There is something pathetically beautiful, even comical, in art that concerns itself with memory. Memories are intangible and flawed, and the people and things attached to these memories eventually go away. Stories are lost or forgotten, simply because there was no one to keep them going. For one reason or another, Stewart Watson has acquired many of her family’s relics, which, for her installation, 'follmers fourth defluxion,' she cuts up, burns, or rearranges in such a way as to, paradoxically, hold on to worlds that would be otherwise lost.
The large wall installation with lumpy, pieced upholstery fabric and polyfill spilling out the side, is orbited, or bombarded, by various household objects projecting out into space on curved steel armatures like floating relics. She painted another wall black with the pigment made from the ashes of a burnt chair. The pieces of another chair serve as shelves to house a “civil war hymn book that weathered the 1889 flood,” an “eyebrow comb circa 1880,” family photographs, and dozens of other ephemeral artifacts.
The identities in the photos are mostly obscured, faces covered by gold leaf or partially hidden by draped and bulging fabric. Though we know these objects have all belonged to people in Watson’s family, it might become too personal and alienating to know what these people actually looked like. The tragedy of human life is that our objects outlast us, so, like Watson herself, we get to know her ancestors through material objects that they left. And then we start to make up the reasons these ghostly people may have kept this particular rubber ball or that cufflink.
Watson uses these materials to play with the futile but earnest desire to hold onto the past, while finding a certain tactile humor in that desire. In the middle of the room sits the artist’s great-grandfather’s trunk, on top of which rests a haphazard stack of clothes—military uniforms, shirts, lace—held together in a clear vinyl case embellished with tassels and belted with red leather straps. The shiny, buckled vinyl clashes with the soft, worn materials, making an awkward vessel for the clothes. The vinyl casing and tassels reappear in other places—as in a handful of ribbons for prize-winning poultry.
The fact Watson catalogued each of these objects (the original owners are credited on the artist’s info sheet, often with an anecdote) can make the project seem overwhelmingly literary or historical—but, like the best literature, the work comes through as a sincere desire to to tell fragmented stories about people through tattered ephemera that outlive them.