SPECIAL MENTION - Gardner: "Bring Out the Coffins"
Bring Out the Coffins
Media: Chlorophyll Print
Size: 17 ¼” x 11 ½”
Rheana Gardner is an Associate Professor of Photography and Faculty Senate President at Southern Utah University. She received an MFA in Photography from the Academy of Art University in 2009. Her work has been showcased in The Greater Taipei Biennial of Contemporary Art exhibition at You·Zhang Art Museum and the Worldwide Photography Biennial Exhibition held at The Borges Cultural Center in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Recently, she received 1st place in the Photography as Sculpture category of the Allegany National Photography Competition & Exhibition located in Cumberland, Maryland. Additionally, her work has been exhibited at the Center for Fine Art Photography, Southern Utah Museum of Art, Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, SE Center for Photography, Rochester Contemporary Art Center, MPLS Photo Center, Kiernan Gallery, Soho Photo Gallery, PhotoPlace Gallery, A.I.R Gallery, Praxis Gallery, Image Flow Gallery and Renmin University of China among others.
Imagine if, at the height of the 1918 flu pandemic, researchers studying how society was changing had captured the moment in a time capsule. What information might social scientists today have gleaned from such an effort? How might that repository inform the global response to the current pandemic? Time Capsule is an attempt to produce such an artifact to preserve the global impact of COVID-19. As an artist, I understand the world through my medium and express my concerns in my art. In my work, photosynthesis is used to record appropriated images onto leaves using chlorophyll and light, the life source of plants and consequently the Earth. In Sacred texts of Judaism, leaves are considered to represent the fragility and durability of human life. For the believers of the Baha’i faith, who value the unity of people, each leaf represents a person’s relationship to the community and nature as a whole. For Christians, leaves symbolize hope amid hardships and difficulties in life. Through this alternative photographic process, the leaf’s color changes from green, representing the abundance and the flourishing of life, to a gold-brown, symbolic of death or closure. The leaves are then preserved and encapsulated in glass, like biological samples for scientific studies intended as a deliberate method of communication with future archaeologists, anthropologists, or historians.
Working through this “Pandemic Age,” I began experimenting with new ways of making by pushing my photographic practices in different directions with new techniques and materials. There is this ancient connection between people and plants. During the pandemic, there was a surge in the purchasing of houseplants because they offer many social, emotional, and physical health benefits. Spending time around plants is correlated with reduced blood pressure, slowing of the heart rate, and alleviation of mental exhaustion — all of which are symptoms of anxiety. Many studies also suggest that taking care of plants can reduce feelings of loneliness and depression in people, something that is very prevalent right now during the COVID-19 pandemic. By placing COVID-19 imagery directly onto living leaves, I am juxtaposing the impact of this severe respiratory illness onto one of the primary sources of oxygen on our planet. Clean air exposure is vital for a person to maintain a robust immune system and adequate mental health.
*The images are sourced from the Library of Congress archive.
Chlorophyll printing is an alternative photographic process where photographic images are developed on natural leaves through the action of photosynthesis. This organic technique does not use chemicals since the photographs are exposed directly to the sunlight. The origin of this technique can be found in the research of Sir John Herschel in the 19th century. The process can last anywhere from a day to several weeks. Then, the photographic image is burned onto the leaf. As a Filipino Artist, this process is reminiscent of burning guava leaves, an ancient Filipino practice used to cleanse negative energies from the environment.