Third Street Gallery archive: 2014 Exhibitions: NIGHTWATCH: Works by Ellen Garvens


Humboldt State University’s First Street Gallery presents, Nightwatch, a collection of mixed media works and photographs by Seattle artist Ellen Garvens on display January 31 through March 2. Currently a professor of art at the University of Washington in Seattle, Garvens’ work has earned her national and international acclaim in solo and group exhibitions.

Currently, Garvens uses photography, drawing and mixed media to depict various domestic settings in her immediate environment.  She manipulates her images using digital techniques and drawing techniques to arrange the imagery so as to reflect her internal, poetic experience, rather than producing a rote, documentary recording of the photographic moment.

Inspired by sleepless wanderings around her home at night and the altered perspective of objects illuminated by filtered streetlight, her Nightwatch series developed into an internal investigation about perceptual shifts and uncertainty. The works describe ambiguous, nocturnal spaces in which the somnambulist encounters reassuring, domestic passages of imagery that emerge slowly while feeling her way through darkened spaces, yielding small visual hints of familiar images and clarity along the way.

Viewers of this exhibition can shamble through the inner workings of the artist's poetic imagination, just as Garvens wanders through her house at night.

The exhibition also features selected works from some of Garvens’ past series. One of which, is her Ambivalence Series, whichled her to larger, complex political and ethical conclusions about landmines and the effects of war.
After discovering a closetful of long-abandoned human prostheses, Garvens was drawn to the anthropomorphic shapes and smooth edges of the artificial limbs and body parts. As she further immersed herself in the subject, the project developed to an international level where Garvens undertook the photo-documentation of clinics in Southeast Asia, which treated landmine victims. Her well-known photographic series, Ambivalence , chronicles her investigation of prostheses and the loss of human limbs and body parts.  The series focuses on clinics in Cambodia, Laos, and other landmine and poverty-stricken Asian countries.  Nearly forty years after official cessation of hostilities in Viet Nam, Cambodia and Laos the people of Southeast Asia still suffer from landmines that were left behind by the combatants.

Ellen Garvens will present a lecture and slide show about her work at Humboldt State University on Friday, January 31.  The lecture will be held in Room 102 in the Art Department Building on the Humboldt State campus.  The lecture is free to the public. A reception for the artist will be held at HSU First Street Gallery on Saturday, February 1 from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. during Eureka’s monthly Arts Alive event. The event is free and open to the public. The gallery is open Tuesday through Sunday from 12 to 5 p.m. and is located at 422 First Street Eureka, California. Admission is free. Those planning group tours are encouraged to call ahead. For more information call 707-443-6363. 

Conceptually hovering between different materials and methods has been an inspiration and driving force in my projects. My earlier work has been both 2D and 3D, the most recent work (the Valence Series) is drawing and photographic collage.  The subjects are from my surroundings, i.e., cups, food scraps, surfaces or spaces that form my immediate environment. Things are often recognizable but are also ungrounded, hidden or veiled.  It is about flux and uncertainty, and looking for things that might be revealed in the gaps and perceptual shifts. All of the work favors the unknown.    

The Nightwatch Series started when sleeplessly wandering around the house one night. The streetlight seeped in through the windows illuminating surfaces and objects. My perspective shifted radically under this light and connected events and thoughts differently.

Everybody knows what a house does, how it encloses space and makes connections between one enclosed space and another and presents what is outside in a new way.  This is the nearest I can come to explaining what a story does for me, and what I want my stories to do for other people.
Alice Munroe

In this quote Alice Munroe illuminates my own process of making work: quite literally using a house as a frame of reference but also metaphorically in the virtual space of the computer. I digitally connect and arrange images to both hide and reveal new viewpoints.  The shape of the final image encourages scrolling horizontally across the picture plane, peering through imaginary windows and noticing objects as if walking through a new uncertain place.

Similar themes are found in all the work selected for the show, which includes examples from my drawings and photography over the last 10 years.

Ellen Garvens
Winter 2014