Growth is not measured in size

Artscape: Jann Rosen-Queralt's imposing installations have been replaced by small collages that pack a wallop of insight.

July 05, 1999|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN ART CRITIC

One of the nice things about the annual Artscape festival is the opportunity it affords to watch various artists evolve.

The last time I talked to Jann Rosen-Queralt, for example, she was working with large, site-specific installations reflecting her interest in three-dimensional environments that evoke a vivid sense of place.

Rosen-Queralt, 47, came to Baltimore 20 years ago to establish the undergraduate textile program at Maryland Institute, College of Art, where she still teaches. She exhibited an outdoor sculpture in the very first Artscape festival in 1981, and she has shown several similar pieces in the years since then.

But this year her contribution consists not of an imposing outdoor structure but of a series of very small, intimate, computer-generated collages called "Wandering and Wondering" in the Decker Gallery at Mount Royal Station.

The collages are printed on duratrans, a type of color transparency film intended to be displayed in back-lighted frames.

"Actually, this work is not really new," Rosen-Queralt says in a recent interview. "It's work that I've been doing quietly for about four years, but this is the first time I'm making it public."

Rosen-Queralt, one of 77 artists exhibiting in various locations around the city during this year's Artscape, says she was inspired by the 17th century Persian miniatures and manuscripts she first encountered as an undergraduate textiles major.

"Persian manuscripts were the official history of their day in the Mughal Empire. My pieces are not meant to be official histories, but rather wanderings, daydreams and memories of places I have been over the past 20 years.

"So, like the installations, they are meant to establish a sense of place."

All the pictures in these new works are from photographs Rosen-Queralt made during her globe-trotting. The images were then transferred to digital compact disc and assembled into collages on a computer.

One of her collages, for example, combines a picture of a temple in Thailand, whose graceful gold spire thrusts against an azure sky, with a picture of horseshoe crabs on a beach and MRI images of the brain.

Rosen-Queralt says the process by which she combines such disparate imagery is always a bit of a mystery, even to herself.

"I might say I think the brain is a collection of specialized tools and that I don't believe in separating my senses from my perception," she begins by way of explanation.

"So these very different images are a way of illustrating my thinking. It's sort of a record of the way my eye imagines."

There is a logical relationship between the seemingly disparate elements of Rosen-Queralt's work, though it isn't apparent at first glance.

"Nobody takes a drug until it has been tested on horseshoe crab blood because their blood and human blood have similar properties," Rosen-Queralt explains.

"That intrigued me, because crabs are actually prehistoric creatures, yet they are intimately related to us. The temple is a reference the spiritual dimension of life that allows us to recognize these connections."

Rosen-Queralt's images thus are both autobiographical and narrative, even though they don't tell stories in traditional linear form.

"I don't know if I'm telling a story as much as creating an experience," she says.

"One of the reasons I call this series `Wandering and Wondering' is because that's what I do when I make them. I don't set out with a specific message as much as with images that have attracted me at some point. By putting them together I hope to create something which in one way is different from the original experience but in another way is a memory of that experience."

The Duratrans process Rosen-Queralt works with was invented for use in commercial advertising. It is basically a photographic image on a translucent piece of plastic that is more durable than a regular color transparency.

Rosen-Queralt says she only gradually came to appreciate the unique qualities of the medium.

"When I first started making these images they were large, say 22 inches by 24 inches, and I made them as prints," she says.

"But then I realized I wanted the images to be more intimate. Instead of a very large image, I wanted the viewer's mind to look into the smallness of the image and imagine largeness, which is sort of like the way memory is. A memory starts out as a little kernel of something and it takes a while for it to grow and engulf us."

Rosen-Queralt says that both her installation art and her work with Duratrans evolved gradually from her interest in textiles.

"Initially I wanted to make all the textiles in my home, which would have been an installation experience in itself," she said. "Gradually, I became more interested in spatial relationships. For example, I wanted to make playground equipment for kids.

"So one thing led to another. Now, when I'm lucky, I work on permanent projects, mostly parks, or in temporary gallery situations that allow people to have an experience different from either painting or sculpture."

Pub Date: 7/05/99

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