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FEB / MAR   2010 
Panama Overlays, 2007-2009
Mixed Media on Paper

'Portobelo Cartographies II Series, 2008' by Geraldine Kiefer
Portobelo Cartographies II Series,2008
Artist's pen, pencil and colored pencil on watercolor paper, 15 x 22 1/2 inches

February 26 through March 21

Helena Davis Gallery

Panama Overlays, 2007-2009
Geraldine Wojno Kiefer

Artist's Statement

I visited Panama as a participant in the Shenandoah Global Citizenship Program (March 2007), then returned to the town of Portobelo, Panama, where I received a residency to work at the Taller Portobelo Norte Summer Art Colony (June 2007). Based upon my 2007 project, Taller Portobelo Norte invited me to return to the Art Colony and I was awarded a Shenandoah University Faculty Development Grant to cover all expenses (forthcoming, June 2009). Entitled Panama Overlays, my Panama works explore familiarity and unfamiliarity, the spiritual and cultural, and ultimately an intercontinental "flow" of space and place, through drawing, photography, mapping and text.

Panama Overlays 2007

The 2007 installation explores multiple dimensions of identifying and drawing-what I call tracing--traveled landscapes. It is premised on "identity: the power of place," described by Anne Whiston Spirn as "a tapestry of woven contexts: enduring and ephemeral, local and global, related and unrelated, now and then, past and future." "Landscape content," Spirn continues, "is a fabric whose strands are narratives of landscape elements and features, both the persistent and the fleeting."

As originally conceived, Panama Overlays was a scrapbook of pictures, quotations and commentaries, completed in June just before I returned to Portobelo for my Taller Portobelo Norte artist residency. Now framed for exhibition, the series incorporates colored-pencil-overlaid photographs with interleaved text. Quotations from writers on spirituality concerning sacred trees, gardens, and thresholds are interleaved with quotations from writers on culture, ecology, and the Portobelo Congo tradition.

The photographs and text are separated into panels-akin to keepsakes and shadow boxes. Embroidering the photograph panels are quotations from Bracha Lichtenberg-Ettinger, a feminist artist and psychologist who has written extensively on borders, thresholds, and linkages. Enhancing the photograph and text panels are text-and-assemblage panels including my own border notations, keyed to Portobelo's landscape and culture--shells, semi-precious stones, buttons and bricks.

The drawings of Panama Overlays originated in the 2006 Nimrod Venerable Tree Series--details of an organic form scrutinized, then abstracted, as "skin," "texture," "roughage," as well as other metaphors of age. Formal concerns include compositions with no inherent beginning or closure, flatness or illusionistic low relief, elision of depth management or foreshortening, limited color palettes, and correspondingly, "unlimited" linear arabesques and tonal variations, achieved through wash and mixed-media overlay.

The first subtitle, Portobelo Tempesta, relates the work-however tied to sacred places and home-to the stormy processes of identity formation that have characterized Panamanian histories, Portobelo histories, and the "histories" of the drawings themselves. While seeking sacred and domestic enclosures-"nests" and "homes"-they whirl, twirl, and twist in tornado-like fronts, pushing everything before them or absorbing obstacles in their path. Within their vortices beings are conjured; images appear. These are often in profile, always female and almost always chaotic.

The second subtitle, Pangaea Portobelo, brings the work out of one maelstrom into another-geophysical from meteorological. The reference is to the gigantic terrestrial "supercontinent" of Paleozoic and Mesozoic vintage. The visual interrelationship is the splitting of continents. As Pangaea dispersed and land masses were released and set adrift, so are the "masses" of these drawings. Yet, rather than islands, the masses attract one another and become themselves continents. In their final stages of evolution and like terrestrial geo-history, they are carved by mountains, bays and isthmuses, like those we know today-and specifically those of Panama itself.

In these works there is an exploration-a pilgrimage-to sites of identity and origin in Portobelo. These include 18th-century fortress ruins and the ruins of structures-homes-constructed and abandoned later. The hoary masses of stone, coral, and brick, softened and ennobled by moss, lichen and vine, begin to merge history and difference into the homogeneity of a nest, a dwelling under the open sky. Yet they refuse complete closure, retaining their multiple textures and tingling strands. They chart a boundary between stability and motility; they flow within a territory of difference.

Panama Overlays 2008

Panama Overlays 2008 is premised on the power of mapping to shape, code, envision and deconstruct the place that is Portobelo, giving equal weight to original drawings (based on the intersection of landscape and maps) and mixed-media works (based on my photographs of maps and charts of Portobelo's 18th-century fortifications and ruins, which are imprinted on placards placed at those sites throughout the town). My work is a mapped project, with land masses shaped, marked and bounded with fluctuating lines and rippling contours to symbolize the instability and rupture of the maps and ideas I have studied. My generating text is a quote from philosopher and geographer Edward Casey: "The very word coast points to this framing action; it derives (via Middle English coste) from Latin costa, 'rib, flank, or side,' that is to say, a definitive structure of a body by which it contains the viscera within it."

Panama Overlays 2009

My projected work touches cosmography, allegorical maps, femininity (the "carte de tendre," after Mademoiselle de Scudery) and tropicality, by means of original and "over-map" drawings of Portobelo, Panama. I am very interested in how images of Paradise can be "found" in specific places by means of drawing them from memory, as well as creating drawings based on colonial and travel maps. Portobelo, Panama, a Spanish colony on the route of Caribbean trade (the Carrera de Indias), became a site for fantastic mapping (late 16th to late 18th centuries) wherein the bay and surrounding land morphed into piratical explosions and pirates, fantastic crustacean and sphinxlike shapes, and the forts built to protect them. Delineated by Spanish engineers, then redrawn by French and English cartographers, fortresses became embodied--even flayed--creatures. There is a mystery and terror to mapped Portobelo, one my work (drawings, texts, commentary) seeks to transcribe and intertwine. Like the mapped bay, they seek not to bound, but to unleash.

See more of Geraldine's work

Opening Reception Fourth Friday
February 26, 7-10 pm

Free and Open to the Public

'Nimrod Portobelo V, Sequel and Denouement, 2008' by Geraldine Kiefer
Nimrod Portobelo V, Sequel and Denouement, 2008
Watercolor, gouache, pastel pencil, colored pencil, pencil on watercolor paper, 11 1/4 x 15 inches

'Nimrod Portobelo IV, Sequel and Denouement, 2008' by Geraldine Kiefer
Nimrod Portobelo IV, Sequel and Denouement, 2008
Watercolor, gouache, pastel pencil, colored pencil, pencil, artist's pen on watercolor paper, 11 1/4 x 15 inches

'Nimrod Portobelo I, Sequel and Denouement, 2008' by Geraldine Kiefer
Nimrod Portobelo I, Sequel and Denouement, 2008
Colored pencil, pencil on watercolor paper, 11 1/4 x 15 inches

'Nimrod Portobelo VI, 2008' by Geraldine Kiefer
Nimrod Portobelo VI, 2008
Watercolor, gouache, pastel pencil, artist's pen, colored pencil on watercolor paper, 18 x 24 inches

'Nimrod Portobelo V, 200
Nimrod Portobelo V, 200
Watercolor, gouache, pastel pencil, colored pencil on watercolor paper, 18 x 24 inches


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