Renewable by Jonathan Lee

Artist’s Statement

“Years are threats that libraries oppose.” Ander Monson

A long standing mission of the library is to gather and preserve information, artifacts, and data in order to make them available for future use. The contemporary library renewableh8however, must be more than just a repository. Due to its unique place between the analog and digital world, it must be concerned with both the legacy of history and the pace of technology. It functions as both an information access point and a community center; a place for discovery, congregation, contemplation, interaction, opportunity, debate, escape, entertainment, and research. In order to accomplish this, many libraries have decreased their shelf space in favor of more open, usable space and new digital platforms. This has led many to discard books containing ephemera, marginalia, inscriptions, bookplates, and other unique pieces of historical data, many of which are associated with the history of the institution that collected them.

Virginia Commonwealth University recently opened an expanded Cabell Library that embraces this new model. In order to both make and construct new space, the library’s physical materials were systematically shifted, sorted, and purged. This provided me with a wealth of discarded objects and records that seemed to have a unique presence and identity of their own. Due date slips and other forms of library ephemera are historical documents, showing our interactions with the library, its materials, and services over the course of decades. Each stamp or mark signifies an encounter, proof of a community engaging with information and culture. These hand marked materials are also mysterious. I’ve found myself drawn to the secret histories these items possess; where they’ve been, who used them, for what purpose. Every exchange had the potential to be transformative. I obsessively collected artifacts and ephemera from this renovation, without clear purpose, but with an interest in renewing their previous importance through exploring the library’s past, present, and future.

renewablesmallcircle3In 2015, I began making blind contour drawings with my non-dominate hand, focusing on quick gestures and movements while inviting chance to be a part of the work. The results were often organic and botanical; an outcome I did not expect. They too were mysterious, not unlike the due date slips with their overlapping stamps and marks. I eventually combined my new practice with the Cabell materials, making crude floral arrangements from due date slips using a combination of weak hand contour drawing and collage. This practice channels and processes the history, beauty, ugliness, and possibility of both the ephemera and ourselves. Deliberate and unconscious choices are made while interacting with the source material, creating works that are both highly personal and representative of our individual and collective experiences with books.

Libraries are a renewable resource. Every day, they provide us with access to countless possibilities. Past information is made new through the lens of our own experience during our moment in history. In each floral arrangement I’ve made, there are words, numbers, and marks that aren’t fully revealed as well as things we all recognize. This is a reflection of our own experiences looking through library shelves or searching for information. There are things we recognize and others we don’t; things we don’t notice or understand, as well as things we will come to understand. Flowers are flexible symbols, used to represent everything from love to loss, innocence to desire, life to death. They’re used to celebrate and commemorate, vehicles of sentiments both fleeting and enduring. The blooms of spring signal rebirth and renewal, as do the flowers in my work. On the slips, each unique date marks an idea being planted. Each flower is the result of the imagination in bloom. Though I’m not directly invoking the language of flowers, I am encouraging the viewer to explore their symbolic associations outside any specific species.

Through the metamorphosis of recognizable materials ad images, I’m attempting to connect the everyday with the extraordinary. By releasing them from their intended context, I’m allowing them to be perceived in new ways while still maintaining their past associations and historical information. This work is about rebirth through intellectual encounters. By exploring the content, history, and physicality of these materials I hope to ignite a discussion about the different relationships we all have with information: how we access it, how we use it, how it informs our future. By altering the original form and purpose of this ephemera, I hope to show how information and culture can be rediscovered and renewed, specifically in a digital age where these documents may be no longer necessary.   – Jonathan Lee


Sealing Place: Process and Concepts by Tamryn McDermott


Sealing Place: Impressions of Rome

Each work in this exhibition is registered to a location and event in recent or ancient Rome. Invented parameters based on research directly inform the processes, materials and presentation. This project however is not about Rome, it is about the research imposed on any history and it’s representation; deeply overwritten, reconstructed, and redirected political agendas that occur during any process of creation, past and present. Presented not as a counter-history, but created as a personal auxiliary history, supplementing other representations of Rome in an effort to further the idea that no history is complete, no matter how in-depth the archive and interpretation.


The artifacts in this exhibition are manufactured as a form of documentation. They are removed from their original context and set into a new framework, inviting examination. The arrangement of objects communicates a specific understanding of time and history. We experience historical artifacts and artwork as presented by the curator and artist, respectively. Narratives form through connections and proximity, provided in the considered arrangement and presentation. The representation of varying perspectives, of the historian, archaeologist, artist or curator, forms the basis for our understanding of history and its construction.



Sealing Place: An Introduction

During an artist residency in Rome, Italy I used wet clay to take 153 impressions from around the city. Viewed as a form of data collection, these objects allowed for reconstitution, through display, in a gallery context. Inspired by the design and use of Mesopotamian seals, I collected impressions of architecture and objects in order to record and preserve concrete personal memories and experiences. The clay primarily recorded architectural features such as flooring, tiles, mosaics, engravings, low-relief surfaces, decoration and walls. The exact date, location and a photograph of the tactile impressions was also recorded. Upon returning from Rome, selected terra cotta impressions were curated and transformed into cast bronze seal rings.


