Roughly a century and a quarter ago, the mentally anguished poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote that the mind has “mountains, cliffs of fall / Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed.” Julie Sims’ photographs of what seem to be volcanic fissures in the “Interior Mind / Exterior World” exhibition at Whitespace are, in reality, analogical details of those mental cliffs and abysses.
We now know that depression is largely biochemical and brain-based, and Sims’ depictions of such explosive events as “Eruptive Fissure, Hippocampal Subfields” or “Deformation, Amygdoloidal Rim” (below) are symbolic representations of things going wrong in the hippocampus or amygdala, or any of those parts of the brain that control perception and emotion. (“Fault Zone, Limbic Ridge,” above.)
More literally, these are photographs of constructed dioramas that present eerie but believable scenes, in which the brain’s ridges and fissures become geological terrain with glowingly molten contents bursting from beneath the surface.
Natural cataclysm becomes an analogue for uncontrollable psychic catastrophes. This transformation of depressive episodes into emotionally stirring landscapes out of 19th-century painting (somewhere between John Martin and Caspar David Friedrich) is nothing short of epic in its bold use of visual metaphors to shift our understanding of the interior landscape.
Sims’ stage sets representing inner processes are complemented brilliantly by Yukari Umekawa’s photographs of the exterior world that serve as evocative metaphors for feelings and intuitions.
Blurred to the point of shadowy disappearance, these small elements of the landscape around her equate to moments of confusion, excitement, longing or happiness. The metaphor of ephemeral emotions is intensified by Umekawa’s manipulation of the digital images’ color, to render an already ambiguous image still more evanescent. (“You Are Beautiful,” above; “Memories #3,” below.)
Umekawa, an Osaka native and 2009 graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design, and Sims, a Smyrna resident and Georgia State University degree holder, together give us singularly provocative proof (if any were still needed) that photography can be an effective means of communicating the invisible by way of the visible. In these works, the image is the gate to inwardness. Through November 20.