A journey into the Past: “Mapping the Present Just Went By” is a multi-media exhibition that examines the history of Morgan Coun
Story by: James Faucett
Artist Lynn Marshall-Linnemeier speaks in long, flowing sentances, hypnotic, quotable. Occasionally, the river of words surges gently backwards as, like all of us, she edits herself, verbally revising, refocusing. As with the art she produces, she reshapes the concepts she wants to express, a plain joy – just in working with some kind of material, maybe – evident in her voice.
Her work, she says, is not just art; it’s research. It has to do with oral histories, with stories that are passed down. She uses them “to create a new narrative.”
“The idea is to use the stories that I hear, so listening becomes extremely important,” she says. “I sit and listen to people talk about where it is that they live and then go back and kind of marinate in those stories to come up with a new story.”
In “Mapping the Present Just Went By: A Journey Through Black Morgan County, Georgia,” which opened Friday at the Madison-Morgan Cultural Center and Morgan County African American Museum, Marshall-Linnemeier reveals what she found in exploring the people and the stories of the region. The exhibit, a combination of narratives, photographs, and sculpture, among other things, becomes a story in itself; not just hers, but that of the people she encounters – including those that visit the exhibit.
In one gallery, a table sits with cards attendees can fill out with a memory of a loved one that will be sewn into a sculpture worn during a traditional African masquerade.
“I wanted to figure out a way to include the entire community and visitors and to get their thoughts and their memories on their ancestors,” Marshall-Linnemeier says. “When you start to remember your ancestors, it’s a universal thing. It’s the kind of thing that everybody does, so it’s also a unifying thing.”
Marshall-Linnemeier says she wanted to give people a way of interacting with the piece, to actually
participate in the exhibition, an important component of her work. The philosophy is to get people who normally would not attend into formal spaces like a museum or art gallery.
“Working-class people, a lot of them don’t frequent those spaces,” she says. “It kind of divides itself along class lines in terms of who goes and who doesn’t go.”
The exhibit features people from Morgan County who have been incorporated into the artwork itself, in fabric prints and on video, in stories, in obituaries of former residents printed out and hanging on gallery walls. Children from the community were photographed at local churches.
“The idea behind that was to make people the subject of the exhibition, to get them into those spaces and also just as community enrichment,” Marshall-Linnemeier says. “It’s the kind of thing that enriches the community on all levels.”
The idea of incorporating others into the exhibit included featuring other artists’ work as well. The exhibit features the work of local artists Bennie Andrews, Freddie Styles and Eugene Swain. Swain’s paintings are featured in the room with the obituary prints and the table that allows attendees to write their memories.
“He deals a lot with transformation,” Marshall-Linnemeier says. “You’re literally looking at transformation within the composition, but because you’re so preoccupied with the bright colors, the pretty things, the part of transformation that is about destruction and rebirth, you don’t catch that.”
“I included his work in that room for that very reason,” she continues. “Also, because he had painted scenes from Madison that I felt were really important in terms of those obituaries and taking people back to a particular place and space as they engage in the memory process.”
Another important theme to Marshall-Linnemeier is that of sustainability.
“You hear that word all the time,” she says. “A lot of times when people think of sustainability, they think of local-grown food. Well, my way of dealing with sustainability is dealing with local-grown artists.”
“You have people right in your midst who are absolutely amazing and they often get looked over because we’re looking in other spaces.”
Printed in the July 22, 2010 edition.