to communicate this. Her work aims to give a physical expression of the feeling of being in a crowd, something which in her statement she says she believes cannot be replicated in a digital sense.
Ms. Barsi’s photography installation, titled “Ethereal Forms,” is also very personal. She started it as a commentary on the struggle with beauty and self-image western women face; she shoots photos from unconventional angles with peculiar centers of gravity that change the whole way the viewer looks at the subject. By changing the center, Barsi changes the beauty the viewer will find in the image.
Lamont Gallery is open from Tuesday to Friday. Public/Private closes on July twenty-ninth; It is definitely worth seeing before then.