Lydia See’s latest exhibit travels to places unknown

A STITCH IN TIME: Lydia See recently taught herself embroidery. Her latest collection incorporates a variety of different styles, including  french knot, blackwork and cross-stitch.
A STITCH IN TIME: Lydia See recently taught herself embroidery. Her latest collection incorporates a variety of different styles, including french knot, blackwork and cross-stitch. Photo courtesy of Lydia See

Memory, as a subject matter, is one that multidisciplinary artist Lydia See returns to often. Her work explores the fleeting and unreliable nature of recollections. By extension, her projects also consider how present-day occurrences influence and morph past experiences.

Her latest exhibit, Family Vacations I Have Never Taken, will be featured at Mars Hill University’s Weizenblatt Gallery from Thursday, Feb. 16 to Thursday, March 9. See describes the mixed-media collection as “the intersection of fiber and photography.” The work involves a series of panoramic photographs of the American West, taken over several years by members of See’s extended family. Through embroidery, the artist conceals, re-imagines and emphasizes many of the images’ details, altering the landscape in a manner that reflects the mind’s own reshuffling of past events.

The photographs, taken by her aunt and uncle, play a significant role in the exhibit’s look at collective memory. See has never actually been out west, yet images of that region are elicited easily in her mind. She contributes this to the “tokenized idea of the American family road trip,” captured in television shows and films throughout the decades. “It’s part of this collective memory of America that I don’t have a personal experience with,” she says. “But because many of these sites are so well documented … the images and the ideas of these spaces already exist in my collective understanding of America.”

FRENCH KNOT FLOWERS: While she uses embroidery to conceal certain photographs, See also utilizes it in some instances to craw attention to the texture and details of certain areas. Photo courtesy of Lydia See
FRENCH KNOT FLOWERS: While she uses embroidery to conceal elements in certain photographs, See also utilizes it in others to draw attention to certain textures and details. Photo courtesy of Lydia See

The photographs also add to the work’s commentary regarding the manner in which memories get passed down. “I do kind of lament the lack of tangible sharing,” says See. She notes that with social media, images flash before us everyday. We are witnessing friends’ vacations, romantic getaways and trips abroad. Most of these images come with captions detailing the events. But the very process of an individual alone on their computer or phone looking at uploaded pictures of other people, far away, fails to foster the intimacy that physical photo albums and slideshows once promoted.

“The way people speak about their memories is certainly different than the way people type about their memories or offer information online,” says See. This she adds, is lost in modern technologies.

The embroidery aims to slow down the ways we view photographs, by defamiliarizing an otherwise recognizable landscape. This facilitates pause, which ideally allows viewers a moment to consider the ways in which the new material adds to the overall scenery.

In another way, the act of embroidering complicates the notion of memory. The additions made by See create new associations to an original event that has long since passed. This emphasizes the inconsistent and ever-changing nature of memory itself; it also highlights how the future reshapes the past. “[My aunt and uncle’s] experience is actually being there,” she says. “But now their experience of considering this landscape as the people who [took] the photographs is completely altered, because when they think about these photographs, they think about their niece making these embroideries.”

Family Vacations I Have Never Taken does not intend to solve the mysteries surrounding  the mind’s ways of capturing, processing and storing events. Rather, it looks to celebrate and accentuate the beauty of the unknown. “In a lot of my artwork, and a lot of the series I do, I go in with a question or a line of inquiry [that] I’m not necessarily hoping to answer,” says See. “I’m just trying to meditate on it to kind of work through the questions with more questions.”

WHAT: Family Vacations I Have Never Taken

WHERE: Weizenblatt Art Gallery in the Moore Fine Arts Building at Mars Hill University, 100 Athletic St, Mars Hill, mhu.edu

WHEN: Opening reception Thursday, Feb. 16, 6-8 p.m. The exhibit will remain on view through Thursday, March 9. Free

For more information on Lydia See visit archetypographia.com

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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. He has worked with several publications, including Gulf Coast and the Collagist. For his weekly #tuesdayhistory tidbits on Asheville, follow him on Instagram @tcalder.

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