When artists create, they are defining themselves to the world. So what's the difference between an artwork that is a self-portrait and one that is not? Steven Holmes believes the line is blurry.
"Mark-making for many artists is almost compulsive. They want to leave a mark as having been here," Holmes says. "Why are they doing this? It's about who they are."
Holmes is guest-curator of a show in which 12 artists have contributed self-portraits that show aspects of themselves, while not necessarily showing themselves. "The Cave of Forgotten Dreams: the Non-Mimetic Self Portrait" is at the Joseloff Gallery at University of Hartford through Dec. 17.
Tracey Emin places a strand of her signature neon into a bathtub full of barbed wire. "She is making the private public. Artists are subject to a lot of voyeurism," Holmes said.
Some artists show the left-behind evidence of their own existence. Jennifer Reifsneider filled a tiny vial with the condensation of her own breath, making an ephemeral factor of existence into a lasting liquid. Kelly Mark carried an aluminum ingot in her pocket for an entire year. Upon finishing the year, she carved "carried for one year" into the scratched metal rod. Robert Beck fired a gun into a pad of artist's paper, and had his father do the same, to illustrate both of their attempts to understand each other.
Thierry Delva, after suffering a heart attack, mounted his EKG readouts onto music stands, then arranged the stands in front of a video showing himself undergoing more testing inside a medical-themed museum.
Martin Wilner, a psychotherapist as well as an artist, created a spectacularly detailed, addictively weird series of 12 artworks, "The Case Histories." Each is inspired by the experiences of a friend. In addition to depicting the friends' lives, Wilner inserts his own perceptions, most notably an almost obsessive scribbling of notes on the backs of the drawings.
Natalie Waldburger's "My Weight in Regret" is recreations of childhood memories painted in sepia-toned watercolor on the gallery wall. But the art, like her memories, will fade away. Waldburger has positioned jugs of ocean water over the wall, to drip slowly onto the artworks. As the drips erase the images, the sepia-toned water will be collected in a bucket on the floor.
"We don't remember things the way they were. As we remember, we are creating new connections from the present point," Waldburger says. "We think back fondly on memories that may exist, but they are eroding slowly as we think of them."
The exhibit gets its title from a Werner Herzog documentary about ancient cave paintings. That film is shown in the gallery.
"This was mark-making going back 40,000 years. It was existential as opposed to illustrative," Holmes says. "It's not about bison. It's about early human experience."
Other artists in the show are Marina Abramovic, Stanley Brouwn, Spencer Finch, Cornelia Parker and Magnus von Plessen.
THE CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS: THE NON-MIMETIC SELF PORTRAIT is at the Joseloff Gallery at University of Hartford through Dec. 17. hartford.com/joseloffgallery.