By taking impressions throughout the city of Rome with wet clay, the negative space around an object was simultaneously claimed and preserved, as was an impression of my fingers into the back of the clay object. In this way, the object becomes a record of the surface and the history of the place while simultaneously recording my presence there. Appropriating a history and reinterpreting it as art generates questions about ownership, authority and authenticity. Carefully selected materials and processes further establish relationships between original and copy, raising questions of registration with origins and truth. Because of its malleable nature, clay was used as a material to recreate and manufacture a set of copies from the original terra cotta objects in wax to suggest a mutable state. By creating a curated set of cast bronze seal rings, I, as the artist, obtain the power to recreate a history indefinitely.



Catalog: Annales

Centrally located, on a wax surfaced steel desk is a unique hand-made catalog. Each page in the catalog chronicles one of the 153 terra cotta impressions, noting the exact location (visually with a map), site, description, photograph and scan of the front and back. The catalog was made from handmade abaca paper and the front and back covers were made of wood and bleached beeswax. The title, Annales, was inscribed into the wax cover to reference Roman wax tablets.


The design for the form of the catalog originates with early book forms. The process of Coptic binding references methods of bookbinding used by early Christians in Egypt from as early as the 2nd century AD to the 11th century. Coptic bindings are the first true codices. The codex form was developed by the Romans from wood and wax writing tablets. The pages of parchment codices, like the wax tablets, were commonly washed or scraped for re-use and therefore the writings in a codex were considered informal and impermanent.


While occupying the chair and interacting with the catalog, viewers are effectively on display, sitting in as artist, historian, curator. As viewers investigate the catalog, subtle impressions transfer onto the waxed surface as a record of their own presence and interaction with the presented data. This is meant to suggest that the viewer is making his/her own interpretation of this history, leaving a “mark” on the observer of the event.



Indicium I: Data Set I                    Language, The Word Memoriae

This group of eight impressions is the fragmented casting of engraved letters on an inscription from the Porta Maggiore which reads MEMORIAE. The English translation from Latin memoriae is memory. Fragments of letters are cast from carved stone. The assembly of these fragmented letters back into the word Memoriae references loss and the importance of context when using data to reconstruct history and suggests the futility of ever arriving at an absolute history.


Indicium II: Data Set II                 Text, The Letter R

The analysis of impressions resulted in a collection of the letter R, a reference to Rome itself, as well as the origin myth involving the founder of Rome, Romulus, and his brother Remus. As this set progresses from top to bottom, the machined R’s along the top row transform into detailed fragments (close-ups) and then return to a full representation of the letter, although in a version inscribed by the hand of an individual, a unique R in each case. Viewing this group as a matrix of various iterations of the same thing, the letter R, raises awareness for the possibility of viewing the same thing in an infinite number of ways.



Indicium III: Data Set III              Number, III, XIX, X & V

This set is comprised of three sub-groups, all referencing numerical systems and translations. As text flows through history books, each row can be read left to right. Moving from one end of each row toward the other, a metamorphosis, or mutation takes place. Similarities and differences lead to misinterpretations and re-appropriations. The use of Roman numerals alludes to their origin within a city with classical roots, but also references the sustained use of Roman numerals within contemporary Western culture.


Indicium IV: Data Set IV             Symbol, Spaces Between

The most abstract of the groupings, 15 seals are all castings of spaces between stone and brick. The group arrangement is read left to right. As the set progresses to the right, the mosaic floor castings progress into the spaces between bricks on walls. The impressions appear to visually “zoom in” to create a fragmentary view, as if viewed through a microscope. With a zooming in or a looking closer, further loss of context completely transforms the progression and appears “out of focus.” As distance between contemporary life today and the past increases, our attempts at reconnecting to the historical truth become futile and unattainable.


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Sealing Place: Impressions of Rome by Tamryn McDermott

On view now in the Gallery


Every history is a counter-history, written against as much as with the archive, and even the first historian, Herodotus, presupposes a version of “the past” against which his discourse presents itself as a contending, alternative version. -Hayden White

Artist Statement

My methodology emulates that of a historian and enters into the arena of archaeologists, archivists and curators. Historians write, and re-write history privileging certain evidence while imposing specific agendas, to reshape history. Confronting history as a construction; I provoke viewers through historical representation, unmasking illusions of precision and truth. By deconstructing and analyzing the way the historical record is fabricated, my work reveals the futile nature of preserving an accurate history.


Rome is an ideal site to deconstruct and analyze the condition of history; a site rich in rewritten and overwritten political and moral agendas. Historically, the fabric of Rome has been deconstructed and re-stitched since its origins, often rooted in myth and fragmented written records. Taking this history as my subject matter, I turn it into my working process, revealing the limitations of preserving history and accessing historical reality.


In this exhibition, the contextualization of the objects becomes imperative to how the work is perceived. My goal is to redefine the importance of installation and presentation of objects. The objects themselves are important, but become secondary to the structure and organization of the installation. The structural framework is meant to challenge viewers to consider the origins of knowledge about the past and how archaeologists, archivists and curators reinterpret and mythologize historical evidence. Curated displays suggest the research and conclusions imbedded in the objects. The arrangement reflects a stratified composite structure, mirroring written narrative history.

-Tamryn McDermott

Ben Ashworth – Finding A Line

Verbal/Visual 2016 features artwork by graduating MFA students from Mason’s School of Art. Documentation of Finding a Line by Ben Ashworth is included in the exhibit. Ben collaborated with The Kennedy Center and Jason Moran to create a week long event combining skateboarding, jazz and community involvement. In Ben’s words, “If we create a space where a community of many different disciplines can converge, we can all bring new ideas into form together.” Learn more about this ongoing project by searching #findingaline on social media and watch video documentation of the Kennedy Center Event below.