LAWRENCE – It was 100 degrees the day Lilly McElroy started installing her solo exhibition at Studios Inc., a nonprofit arts organization in Kansas City, Missouri, where she has had a studio for the past three years. But in this exhibition space, the sun is felt mainly by its absence in the landscape photographs she will show there Sept. 8 to Oct. 21.
Titled “I Will Destroy You,” the exhibition includes the physically manipulated photos McElroy has installed to reflect the eco-anxiety and mortal dread the University of Kansas assistant teaching professor in the School of Architecture & Design has been experiencing.
McElroy, who calls herself a “lens-based artist,” has also included two video loops that show her hand reflecting the sun back to itself.
“These are some of the most traditional photographs I've made in a long time,” she said of the main group in the new show. “They are made by going out into the landscape and enacting the traditional role of the photographer with large-format, 4-by-5 camera on a tripod.”
Four-by-5 refers to the size of the film negative in inches.
“I photographed the sun either rising or setting using color negatives. And after I get the negatives processed, I use my fingernail to scratch away the delicate layers of emulsion that comprise the sun’s image. That’s what creates the absence.”
The result is that the eroded suns show up in McElroy’s prints as stark — even angry — red, yellow and/or black holes in otherwise full-color photos.
“It’s allowing me to make work that is very much about eco-anxiety and climate change,” she said. “So this is about impending doom. Not to be flippant, but that's what I'm thinking about with this work — this idea of being in the world and acknowledging the fact that catastrophe is coming.”
McElroy used the word solastalgia to describe her feelings.
“It’s relatively new for me,” she said, “and I think it's something a lot of people are moving into, or also having to contend with — these feelings of sadness and despair ... and how do you move forward?”
McElroy also has work up at KU's Spencer Museum of Art as part of their exhibition “Reading the World” that is from another series.
"That body of work is an ongoing project called ‘I Control The Sun’ in which I stick my hand out as if I am grasping the sun," McElroy said. "It's about trying to control something that you have no hope of controlling.
“These two bodies of work have allowed me to make beautiful images, something I enjoy. But so often with things that are beautiful, you can look at them and just move right past. However, with the ‘I Control The Sun’ series, even though the pictures are very pretty, that interruption of my hand forces you to reevaluate what's happening. It doesn't let you slide off the surface of the image. And in the same way, the physical interruptions that I've made on the negatives change your perception of what I would otherwise call very pretty landscapes.”
Image: "I Will Destroy You (21.084176459575733, -157.02758455686487)" Credit: Courtesy Lilly McElroy